Welcome to French Food
Focus. The name describes the intent of this blog. I'll focus on food
and because I live in rural France the stress will be upon French food.
Not that I will limit myself to food only. There are numerous posts
concerning life in France, comments on life in general and, certainly,
opinions about anything that strikes my fancy.
Here's where I'll put past posts except those that have recipes in them, those will go into the 'Index of Recipes' link. I don't plan to make this page very long, only the last ten posts or so. Posts older than that rarely get referred to but they will be buried in my
Please enjoy & comment if you feel like it.
Living in France - An important Update!
I had finished with my fairly practical advice about moving to & living in France when I got a great new resource. Its a book, self- published, by a local friend of ours. Her name is Doreen Porter and she and her husband, Gavin, live in St Antonin Noble Val which is only about 15 minutes away from us. Doreen has a delightful sense of humor and writes very well. I can highly recommend her book to anybody, but especially anybody who is contemplating a move to France or who loves coming here on visits. Its a very enjoyable read!
The title is; I is for Illuminated Salt & Pepper pots (and other everyday essentials). The link to the website where her book can be found is:
You can read a goodly portion of the book on line then purchase the whole book for only $1.95. A great bargain.
Doreen's take on living in France is lighthearted, but accurate. The book is filled with useful information even though that's not its intent. There are things in the book, I might as a fellow expat resident of France quibble with, but nothing of substance. I particularly love Doreen's adages that start each section. They're in French with roughly English equivalent. Sometimes very roughly, but always enlightening.
Do read the book. You'll enjoy it. At $1.95 Doreen's not going to get rich, but she'll be happy to know you enjoyed her work.
PS: If you'd like to view more of Doreen's writing then go to: www.fifi82.org. Open the website and read the newsletters. Doreen writes and edits them.
Sun Dried Tomatoes - Revisited
I did a post on sun dried tomatoes last year (click here), but this year I'm doing a pictorial recipe. One reason is that I've done lots & lots of dried tomatoes this year. About 70 pounds worth as a matter of fact!
Why so many? For charity. Linda's ladies group (www.fifi82.org.) is participating in what's billed as the world's largest coffee morning to raise money for MacMillan Cancer Support. This UK based charity helps the families of cancer sufferers deal with the pain & trauma. They're a highly respected group who do much good work. At any rate at their coffee morning in addition to coffee , cakes & the usual coffee morning stuff they're having live music, a 'garage sale' and selling home made things. In our case my sun dried tomatoes. Some are presold to our friend who remembers them from last year & if some of the rest don't sell then we'll just be forced to eat them.
I went to Caussade market the last two Mondays to buy my tomatoes. You have to get the timing right if you want the best prices. I paid between 20 & 25 cents a pound for the 70 pounds I bought. Prices last Monday were just beginning to go up.
When I got home I started the process.
To the right is a whole tomato on my cutting board. Note my sexy new ceramic knife; its really, really sharp and I love it.
Place the tomato stem side down and cut it in half while holding it.
Make a second cut so you now have quartered the tomato.
Next trim off the stems as shown on the right.
It is now easy to scrape out the seeds with your thumb.
Scrape the seeds & pulp into a sieve over a bowl. This will save the juices. See below.
When you're finished or when your sieve is getting full use your hands to push through as much juice as you can into the bowl below.
This juice is delicious. Just add some salt & pepper, a dash of the herbs you're using for drying & a slurp of Worcestershire sauce. Cover & place in the fridge. Very, very refreshing!
As you cut the tomatoes place them on a oiled baking tray. Note that I've already put the herbs on the tomatoes. I use salt, pepper, herbs de Province & garlic granules. Note that I've used some nice sea salt. My 25 year old French pepper grinder is still going strong.
Here are some full trays ready for their herbs. After putting the herbs on you place the trays in the oven at between 110 & 120 degrees C.
Be sure to rotate the trays both top to bottom & rotate 180 degrees every so often so that they dry evenly.
Also, prop the over door open just a crack as this will let out moisture (I don't recommend using a fan oven as its too quick.)
It will take somewhere between 5 & 7 hours for drying. The time depends upon the tomatoes, your oven, the ambient humidity & so forth. You just need to keep checking & keep swapping & rotating. Poke the tomatoes with your finger to see how dry they are.
When done they should look & feel leathery.
Here's a finished tray. Some of these are actually a little overcooked, but still OK. The immersion in olive oil will keep them soft.
Here's a close up.
After cooling you can bottle your tomatoes. Make very sure that your jars are properly sterilized.
Fill the jars with tightly packed dried
tomatoes until they are about 3/4 full. I like to add a whole crushed
clove of garlic
The finished product!
In this case I did a lot of much smaller jars for the sale. Unfortunately I can't sell these by mail order, but you could always fly over for the coffee morning. Its Friday, September 30th. There's still plenty of time to get here.
Living in France - Some advice
NOTE: I'm going to write each section of this as a part of a single long webpage. That should make it easier to keep it together and to read through it.
Part #1 - First things first.
I'm going to ignore food & recipes for a few posts and concentrate upon giving some advice to those who might like to come and live in France. This is prompted by one of my readers who sent me a message asking some questions about moving here from the states. I've answered her, well I at least started, but there's a lot to say and I haven't really begun to give her a full answer. Then I thought (dangerous I know) why not share my advice with anybody who cares to read this blog. I do get asked questions about living in France from time to time. Thus, this the first of several posts on this subject.
I don't pretend to be a great expert on the subject of living in France. My credential is simply that I have lived in France for the past ten years. I am more expert on what its like to live in countries other than ones native land. I've lived in Spain, Belgium, Germany and England in addition to France. When I say 'lived in' I mean residing in the country, living within the local economy, paying taxes and so forth. Visiting countries another matter and I've sort of lost track; somewhere around 50 countries I guess. My main point is that I've been there & done that, have learned my lessons (some painful & some expensive) and have some experience that I'm willing to share. So, Here goes:
Part #2 - Buying a house
Buying a house is stressful at the best of times; doing it in a foreign country is even more so. Try to keep your sense of humor and don't rush yourself. A good ploy is to rent a house for an extended period while you look for one to buy. This takes some of the pressure off & allows you to get to know your area better before you're fully committed. OK, here are a few general tips and pieces of information:
Part #3 Working in France
I'm not really an expert on this subject as I never lived in France during my working life except many years ago when I worked her for two periods of several months each, but I was in the American Air Force at the time so it really doesn't count.
First, however, the easy part. If you are a citizen of one of the older countries of the Common Market you can legally work in France. The rules vary for citizen of the countries that have joined the Common Market in the last ten years. If you're in this category check carefully as to your right to work.
If you're from outside the EEC, American for instance, you have to find an employer willing to hire you AND support your application for a Carte de Sejour (Resident Visa). If you are a key employee of a multinational firm or if you possess critical skills (you're a Medical Doctor for example) getting the visa should be relatively straightforward though cumbersome.
Another alternative is starting a business. This isn't difficult to do, but as anywhere it may be difficult to succeed.
Equally, you can just live here illegally. Not recommended, but people do do it and do get away with it for years. In that status though you're cut off from all services.
Finally, you can retire to France. This is
probably the majority of non-French residents. Again, if you are an EEC
citizen its not a problem. The tax & medical systems are available
to you. (Interesting note; there are more French citizens living in the
UK than there are UK citizens living in France. They say that the UK
gets the young ambitious French & France gets the tired retired
An an American I was lucky in that I worked in England long enough & paid their taxes long enough that I was eligible for a state pension. This qualified me for my E111 form which gave me entry to the French medical system. My wife is English which qualifies me to live in the EEC as her husband. Lucky me.
Part #4 Living in France
Living in France is like living anywhere else.
It is what you make of it. The worst thing you can do is compare it to
'home'. It isn't the same & why should it be. Just as a French person
living in the states will find things different so will you as a
foreigner in France.
In most parts of France you will find
foreigners scattered around. You shouldn't have a hard time meeting
them. Getting to know the France is harder. You must learn the language
to do so. Yes, many of the French speak English, but you're in their
country & should try to learn & speak their language. That alone will go
a long way to breaking down barriers.
Learn the way things work. I constantly forget that the local shop is closed on Monday & that many small shops close over the lunch hours, but no use getting upset. Its my problem, not theirs. Just go with it.
Enjoy the great things about living here. Vive La France!!
That's it for these episodes. Hopefully, you've learned something. It may or may not have kindled or doused any desire to live in France. If you do decide to take the plung let me know.
Any questions? Drop me an email.
Necessity is the mother of invention I've heard. I believe it.
Coming back from our trip to Marseille I realized that we were supposed to go to the monthly FiFi (www.fifi82.org) wine tasting. Not a problem I thought. This month we were supposed to bring a wine we particularly liked from anywhere in the world, price limit €10.
I found, much to my surprise, a bottle of Malbec from Argentina for €9.95. Just under the limit. I was happy with my find.
The afternoon before the tasting I remembered that we were supposed to bring a snack or dish that would go well with our chosen wine. Yipes! What to do?? I had a scrounge in the fridge & cupboards to see what I could come up with. Ah Ha, I had all the usual suspects around; Sun dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil. I started thinking tapenade, but I wasn't happy with the black olives I had in stock. Another look. I tried the freezer as well this time.
Inspiration! Frozen peas! Yes! Crikey, I haven't made this for ages. In fact I can't even remember where I first got the recipe from. No matter; its quick and easy and I have the ingredients. Green Goop it is.
I quickly defrosted some green beans, chopped up some sun dried tomatoes and garlic. They all went into the food processor for a quick whiz and a bit of olive oil then some salt & pepper. I put it in a bowl, covered it with cling film and put it into the fridge. Thinking time; one hour. Preparation time; 15 minutes.
Luckily it turned out to be a real hit. Everyone seemed to love my Green Goop. Linda thinks It should have a nicer name, but I haven't come up with anything.
The Malbec was terrific was well. So much so that I went back & bought the remaining four bottles.
Below is the recipe; properly laid out. Try it. It really is good and very easy to make.
Here it is:
2 parts frozen green peas
1 part sun dried tomatoes
(a 'part' can be any quantity you like. A cup, an ounce, a pound... The important thing is that you have twice the quantity of peas than you have of sun dried tomatoes. Scale up or down according to need.)
1- 5 cloves of garlic (depend upon the quantity of peas & tomatoes AND your tolerance for garlic)
Some good olive oil
Some sea salt
Some freshly ground pepper
1) Let the peas thaw out.
2) chop up the sun dried tomatoes
3) Peel, smash & chop up the garlic
4) Put the above into a food processor. (if you don't have one or don't like using one then just chop the ingredients very, very finely.)
5) Add the salt & the pepper to taste while you process the mixture.
6) Make sure you don't over process. You want a mix that is still separate bits, not a puree.
7) Cover &chill in the fridge until needed. Will keep fresh for several hours.
I just had little crackers to serve the Goop on the other night. Nicer is to put the green goop on endive leaves to serve.
You too can be admired by your friends.
Only in France - A story & Recipe for & About Veal
This story started a couple of months ago.
Linda was driving home from St Antonin one day when she saw a tractor
with a big hay rake attached coming down the road towards her. As is
normal in the French countryside she slowed up and pulled over to the
side. The tractor kept coming. She was by now as far over as she could
get and was stopped. At the last minute the tractor swerved over,
but the hay rake caught her wing mirror, broke it and made a small dent
in the driver's side door.
During the course of all of this it emerges that the family raise prize wining veal. They ship to top butchers & restaurants all over France. And their prices are good. Jacques and Linda decide to buy a 10 kilo package each to be delivered the next time its available.
I'm not a great veal fan, but this really did look good. My first effort was to cook some veal escalope's. A quick fry with a flour dusting, quick dip into a beaten egg then a bread crumb coating. The trick was to not burn the butter I was frying them in. They turned out well & I was pleased.
A few days later we were having friends over and I wanted to try a roast. After reading a number of recipes I settled on a variation of a recipe by Julia Child & Jacques Pepin. This turned out to be a real winner. A bit of work, but well worth the effort. Our friends said it was the best veal they'd ever tasted.
So, here's my recipe. Try it & enjoy it.
A green vegetable (string beans, broccoli, peas.) goes well with this dish & adds a bit of color to the plate.
Try it, you'll love it! Easy to make & easy to time for a dinner party.
Young Chefs Make Great Éclairs!
The results are above; éclairs from two young promising chefs. As you would expect there's a story to go with them.
The story goes like this. Some time ago we were at a local event and got talking with some friends and their two boys aged 9 & 11. Turns out that the boys like to cook. Hearing that I volunteered to give them a lesson or two. Well, as these things go nothing much happened. Then we ran into them again at a local fete. The boys hadn't forgotten my promise. So I said OK think up something you'd like to cook & we'll do it.
They arrived on time with all their ingredients. Both had aprons supplied by their wise Mother. The first thing we did was our 'mise en place' to make sure we had everything. That being done I put a budding cook in each of our kitchens. We then proceeded to make our choux pastry.
Here we are doing some measuring. Note the interested onlooker with the fuzzy brown head!
We did the magic making that goes into choux pastry. (I've always marveled that such an unlikely process actually works.)
Next we put the pastry into zip loc bags,
squeezed out all the air, closed them and cut a small hole in one
Next we baked our choux pastry éclairs in a hot
oven. One batch came out fine, but the other didn't rise as well as it
should have. I think it was because we hadn't fully incorporated the
eggs. In any case we quickly made up another batch and this one was
fine. Each had a small hole poked in it to prevent collapse.
We now had a good supply of éclair shells and it was time to make our fillings.
The main filling was whipped cream. The boys used my hand mixer & added a bit of sugar, a pinch of salt & some vanilla. The cream whipped up beautifully.
Now the boys very carefully cut open the shells & spooned in the whipped cream. This was a real team effort with one cutter/ opener and one filler. They worked very well together.
Next the boys made their chocolate sauce.
Once nicely melted and allowed to cool a bit we carefully poured the chocolate sauce over the éclairs.
Next came the best part of all. It was time to sample our efforts. We each had an éclair. They were delicious! Really, really good! Shortly after this Mom & Dad showed up and they, of course, had to have a samples as well. Pronounced delicious again!
Off the boys went triumphantly with their plate of chocolate éclairs. I think they enjoyed the whole lesson, I know I enjoyed teaching two eager and good students. And I enjoyed eating the results of their efforts.
We'll now have to see what they come up with for their next lesson.
In case you want to have a go the recipes I printed up for the boys are below:
Choux Pastry Recipe
For the pastry Ingredients:
· 250ml/9fl oz water
· 100g/3½oz butter
· 125g/4½oz plain flour
· pinch salt
· pinch caster sugar
· 4 medium free-range eggs
Method: ( heat oven to 175 degrees C)
1) Put the water, salt, sugar & butter in a sauce pan.
2) Bring to the boil.
3) Add the flour ALL AT ONCE!
4) Beat until nice & smooth.
5) Take off the heat & continue to beat for a minute or two.
6) Add the eggs ONE AT A TIME. Beat well so that each egg is incorporated into the pastry before adding the next egg.
7) After the last egg has been incorporated the dough is ready.
To shape the Éclairs place your pastry into a plastic bag. Fold the bag so that the pastry is squeezed together.
Cut a small corner off the bag.
You can now squeeze the pastry out to form your éclairs onto a non-stick baking tray. Or cover a regular tray with parchment paper.
Place into the oven & bake for about 7 minutes. Now slightly open the oven (prop it open with a wooden spoon) and cook for another 13 minutes.
When you take the éclairs out stick each one with the tip of a knife to let any air out.
For the filling:
Beat full cream until it forms soft peaks.
For the Chocolate Topping:
1. Place all the ingredients except the vanilla into a saucepan.
2. Cook, constantly stirring, until the chocolate melts & the mixture is smooth.
3. Add the vanilla & stir it in.
4. Use immediately OR keep warm over a hot water bath.
Having made you sauces gently cut open your choux pastry shells and fill them with whipped cream.
If necessary carefully fold the tops back over.
Spread the chocolate sauce over the tops.
That’s IT!! Eat & enjoy. Eat within a few hours as the éclairs are best fresh.
Cooking in Color
Well, not really cooking in color, but color's what got things started. When we put in the new second kitchen it was (is) very white. White cabinet fronts & light grey counter tops with a reddy/orange tile floor. Linda thought it needed color, but there aren't many walls with any space for bright pictures or anything. What to do? Then a friend offered us a tagine. It is bright red with a black cast iron base. Just the thing to brighten up our kitchen.
Here's a picture:
It really is pretty nice. The problem is that I now have to learn to use it.
For those of you who don't know the tagine is used for cooking mainly in North African countries. It primarily a vessel for slow cooking. I've read that the conical shape allows moisture from the cooking to flow back down to the base & keep thing moist. Interesting.
North African cooking uses a real mélange of
spices as I found out searching for recipes on the Net. Thus the first
thing I did was to make up a spice mix.
Having done my spice mix I decided my first attempt would be with chicken. So I used chicken thighs with leeks, tomatoes from a can and courgettes (zucchini) I put all of this in the bottom of my tagine & cooked it slowly for about 1 1/2 hours. The result was good, but there was far to much juice from the tomatoes & courgettes. Still, the taste was OK if a bit wimpy for our taste.
Next I tried a beef dish. For this I used chuck cut up into large bite sized chunks. These I marinated in the spice mixture plus some garlic & olive oil overnight. Next I sautéed some shallots with potato & carrot until they just browned. Lifted them out put in the marinated beef chunks & browned them. Now the vegetables went back in & I added some chopped tomatoes. This was then covered with the tagine top & slowly cooked for about 4 hours. This time the result was delicious. We both really enjoyed it. My only problem was that I'd made it just a bit too dry. I was overcompensating for the soupy chicken. I'll correct that next time.
My third attempt was a lamb tagine. This was pretty much the same as the beef version, but with lamb. It was Ok, but disappointing. I think the problem was that I'd used a lot of the off cuts (breast, back, ribs) of the lamb we had in the freezer. Since Linda & I both love lamb I'll try again. Talking to friend later he reckoned that you need to use better cuts of lamb for a really good tagine.
Anyway, so far so good. We now have a more colorful kitchen and I'm learning some new dishes. Can't be bad, can it?
If any of you have any favorite recipes for a tagine I'd love to hear from you.
OK, Back Again
Well, I've had a nice vacation back home after
out vacation in the states. Just goofing off, catching up, and
entertaining visitors. Totally neglecting this blog. No excuses just
needed a rest from writing most days.
In the meantime I have been cooking and do have some new recipes to share.
I'll start with something I made yesterday. Linda is away, visiting in England so Rupert & I are bachelors this week. Yesterday our good & kind friends Ruvé & Michael invited us to lunch. I happen to know that Michael loves his desserts and I didn't hear one mentioned. Hummm - looking in our kitchen inspiration struck. There was this great local bread, but it was stale. Bread Pudding! Haven't made it for a long time. So, I looked up some recipes to refresh my mind & then plunged in.
What follows is the result.
2 cups white sugar
2 cups milk
3-4 cups dry bread chunks
2 teaspoons vanilla
Mix the sugar eggs vanilla and milk together in a large bowl. Put in the bread chunks & gently stir to make sure all of the bread is soaked. Let sit for about minutes while you make the topping.
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup finely chopped unsalted nuts. ( I used hazelnuts, but pecans, walnuts or almonds would work as well)
1/4 cup softened butter.
Mix the nuts, butter & sugar together to form a paste.
Put the bread mixture into an
oven proof dish & push the bread down. The mixture should be thoroughly
soggy, but not runny.
Place in a 350 degree F oven & bake until the topping browns. About 30 minutes.
Serve hot with cream or Ice Cream.
Note: I added chopped prunes to my bread mixture which worked well. Raisins also work well.
At any rate the Bread Pudding was a real hit with my friends. Ruvé who rarely ever eats any dessert had not one, but two helpings. A real triumph for my ego. Michael took & sent me pictures from his iWhatever. Here they are:
I'll try to start catching up. Tomorrow is difficult as I'm off to Toulouse to The Atliier Des Chefs, the Victor Hugo market, IKEA and to get pictures taken for my new passport.
USA Vacation - Observations
This was my first visit back home to the USA in six years, thus I was anxious to see what had changed and what my perception of the changes would be. Regular readers will know that I rarely make many political comments on this blog, but I will make few this time. I consider myself pretty much middle of the road politically. I've seen & observed too much to believe that the way forward is far to the right or the left of the political spectrum.
In any case here are some of my impressions, political & otherwise.
That's it. No more, I've got that stuff off my chest.
Next post will be about diet. I gained weight both before & during the vacation so I'm back on my diet. Like it or not I'm going to share it with you. For Free!
Vacation - Episode # 4 - Pictorial
I was going to give my impressions of the states in this post, but I decided that any description of a vacation wouldn't be complete with out pictures. So, you can go elsewhere now or suffer looking at a few of our holiday snaps. Feel lucky we took over 200 pictures, but I'm sparing you most of them.
Iron statue near our friends home in Northern California.
Tree climbing cat taken from our
Two old goats who have know each other for over 60 years.
Note the wine. I'm the goat on the right. The good looking one!
Only in California. Taken on Balboa
Great dog! He's a denizen of Newport Beach.
Great Flower. You can see why it gets it's name.
Classic California beach. Taken near Half Moon Bay.
Chevre cheeses made near Pescadero. Very
pretty & made us feel at home.
It would be nice if our French producers
decorated their Cabecue's
I was having a great time in North Carolina. Nothing like a good nap to get over jet lag.
On our way to Biltmore house we came across this. This small town was honoring the return of the remains of a young soldier killed in the Vietnam war. He had only recently been found in the jungles of Laos and his bones returned home.
It was very amazing and touching to see how many people turned out for the ceremony.
Vacation - Episode # 3
We arrived in Charleston safely, no traumas & our friends got there shortly before our luggage did. It was great to see them after nearly four years. They're both looking good & happy now that they're retired and away from the Chicago winters. Off we went to Brevard up in the hills where they live. It was a longer drive than we thought so we had time to catch up during the ride. Beautiful scenery. North Carolina is (now was) one of the few states that I haven't visited in the past.
Bruce & Jody live in a sprawling large gated community. All the houses are individually designed. Its very nice indeed. They look over a good sized lake. There's a full golf course, lots of tennis courts, a clubhouse and miles of hiking trails. Great house, typically American, far too big for two people. We had a light meal &, of course, a glass of wine then hit the sack.
Next day Bruce & I were off to the golf course (good hamburger half way around.) while Jody & Linda went hiking. We all had a great time although the less said about my golf score the better. We visited a bit & the ladies went shopping with no results. Bruce & Jody did a nice dinner for us & we enjoyed the weather & the little chipmunks below the house.
Next day we went for a drive up into the mountains. Superb scenery! The views were fantastic; you could see for what seemed hundreds of miles. We had lunch at a restaurant perched right on top of everything. I had a great Ruben sandwich. Yummy. We went out to dinner at a local restaurant which was housed in an old house. Very funky, but with good food & great service.
Next day we drove over to the Biltmore Estate. The Biltmore's made their original fortune in transport, railroads & shipping. The house was the largest in the USA at the time it was built. The house itself looked to us like a combination of an English stately home & a French chateau. Very impressive. We only viewed the ground floor which featured a very large sunken atrium plus a room with a fine collection of tapestries.
The real attraction to us were the gardens. These covered aches & acres and had a huge variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. All beautifully maintained. The greenhouses were amazing.
Just look at the orchids.
Or this one.
Here's a view of the mountains.
Next we had ribs for dinner. These had been marinated by Bruce for a couple of days. Bruce then asked me to brown them on his super BBQ. So I did. He then put them into his smokers for several hours. These with coleslaw for dinner & we were in heaven.
Finally while the ladies were walking Bruce & I went shopping for dinner. What better to end our American journey than a proper American steak.
We bought some other ingredients & I made a mix
greens salad with chevre & sun dried tomatoes, Jody did some great
asparagus and Bruce cooked the steaks. Even though we'd purchased the
smallest rib eye the butcher had Linda still protested that it was too
large that she couldn't possibly eat all of it.
Next morning while Linda & Jody hit the walking paths Bruce & I hit the golf course for 9 holes. I even bought a pair of golf shoes since the American lasts seem to suit my feet better than those in Europe. Back the the house & final packing then we were off to the airport.
The trip home was uneventful except for lugging Linda's chargers through three airports. The house sitters met us in Toulouse & we drove home. Rupert was beside himself with joy to see us back.
All in all a great holiday (vacation). We were glad to be home, but we really enjoyed seeing our good friends. We have thanked them heartily for their hospitality and their continuing friendship.
Next post will be about some my American impressions after a six year absence.
Vacation - Episode #2
Having returned to Northern California safely
we were ready to enjoy the area with our friends. We visited a very nice
winery in Livermore, went out to eat a couple of times and of course we
cooked. Our friend Leo did some wonderful ribs. Joyce did as always some
great salads. I helped Leo deconstruct a turkey for a lunch with other
friends who were coming over. Relaxing and very enjoyable. All the more
so because Leo & Joyce have a wine cellar to die for. They trotted out
some great wines & we had no trouble drinking our share.
The visit came to an end, but we nearly missed our plane. Our hosts knew how long it takes to get to San Francisco airport - Normally, that is. We ran into unexpectedly heavy traffic so things were very tight. Thank God for curbside check in!! We checked our bags & headed for the loos (Toilets to you Yanks) A quick pit stop & onto security. Fortunately, the lines weren't too long & we were able to rush for our gate which again wasn't too far out. The gate was closed, but the US Air guy was waiting for us. Hatfield's he asked? Yes! Then I'll open the gate. After that the flight was a doddle.
I must mention at this point that although Linda wasn't lucky with the clothes shopping she did find some 'chargers'. It was news to me that the fancy plates one puts under regular dinner plates are called chargers and that Linda had wanted some for years. In any case she found some she absolutely loved. The only problem was that they're ceramic & glass and weigh one kilo each. We bought 8. I didn't have the heart to complain much about the weight as Linda had been so unlucky with her other shopping. Now our regular bags were right at the weight limit so we had no choice but to carry all 8 kilos in our hand luggage. (Shipping would have been both risky & expensive) As you can imagine lugging 8 kilos plus our other carry on stuff around airports wasn't much fun. We did it, however, and the chargers are safely home.
I'll end now with us on our way to North Carolina to visit yet more friends. I'll talk about that great visit in my next post.
Home Sweet Home
Well, we're back. It seems a long time since my last post. We actually got back a few days ago, but jet lag & catching up have kept me pretty busy until now. In any case the house is still here & in good shape. Rupert was glad to see us and quickly forgave us for 'abandoning' him. (Aren't dogs great that way?) Actually, he adored our house sitters, a couple from Australia via the Christian House Sitters.
We had a wonderful holiday (vacation to you Yanks) It was really great to see our friends in the USA. As I get older I'm more into visiting people as opposed to places. I'm beginning to think I've seen more places I really want to see, but I haven't tired of seeing friends who mean something to me. At any rate we had a good time.
We started in California with our good friends
who live in the bay area. I nearly lost Linda on the way though, in
Charleston-NC, after a long flight from London she was desperate for a
smoke so after Immigration & after the first of our bags had arrived she
went off for a smoke. We agreed that I'd find her at the nearest outdoor
place where she could light up. When I got through customs the nearest
place I could find was upstairs, no Linda! I looked all over, but no
luck. Eventually I went through security thinking maybe she had as well,
nope. Tried our departure gate, no luck again. Meanwhile she's looking
for me with no results. So, she too goes through security; its a long
line & its getting close to our departure time. I go back & look in the
security lines, but can't see her. Back out to the gate. For once I'm
glad that our flight has been delayed. Eventually as I'm about to really
panic here she comes. Whew!! A big hug & we're off to San Francisco.
It was great to see them & their new house. Like us they've downsized a bit, but its a great house in a very nice neighborhood & near everything including a golf course only a few minutes away. Heaven! Joyce & I played three times. We de-jet lagged, shopped & ate well. Joyce & Leo are great cooks with a superb wine collection.
After a few days they kindly loaned us a car &
we were off the see my old school chum Gari & his wife Milli in the
Newport area of Los Angles. Its a dull drive down I5 & the Central
Valley, but Ok. Happily we had a GPS in the car as I doubt that we would
have navigated the LA freeways on an early Friday afternoon without it.
We got to Gari & Milli's and were promptly whisked off to a cocktail
party. They are buying a new house (only a few blocks away from their
present one) and the neighbors were welcoming them. It seemed a nice
crowd of people so I'm sure our friends will be happy in their new
house. And a very nice house it is. Next day Gari & I played golf while
Linda & Milli went off to take photographs of the 'muscle men'. I think
it was too early or an off day as they didn't get any pictures. We all
met up for lunch then went sightseeing on Balboa Island. Nice. We had
good dinner at a local restaurant.
The scenery was nicer coming back up Hi Way 101 along the coast and the costal valleys. We considered stopping in Carmel Valley where we used to live, but a huge Outlet Center in Gilroy won out. I did exceptionally well & now have a nice summer wardrobe. Linda didn't have much luck, wrong sort of clothes. In fact clothes shopping was pretty much of a bust for her. I did very well & at some great prices.
We arrived back at our friends house in early evening, tired, but happy.
I think I'll quit at this point and continue the trip tale tomorrow. No point in making each episode too long.
News & Comments
The news is that We're going away for a vacation. We leave this Sunday and will be in the states for 3 1/2 weeks visiting various friends in California & North Carolina. Although I'll have Internet access I'm not sure I'll be able to post to my blog. So, I may seem to be missing for a few weeks. Please hang in there, I'll be back with some tales to tell.
Before I go though a last thing. My regular readers will remember that a few days ago I make some disparaging remarks about custard & the English obsession with it. One of my favorite readers, Gordon in Atlanta Georgia responded quite nicely. With his permission here are his thoughts on custard;
Its Great to have our friends back!
Its really great to have our good friends Ruvé & Michael back with us. They've been away for the past few months in New Zealand visiting Ruvé's family and touring around in their 4WD vehicle. They did some amazing camping trips, seeing some very spectacular scenery. They had a great time, I think, are happy to be back home.
Them being them & us being us the first thing we did together was to have dinner. They like to cook as much as we do so we've had many a memorable meal together. We've also been lucky enough to visit some of the best restaurants in this part of the world. We both rate Le Vieux Pont in Belcastel as our favorite. In any case we did dinner last night. Nothing too fancy, but interesting. I'll describe it, but descriptions of the dished rather than full recipes. I'm feeling a bit lazy today after quite a bit of yard work earlier.
We started off with a nice bottle of sparkling wine Linda had bought at a local Gaillac winery during visit. It was very nice, lots of favor, dry, but not too dry. Every bit as good as a champagne. With that we just had some peanuts, corn nuts and olives. The weather was good so we were able to sit outside comfortably.
I started us off with a simple salad; lambs lettuce, rocket, mesulin & chives with a creamy vinaigrette (1 part vinegar, 4 parts olive oil, then an equal amount of full cream, Herbs de Province, garlic, salt & pepper.). Mixed in was fresh chevre chunks & roughly cut up sun dried tomatoes. This is a very simple great tasting salad which also is light enough not to fill one up before the main course.
As a main course we had roasted belly pork, creamed celery root & broccoli. The celery root is boiled in milk with a potato (about 1 part spud to 4 parts celery root) and a n onion. After 30 minutes of simmering you pour off the milk & let the vegetables dry, then puree them in a food processor. Add a few ounces of butter as you puree. Serve with chopped chives sprinkled over the top. For the broccoli I steamed the broccoli until almost done while frying up some lardon & garlic. About 5 minutes before serving you put the broccoli in the pan with the lardons & garlic & sauté for a few minutes to finish off. Both of these are very nice vegetable dishes.
We were disappointed with the belly pork.
Instead of doing it my normal way I tried a recipe I'd seen on TV from
Raymond Blanc. He's one of my favorite chef's and normally I like his
recipes. This one involved making an oriental inspired paste (5 spice,
lemon grass, ginger, red pepper, garlic, ect.) and spreading this over
the meaty side of the pork. You then let it marinate in the fridge for a
few hours. Next you cook it, skin side up, at a low temperature for 21/2
hours in a water bath. Then you take it out, cool it & put weights on it
to press it down & put it back in the fridge for another couple of
hours. Finally out it comes and you fry it skin side down in some oil to
crisp up the skin then put it into the oven to heat through. It not as
much work as it sounds, its just time consuming.
Of all things Linda did an old English school favorite; prunes with custard. I've never understood the English passion for custard, but they love it. She & Michael loved it. Ruve & I weren't so keen, but were happy enough.
We finished up with having a look at the pictures from New Zealand. Their were some great shots and its an amazing place.
WE had a great evening. Its so nice to have out friends back.
Madame President's Lunch
Linda was recently elected to be President of a ladies only group. They meet for coffee, lunch occasionally and have lots of Activity Groups ranging from Photography through Wine Tasting to Gardening and so on. They have a lot of fun. They call themselves Friends in France International, FIFI for short. They don't take themselves too seriously as you will see when their website is finished. At any rate we gave lunch to the officers and the leaders of the Activity Groups last Sunday. We men are only allowed on social occasions such as this or, I say, whenever there's money to be spent.
Being only March I was very dubious about having lunch outside. Linda was adamant that the weather would cooperate. The problem was that inside we can't seat 15 all at one table. We'd have to split it into two tables. Linda was quite rightly against this, but I didn't want to freeze our guests. We bickered back & forth on this all week and watched the weather forecasts like hawks. As you will see from the pictures below Linda was right (& lucky) the weather was beautiful. It didn't start getting a bit chilly until late in the afternoon & by then we'd all had plenty of wine to keep us warm.
Here's Linda preparing the fruit salad. My apples for the two Tart Tatin's I made are in the foreground.
I tried a new recipe for making the Tarte Tatin this time. Raymond Blanc is doing a series on TV and showed this recipe. (By the way he is a wonderful chef. Watch him if you get the chance. If you're ever in England go to his restaurant near Oxford for a superb meal.) They turned our well and were actually easier to make than my 'old' way.
At the right are the two large dishes of moussaka that Linda made. Hers is one of the world's great moussaka's. Rich in roast lamb, beef, a strong tomato sauce, eggplant (aubergine to the Brits) and a cheesy white sauce. It really is delicious and all the better for being made in advance. Yummy!
Here are the moussaka's, the bread and the serving platters for the green beans and the roast potatoes that we also served.
The bread from our local bakery is called a courenne and was so beautiful that I just had to take a separate picture of it.
Here are the bowls of salad we had as a starter. The salad was simple: Mixed lettuces, chevre, sun dried tomatoes with a creamy vinaigrette.
You may notice a bit of red wine in the background as well as some Normandy butter for the bread.
Here's the table all ready to go. As you can see the weather is cooperating, not a cloud in the sky.
Some of the guys who were allowed to come.
Some of the ladies. This was smokers corner!
Everybody enjoying drinks and the sun on the patio.
Pretty much everyone. This was after dessert and quite a bit of wine. Thus the relaxed happy faces. I think everyone had a good time.
That includes Rupert who had been given a large
rawhide bone. He kept trying to find a good place to
hide his treasure.
Finally, a happy Madame President at the end of the table.
It was a great lunch and a nice introduction to Spring.
The food & wine weren't bad either!
Hairy Bikers Cauliflower
Anybody who lives in the Uk and watches TV food programs will know exactly who the Hairy Bikers are. They're a pair of scruffy looking characters who tool around Great Britain cooking. Sometimes they visit good restaurants and have a friendly cooking challenge with the chef using local ingredients, sometimes they cook at markets and sometimes they cook at their or somebody else's home. The point is that despite the scruffy looks & sometimes silly dialog these guys really can cook, and cook very well.
So, this week the BBC started a new series of cooking programs where they are trying to get people to make or buy better food. The program started with Michele Roux Jr. (who runs a 3 Michelin star restaurant) trying to convince people to buy & eat proper bread instead of the mass produced pap that passes for bread. He toured a few 'artisanal' bakeries and made some simple home made bread then did a couple of recipes using good bread. It was very interesting and I'll be trying at least two of the recipes which looked really good.
The Hairy Bikers followed with a piece on cauliflower. Apparently sales of cauliflower are declining in the UK and the farmers are suffering as a result. Thus this attempt to extol the virtues of the flower (yes, cauliflower is really a flower). In this case the Hairy Bikers managed to produce a recipe that both looked & sounded delicious. So I tried it and it was even better than I thought it might be. So here it is. I strongly encourage you to give it a try. It delicious, filling, healthy and not all that difficult.
1 head of cauliflower, trimmed
Believe me this is delicious and very filling and very healthy and not expensive. Leave out the bacon and you have an excellent vegetarian dish.
It was beautiful this morning. Just like Spring, except that I've been fooled before. No, its too early for real Spring; we've still got some bad weather to come. Still its nice to have what's forecast to be a few days of good weather. John & I are going to try playing golf on Tuesday.
Anyway being as it was nice I took the camera this morning & thought I'd show you what our normal morning walk looks like. Nothing dramatic, just some nice scenery & some nice fields Rupert can run in and hunt for deer, rabbits or hares. So, here we go:
Here we go out the gate onto the road. We turn right, up the hill.
We're going to go up the hill for nearly a mile
before we reach the top. We only pass about 3-4 houses all on the right.
Here's our first view with the village of Verfeil-sur-Seye below us. As you can see the village sits on a promontory above the river Seye at the bottom of the valley. The Seye isn't much of a river, more of a stream, but it pretty and it feeds into the Aveyron which is a proper river about 5 miles to the South (left in the picture)
Verfeil is not a very large village, but it has a lot of history. Typical for this area. My favorite story is one about during the beginning of the Albegenian crusades. It seems that the Pope had sent a number of his most persuasive theologians to engage in debates with the 'Perfects' of the Cathar religion. While they were debating in the church at Verfeil it was surrounded by the local knights who beat on their shields so loudly whenever the Pope's priests tried to speak that nobody could hear their arguments. Its a good story true or not and a lot gentler than what happened later.
Still heading up. We're just past the poubells here. The hameau of Poulhac is above us on our right.
Here's the view from further up. Unfortunately its too hazy to see much.
We've reached the top now and have just parked the car. Again, its too hazy to see much.
Roop & I will head the other way now so we can see the view over to the next valley to the East.
Our direction is going to be towards Fauvel. Don't be confused these aren't town names; they're the names of farms.
Here we're just starting our walk. As you can see Roop is on his toes and looking for game straightaway.
Further down the lane. I would guess that this lane might see about one car per day plus the odd tractor. Certainly its a quiet and safe place to walk.
Two pictures of the view. Again my apologies for the haze. Here we're looking out over the next valley. This one is the valley of the Blaye, a small river just like the Seye running down to the Aveyron.
Here's a large farm complex across the fields. In fact some friends own the house where the crane is.
A bit further along and we can see both the farm and a small hameau. Every so often we walk down that way to make a large circuit. Not today, however.
The farm & hameau are to our left. To our right are these large fields. Happy hunting grounds for Rupert. He often chases deer or rabbits across these fields.
I think he's be even more surprised than I if he actually caught one.
Here's where we turn right & go up another small hill.
At the top. I must do this again on a clearer day as the views really are interesting.
In any case at this point Roop and I head back for the car. We've walked maybe a bit over a mile. Well. I have Roop has done at least three times that.
At the end of the walk we came across this nice old stump. It sort of looks the way I feel some mornings.
Anyway, back in the car as Roop was anxious to have his breakfast and I was ready for a cup of tea.
After that its work in the garden. Then writing this blog post.
Some pretty little lamb chops for dinner. Yummy!
A couple of recipe for friends
These recipes are for our very good friends who are spending a few months in New Zealand. She's actually a Kiwi & he's a Brit, but we forgive them that; at least most of the time. In an email recently they were bemoaning the fact that it was hard to cook good things on a little two burner gas camp stove. Well. although I largely agree there are a few thing you can easily cook in those limited circumstances.
They're not back packing so within reason space in their big 4WD isn't an issue, but in any case I'll limit these recipes to something you could cook if you were back packing. You could even cook these over an open fire if needs be. All you really need in terms of equipment is a pot, a frying pan, a knife & a large spoon.
Here's recipe #1 (these are for 2 hungry people)
Ingredients: 1/2 lb pasta (I like to use Fuseli, but any easy to cook shape will do), 1/4 lb of lardons (or just cut up regular bacon rashers), a few cloves of garlic, 1/4 lb grated parmesan, 8 oz long life full cream, some herbs de Province plus salt & pepper.
Cooking: Bring a bunch of water to
a boil in the pot. When boiling add the pasta. Fry the lardons in the
frying pan. When starting to brown add a few cloves of garlic (chopped).
After a minute add the cream & bring it to the boil. When boiling add
half of the cheese. Stir well to melt the cheese. Add the herbs. Drain
the pasta which should al dente by now. If not turn the heat down under
the lardon/cream/cheese pan. When the pasta is al dente turn the heat
back up then dump the pasta into the pan & stir gently until the pasta
is coated with sauce. Add the second half of the cheese at this point. A
generous dab of pepper & you're there.
The ingredients are very simple. White wine (easy in NZ, right.) a large onion, one stalk of celery, some thyme a dab of butter and some mussels.
So, first you find your mussels. I'm assuming
that this will be easy in the coastal areas of New Zealand. The green
lipped mussels there are absolutely the best. Anyway, having found &
picked you mussels all you need to do is clean & de-beard them. Chop the
onion & celery and put it in your pot with the butter & let it sauté
until the onions are soft. Add what's left of the wine (you're well into
the bottle by now, I hope) and dump in all of your mussels. Let steam
until all of the mussels have opened.
Fried Apples or pineapple
This is even easier. If you're doing apples
peel & core them then cut them into 1/8ths. If you're doing pineapple
cut off the outside & then slice it into 1/2 inch thick horizontal
slices (I won't tell if you use canned pineapple) in either case melt a
generous amount of butter in your frying pan then add about 1/4 cup
sugar. When the sugar has blended in add the apples/pineapple slices &
sprinkle on a nice coating of quatre spice (or a premix of ginger,
nutmeg & cinnamon) . Sauté for a couple of minutes then turn over & do
the same again. The fruit should be slightly singed at the edges.
There you are my friends three easy recipes for camping out. Easy to find ingredients and very few utensils needed.
I hope you read this next time you are back in civilization & give them a try on your next wilderness foray. I'll look forward to hearing the results.
Yens & Cravings
Do you ever get a yen for something? Or should I say do you ever get a craving for something? I'm really not sure there's a difference or even if it matters if there is. At any rate every so often I get a craving for something, usually food related. For example, last time we lived in the states I used to get a yen for some comfit or a proper English pork pie. I'd go to a lot of trouble to get the item even if I had to make it from scratch myself. Even earlier, living in Europe I would get a craving for things like Fritos or a proper American hamburger. ( I remember a place in London that was quite a hit making good hamburgers; it was called 'The Great American Disaster'!!)
Recently my yen/craving has been for corned beef hash. Don't ask why because I don't know. The craving came into my head and for a few days I couldn't help thing about a nice portion of corned beef hash topped wit a poached egg or two. I started looking up corned beef hash recipes on the net, there were thousands of them, but they were mostly all the same. OK, I wasn't going to find corned beef hash in any French restaurant that's for sure so I had to make it myself.
Our favorite supermarket unusually sells corned beef in tins from Argentina. Sure enough, however, just because I really wanted some they'd discontinued it. Not enough turnover I guess. Fortunately, I was able to buy some at Netto which is a cheap & cheerful cut rate supermarket. Now with some potatoes, onion & eggs I was all set.
I'll give you my recipe, but its not going into the Recipe Index. Its too simple & too generic. If my yen inspires you to make corned beef hash then make up your own recipe.
Here's what I did: I chopped an onion up pretty finely, then cut 3 medium sized potatoes up into a dice (didn't bother to peel them), opened the tin of corned beef. I put the potatoes into boiling water & the onions in a hot frying pan with a bit of oil. I drained the potatoes after about 4-5 minutes of boiling & made sure they were dry. By now the onions were starting to brown a bit -good. I put the potatoes into the frying pan with the onions & stirred until the potatoes started to brown. Meanwhile I'd cropped up the corned beef into small chunks. When the potatoes were browned I put in the corned beef added salt & pepper & stirred. I turned the heat down a bit & poached the eggs.
I took the hash out of the pan onto a plate & put two softly poached eggs on top. Yummy!!
My craving satisfied. I liked it so much that I made another batch the next day to share with Jacques for lunch. He's never had corned beef hash before, but he liked it.
The next day, yesterday, I made fairly decent hamburgers. Think I m
I mentioned the Dorie Greenspan cook book, "around my French Kitchen", a couple of posts ago. Since then I've had more time to go through it and I continue to like what I'm reading. Her recipes are well thought out & well presented. As I mentioned before I like her little asides about France & French customs. They ring true and are enlightening for anybody interested in France & its culture.
Today I decide to cook an all Dorie dinner for Linda & I. After some study I ended up trying four of her recipes. Curried chicken, peppers and pea in papilotte (page 211); garlicky crumb coated broccoli (page 334); go-with-everything celery root puree (page 354) and piperade stir fry (page 341. I though this might be an interesting combination and it turned out that I was right.
The vegetables nicely complimented the chicken which was very nice, not to mention very easy to do. The celery root is a definite keeper and makes a nice change from mashed potatoes. I've always liked piperade & Dories' version is very nice indeed. The broccoli is an old favorite & Linda loves it. The various flavors blended well and the food looked nice on the plate; not spectacular, but nice & substantial. Just the meal for a blustery late winter day.
I'll definitely try more of her dishes. I can't say that I'll work my way through the book because many of the dishes are ones I already know and as with any cook book there are recipes that I'm just not interested in.
In any case here are a few notes & observations on the dishes I cooked tonight.
The Chicken. - A great recipe just the way it is. For my taste she got the amount of curry powder just right. I certainly wouldn't use more, or less for that matter. You do need to make the foil packets as large as possible to give the chicken room. Ours ended up sort of lumped together in the packets. This didn't hurt anything, they were fully & nicely cooked, but it didn't make for a great presentation.
The Broccoli. As I say an old favorite. To be honest I don't think that the bread crumbs add much to the dish. Its hard to get them to actually coat the floret's. Next time I'll leave them out.
The celery root. Definitely a keeper. Very smooth & delicious. The celery root flavor comes through very nicely. My only question is over the use of half whole milk & half water. Why not low fat milk Or all whole milk? Or even a light cream? I'm going to mess around with this a bit to see what happens. Still, as is, an excellent recipe.
The Piperade. I like Dories' version even better than my own! That's saying something for me as I like my own version a lot. Linda suggested that maybe the onion & garlic cold be added just at the end of cooking the peppers. This is a good idea & one I'll try. Also, I'll play around a bit with the ratio of onion to pepper.
Since all of these recipes are for four people & I made whole recipes we have another whole meal to play with tomorrow (except the broccoli). I can't wait for the piperade after a day in the fridge; I suspect it will be even better.
So far I can highly recommend this book. I don't buy many cook books these day, but I'm glad I bought this one.
Valentine/ Birthday Lunch
Linda has her birthday on Valentines day which is a good thing now that my memory is getting more & more fallible. Monday is a bad day for restaurants in our part of France so we decided to go out for a Sunday lunch. Sunday lunch is a big deal in France & all the restaurants do something special.
Our favorite Le Vieux Pont is closed from their annual vacation which was unfortunate as we love the place. Instead we went to Lou Cantoun in Casserole. Now Casserole is more of a hamlet than a village. A very pretty little hamlet, but just not very big and not where you would expect to find a high class restaurant. In fact we've only recently discovered it even though we've lived in this area for nearly ten years.
Outside the restaurant is nothing special to look at. Clean, neat, welcoming, but nothing special. Inside in addition to a long bar there are two dining rooms. Both simply, but stylishly done. Stone walls, very old beams, well spaced tables nicely set. A nice ambience, one feels comfortable. Service is friendly & professional. Just a nice place & a nice feeling overall.
There was a special Valentines menu which although it looked nice didn't appeal to us quite as much as one of the regular set menu's. We chose the 'air' menu. (there were also 'sky', 'earth' and 'sea' menus.) Once we'd chosen a little 'amuse' of a small cup of pumpkin soup with a foam topping arrived.
Linda started with quenelles of sea bass with a basil sauce. She liked it a lot. I chose the pig's trotters; the meat had been slowly cooked, taken off the bone & formed into a small log. The sauce was light vinegar & shallots. Delicious.
Linda went with more fish as her main course. Her fish was morou which is a white delicate fish. (I'm not sure what we call it in English.) Se declared it - Yummy! I had the Magret. Cooked very rare as requested and served with reduction of shallots, red wine & thyme. Again, very very nice.
The cheese course was three slivers of local cheeses. Two were sheep's cheese; one very young & light & the other older & more robust. The third was a Tome which is a cows milk cheese. Just enough to prepare us for dessert.
Dessert was the highlight of the meal. We had both chosen profiteroles. These turned out to be probably the best profiteroles either of us have ever had. I don't say this lightly as I fancy myself as a pretty good maker of profiteroles myself and I've eaten a lot of them in restaurants. The were three on the plate. The choux pastry was perfect; light & crispy. The homemade vanilla ice cream was very rich & delicious. The chocolate sauce was excellent (the French have way with chocolate.) and was topped with freshly toasted almonds. Sheer heaven!
A really really nice meal. Our wine was local. A Gaillac called 'Galien' from a Domaine that I know & respect. IN deference to Linda's birthday & her fishy meal it was an oaked white. Very nice & very interesting. I'm not sure of what grape varieties it was made from. I'll have go & ask them & probably buy some for home.
All in all a nice way to celebrate Valentines & my wife's birthday.
Off now to run a wine tasting with a group of locals. We're tasting Quercy wine this evening.
Just a few thoughts
No single topic for this post, just a few semi-random thoughts.
Like much of the world I've been watching the events in Egypt and the rest of the middle East unfold. So far, so good. I just hope that all of those people will end up with better governments and start to prosper. Certainly it will take time, but hopefully the youth of these countries will have a better life. Fingers crossed for them.
Its Linda's birthday tomorrow so we're going out to lunch today since Monday's not a good restaurant day in our area even if it is Valentine's day. Our very favorite restaurant, Le Vieux Pont, is closed for their annual vacation so we're going to Lou Cantoun in Cestayrois. We've never been there for a Sunday lunch before, but judging by their normal meals it should be excellent. All the local restaurants tend to do something special for Sunday lunch. I'll let you know what it was like.
I just brought myself a copy of a new cook
book; its 'Around my French Table' by Dorie Greenspan. I'd read a lot
about it on eGullet where many members seem to be cooking their way
through it. So far I've only cooked one dish from it, more on that in a
I can easily recommend this book. Especially to my American readers. There are for me two problems with the book. First the measurements are all American. (I've had to dig out my old measuring stuff.) and, secondly, its heavy. The book is beautifully printed on heavy stock with excellent photos, but it weighs a ton. Hard to hold & read.
That's it for now. I've got to make myself
pretty for my wife.
Mushroom Soup - Again
Yes I know I posted a mushroom soup recipe some time ago, but I must say that its one of my favorites. Simple, nourishing, cheap and delicious. It bears repeating I think. This is pretty much the same version, but this time I've done the recipe with pictures so anyone can easily follow along.
Here we go:
The 'mise en place' so to speak.
-Dried mushrooms ( Cèpes in this case) that have been soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
As to quantities, its up to you. Here I have a pound of mushrooms, probably 3 oz of dried mushrooms, one onion. Not shown is about a liter of stock, either chicken or vegetable. The amount of cream (I used 3/4 liter) to stock is up to you. The more cream the richer the soup (& the more calories) The butter is just enough to sauté the onions then sweat the mushrooms.
1) Chop up the onions & place them in your soup pot with the butter. Sauté gently until the onions are soft, but not browned.
2) While the onions are cooking chop up the mushrooms. Cut off the root end & cut them int quarters. (Having brushed them to clean beforehand)
3) When they are all cut up & the onions are soft add the mushrooms to the pot.
4) Let the mushrooms cook, stirring frequently, until they soften. DO NOT let them cook so much that they start to give off their water.
5) Add the dried mushrooms & cook some more with lots of stirring.
6) After no more than 5 minutes add the stock & the water from the soaked mushrooms.
7) Stir well & bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes then turn the heat down.
8) When the mixture has gone off the boil add the cream & the thyme. (I like to use a generous hand with the thyme)
9) Bring the soup back up to a simmer & let cook for a few minutes. Turn the heat down.
10) Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in a food processor.
That's it! I've broken the steps down, but really they're pretty easy & fast.
The mushroom soup is delicious & just the thing for a cold day. Given the recent weather in the states its an ideal dish. Enjoy!
Now that all of the holidays are over its duck season in the French super markets. They're not only selling off lots of Foie gras, but every other bit of the duck you can imagine. There was a big section with two large cold displays filled with pieces of duck at my favorite supermarket when I went shopping today. I bought two duck breasts (maigret) at a very nice price & a stuffed duck neck.
You know the old expression that they eat everything but the squeal when it comes to pigs? Well they not only do that in France, but they eat everything, but the Quack as well!
I've scanned in some ads from a supermarket flyer to give you an idea of what's available & at what price. My apologies for the image quality, but they are from a poorly printed flyer.
Best quality Foie Gras at about $16.00 a pound. Don't know what the prices are like in the states if you can even get it. Note the 20% discount for regular customers.
At the left some 'cheap' Foie Gras at roughly $ 11.50 a pound. Now, I'm not enough of an expert to tell the difference so I'd probably buy the cheaper type.
To be honest, Foie Gras is so tricky to cook that I usually buy pre-cooked. It fun to try doing it yourself, but expensive.
So much for the expensive stuff. Here's a look at my favorite. Magret!
As you can see at the left duck breasts are going for only about $5.00 per pound. Delicious & very hard to beat. Serve with some 'Ailliade de Toulouse' and you're in heaven.
Note that on the right they're selling the duck carcass for only $ 0.90 per pound. They call this when roasted 'friton'. The idea is to pick all of the delicious bits of meat off the bone.
Here we have duck gizzards (Geseirs) for $ 3.50 per pound. They're mainly used in a local salad dish which is very tasty. They're just fried up & sliced. Yummy!
Also, you see some duck hearts (Coeur) advertised at $1.85 a pound. They're mainly used in pates & terrines or as flavoring in a stew.
And, there's duck fat (Graisse de canard) for $1.45 a pound. I rarely buy any as I get enough from cooking other bits of duck; but I do always have big sealed jar of it in my fridge.
A prize to anyone who knows what "pelure" is. Its cheap enough at under a dollar a pound.
Last, but not least are the 'cuisses' , the leg/ thigh pieces at $ 1.80 a pound or thereabouts. These of course are the most popular cut for making comfit de canard. 'Manchons' by the way are just the lower leg part of the duck at about a dollar per pound. They're cheap because that part of a duck's leg isn't very meaty.
Again, although I used to make my own comfit I don't bother anymore since I can but it cheaply & of high quality without any of the work. There are, however, some really nice recipes for cuisse that is fresh & not preserved. These I do cook from time to time.
Because they weren't advertised I haven't got a picture of the whole duck carcass less the Foie Gras that they also sell. Unfortunately, I can't remember the price per pound that they were selling at.
So, that that's the duck with no part left out. You can see why its popular; inexpensive & delicious.
Yet another reason why I love living in France.
Bits & Bots
At last the weather has warmed up a bit. It was up to 0° C this morning. A welcome change. The forecast is promising as well.
For those who read yesterday's post I can tell you the the pear tarte tatin was delicious. We'll have the rest for lunch today. Try it, you'll like it.
I've had a couple of nice inputs from readers which I'd like to share with everyone. ( by the way I love getting feedback, comments & suggestions. The more the merrier!)
The first tip is from Charles in New Orleans. He raves about a dish he had at this restaurant: http://www.coquette-nola.com/. The dish was
The second tip comes from Gordon in Atlanta. He cooked the chili recipe that I recently posted. He accompanied it with a warm salad of
I was sad to read today that Mark Bittman the long time food writer at the New York Times is retiring. His columns have been an inspiration to me for many years. I love his straightforward approach to food & cooking. He manages to make things simple yet delicious. His modestly titled book "How to Cook Everything" is great. If you don't have it I urge you to go out & buy it. Here's a huge long link to today's article where Mark chooses his top 25 recipes. This will also lead you to his blog & other links.
On a personal note I'm happy to say that our new summer kitchen/laundry room & TV/office are getting there. Patrick, the electrician, is moving forward rapidly and now has the air conditioning/ heating unit up & running. Really necessary in this cold weather. At the same time Jacques has the new windows & door in so that the rooms are weather tight. I'll be ecstatic when I have two ovens again.
I'll stop now as I need to get lunch ready. We're having curried pumpkin soup, wilted spinach salad, cheese & Pear tarte tatin. Plus a bit of wine of course.
Pear Tart Tatin
Our weather is still cold. Unusual for us that it should last so long. Anyway, being indoors & hungry I started thinking about food. How surprising you say? Well not really. In any case I had to go shopping & while I was in the fruit & vegetable department
(A side note: They have one of these fancy weighing machines which shows you a pictorial list of everything; you just poke that picture & out come the stick on price slip. Neat, huh? All except that I wanted to buy some parsnips, panais in French. No such picture or written description. Its only recently that you are able to find parsnips in France at all & to see them start to be available in the big Supermarkets is really new. Anyway I took my parsnips to the checkout & told the girl that I couldn't find a price for them. She asks "what are they?". Panais I say. Oh she says & phones the vegetable Department. A guy comes. He grabs my parsnips & goes rushing off. He comes back in a few minutes & now they have a price slip. It says Jerusalem artichokes-parsnips! Go figure.)
Anyway they had some very nice looking pears on offer. This reminded me that I've been wanting to try making a pear tatin for quite a while. So I bought some plus some ready made flaky pastry & away I went. Here's the pictorial recipe:
Here are the ingredients:
-1/2 a lemon
Heat oven to 375 degreed F.
Melt some butter in the frying pan you're using to make the tart (NOTE: the pan must be oven proof)
Melt the butter
Cook, stirring, until the sugar melts & turns brown.
Take the syrup off the heat & let cool a bit.
Peel & halve the pears. Cut our the core by making two V shaped cuts.
As you cut the pears place them into a bowl with a bit of sugar, the juice of the half lemon and some cinnamon.
Arrange the pears carefully in the still hot syrup. Its best for appearances to place them with the center side up. You also may want to cut some of the halves into smaller pieces once the bottom of the pan is covered. This will make for a more even crust and pears that aren't too deep when cooked.
Place the pan back on a high heat. The syrup will start to bubble. When it does use a spoon or bulb baster to baste the tops of the pears.
Cook for roughly 15 minutes or until the pears start to soften.
When the pears start to soften place the pastry over them, cut the edges & tuck into the pan & make a few air holes in the top.
The best way to get the pastry on evenly is to fold it in half before trying to place it over the pears.
Place the pan in the top half of a 370 degree F
oven. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned.
There we are. I can't show you the tricky bit which is turning the hot tart over.
The only advice I can give is to hold the plate close to the pan & be brave. A quick flip works best.
Its pretty though and I can't wait to taste it when we have it after dinner this evening.
The rest of tonight's menu is Curried pumpkin soup & wilted spinach salad with chevre & lardons. Can't wait!
A Fantastic Fish Dish
This is a truly delicious dish. I've called it a dish because I'm not sure whether its a soup or a stew. Not that that matters because whatever one calls it, its delicious. We got the recipe from our friend Sheila who is no mean cook and who served it to us one Sunday lunch. We liked it so much that we begged her for the recipe. She being a kind soul obliged and gave us the recipe. She'd gotten it from somewhere she couldn't remember. Whoever came up with it first deserves lots of praise as it certainly is the best fish stew/soup recipe ever.
One of the great things about this recipe is that its simple to make, can mostly be done in advance & easily finished off just before serving and requires no really hard to get ingredients. Any cook of any skill level can make it. At the same time it is a dish that will impress guests; an ideal dinner party main course.
Here's what you need & do:
That's it! The soup/stew can be served as is with some nice crusty bread.
For a more elaborate version & to give the dish the full French treatment do as follows:
Put each of these into separate bowls
and put them on the table for your guests to serve themselves.
The tradition thing is now to place a toasted bread round on top of your bowl soup; add a dollop of Aïoli onto the toast then cover that with some cheese. The amounts to add are up to each individual. Delicious! Also very impressive as a dinner party dish.
If you've never had this kind of fish stew give it a try. Its delicious, just as good as bouillabaisse if not better and a damn sight easier to make. Believe me!
It was a beautiful morning today so Linda & I decided to go to market. Normally only one of us goes, but today we decided that Linda would do the shopping so I could concentrate on taking pictures. We're still playing with our new camera. I can certainly say one thing for it; its a lot lighter than our digital SLR.
We have a choice of Sunday markets. We can go to either Limogne or St Antonin. Where we used to live they were equidistant. Now St Antonin is about 10 minutes closer. We'll probably still go to Limogne in the summer because St Antonin becomes a zoo, completely over run by tourists. Its a shame for we 'locals', but who can blame the tourists as St Antonin is a beautiful place. Its very old & sits on the Aveyron river with towering cliffs behind it. The bad news is that in winter its cold & often covered in freezing fog, but not today.
Parking for once was easy & the Limoges seconds china guy was there.
He sells seconds from the famous potteries. And, interestingly, he sell by weight. Each piece has a red or blue or green dot & the dot color determines the price per kilo.
We bought a large platter since one of ours got lost in the move.
There's Linda heading down the 'main' street into the main market area. Normally the street would be lined solidly on both sides with stalls, but in winter a lot of stall holders stay home or go on vacation.
Here's a sausage stall. You can't quite make out the sign, but it says you can choose any 3 sausage types for 10 Euros, 5 for 15 Euros or 7 for 20.
You can also sort of see that the stall holder is hamming it up because I'm taking a picture.
The house of dreams! The local Real Estate Agent. We bought then sold our first house through them. Its run by an English couple plus staff who've been here for a good number of years.
Their astute marketing of the area have had a materiel effect on local house prices.
In any case almost everybody stops to have a look. In summer the tourists all stop & wonder at the low prices. This area is still relatively inexpensive.
Linda perusing the vegetables. She's particularly looking for sweet potatoes.
This stall didn't have any so didn't get her business.
The coffee & tea stand on the Left and the bread shop window on the right.
There are several cheese stands at the market. All good.
I chose this one even though its not very large because they ONLY sell Chevre of a bewildering variety.
The factory is run as a commune & is just down the river from St Antonin.
Their cheeses are excellent.
Some excellent looking shallots.
Salted cod & sardines for making Brandade or Estafinado.
These were right next door to these great jams & jellies.
All of this is great fun. Sometimes I think going around taking the pictures is almost as much fun as buying things. This time of year you get a lot of interaction as you take pictures. Most of the stall holders have something to say & the time to say it. It helps that I'm known by many of them after coming to this market for ten years.
Here's the old original covered market. It still has stalls in it, but these days there just isn't enough room for everybody. On the right is the butcher's van. He's right next to the fish van which you can't really see. My picture didn't turn out so you'll have to use your imagination.
I'll leave you with this picture of one of the wine seller's signs.
Yes, that really is about a $ 1.30 for a liter of wine. I can't say I've ever tasted this particular wine, but I'd imagine that its palatable as a 'vin ordinaire'.
Cahuzac is a nice village about 20 miles away in the Gaillac region.
We had a good day at market. Linda got all of the vegetables we wanted, we got a new platter, we chatted to friends and we had a coffee & a little fruit tart.
A typical way to spend Sunday morning in France. C'est La Vie!!
Cold Day Chili
It was pretty cold here yesterday, clear, but cold. I was on my way to the Sunday market in St Antonin when I started things about something warming to eat. I was going to buy vegetables so that Linda could make her wonderful soup, but I wanted something even heartier.
Inspiration struck in the form of "What if I make some chili con carne?" Yes, it would a doddle. All I had to do was buy a couple of extra things at the market. Thus in addition to the vegetables I was going to buy anyway I bought a pound of high quality ground beef, a large tube of tomato puree, a large can of whole tomatoes and two large cans of red kidney beans. I was all set.
I drove home, unpacked everything and started chili making. It didn't take long. Here's the recipe:
Linda likes her chili served over white rice, I don't. Strictly a matter of taste. Grating some strong cheddar cheese to put over the chili is nice as is a good dollop of sour cream. If I've made the chili fairly mild to please other I like to make & serve it with a strong salsa for those who like more oomph.
Whatever suits you is best. One
thing for sure its a great dish for a cold day.
1st Dinner party in new
house We tried our first 'proper'
dinner party since we moved into our new house a couple of nights ago.
Because of the down sizing we only have room for 8 at most in our dining
area. (Well. I guess we could fit in 10 at a pinch.) For this dinner we
were only 7 as one of the guests is single & didn't bring a partner. This number worked well in terms
of seating. Everyone was comfortable and conversation was easy either
with the person next to you or as a group. I've always thought that 6 or
8 is the ideal number for a dinner. Since I'm not used to cooking in an
'open kitchen where the hob is just beyond one end of the dining table I
was a bit leery as to what to cook. I didn't want 4 pots on the hob that
near our guests so I choose a menu that didn't need too much last minute
cooking on the hob. Things seemed to work pretty well despite my
misgivings. The menu consisted of a started
salad of chevre with sun dried tomatoes plus rocket & lambs lettuce with
a creamy vinaigrette followed by a main course of chicken with ham & a
creamy mushroom tarragon sauce accompanied by roast roots & green beans
with toasted almonds. We finished up with a wonderful pear tart that
Linda made. Two of the recipes are new so I'll write them up below and
post them in Index of Recipes. The
Roasted Roots recipe is already there. Chevre & Sun Dried tomato
salad. Ingredients: Method: Stuffed chicken thighs with a
mushroom/ tarragon dressing Ingredients: Method:
French Guacamole French Guacamole, that may sound
like a contradiction in terms, but its not. What I'm talking about is
making guacamole here in France. You'd be hard pushed to find a Mexican
restaurant in France (in Paris, perhaps) and trying to make Mexican
cuisine here is a challenge. With, however, luck & persistence it can be
done. The saving grace is that for
reasons best known to the French Supermarkets many of them stock a range
of Mexican style products under the 'Old El Paso' brand name. They even
stock tortillas, pretty awful, but at least they try. The useful thing
that they stock is packets of spice mix for guacamole. These as it
turns out are good and are a great aid to making French Guacamole. One can from the Market spice &
herb stall buy all of the herbs & spices one needs for guacamole, but
the packets are far easier. To make your own mix you need to buy: Ground
cumin, Turmeric, chili powder, ground coriander (cilantro to you Yanks),
salt & black pepper. You need to mix these until you get a balance of
flavor that you like. Not difficult, but fiddly to do. The Old El Paso
mix is about right for my taste. The other thing you need are very
good avocados. Fortunately these are easy to find. Both the Markets and
the Supermarkets' have them. This time of year they're even very cheap.
One can buy little filets with four or five in them very cheaply, but
you're better off buying them separately so that you can feel each
avocado for ripeness. You want avocados that are slightly soft when you
squeeze them. Not mushy soft, but roughly as soft as a ripe orange. If
you can't find the right degree of ripeness then buy the best you can
and take them home & keep them in a paper bag somewhere reasonably warm,
but not hot. They should ripen up in a few days. Once you avocados are
ready you're good to go. Here's the recipe: Method: Serve the guacamole with tortilla
chips (corn chips). Again, these can be found in French Supermarkets. If
not you can use crinkle cut potato chips instead. We've found that our French
friends adore guacamole. Most have never had it before or have had some
awful version. A properly made version is a revelation to them. For that
matter many of our English friends have never had a proper guacamole
either. They to adore it. Of course you don't have to be in
France to use this recipe. I suspect you can get the ingredients in most
European countries if you look hard enough. Anybody in the states
shouldn't have any difficulty at all. Have a go.
First Olives We
inherited two tiny olive trees
with our new house. Well. they are more like olive bushes as you can see
In any case as we were bringing them in I decided
to pick the tiny olives as there was a good crop & they looked edible.
As the trees are so small we only got about a pint of olives from them
both. Now I had to decide what to do with them now
that I had them. I've never cured olives in my life; in fact I never
thought much about it. I love to eat olives, but it just never occurred
to me to think of preparing them myself. In this case there certainly
weren't enough to even think about pressing them for oil. Internet to the rescue. Some Google searches
quickly resulted in more information than I would ever need. Turns out that you can brine olives or salt
them. I found a nice pictorial write up on how to salt olives so I
followed that (unfortunately I've lost the link to it.) All I had to do was to wash my olives
thoroughly then cover them in coarse sea salt. I then put them into a
colander and suspend the colander over a bowl. Then I covered the whole
thing with a tea towel and put the bowl in a cool place. After about a week I turned the olives to make
sure they were still all coated and I added a bit more salt. After two
weeks plus a few days I rinsed off an olive & tasted it. No bitterness.
Now I rinsed all of the olives very carefully
of remove all of the salt. I dried them carefully before proceeding to
the next stage. Seasoning! I decided to keep mine simple for this first
effort; olive oil, bay leaves, garlic and pepper flakes. Thus all of the
olives went into a sealable container & were covered with olive oil. I
then added the garlic, bay & pepper and gave the mixture a good stir.
Here's what they looked like after 10 days in the olive oil. They were starting to taste pretty good. I gave
them a good shake & waited for Christmas. Yesterday I took them to our friends where we
were sharing Christmas lunch. We had them with our pre-luncheon drinks. In all due modesty I must say they were
delicious. Everyone enjoyed them. A had a hit on my hands. The moral of this story is that doing some
things is much easier then you anticipate and the results exceed your
expectations. I can't wait for next year's crop!!
Easy Holiday Dishes Cooking's a great
pleasure, but there are times when it can all get to be too much.
Holiday cooking can certainly be one of those times; a houseful of kids
plus a houseful of relations is enough to drive any cook to distraction.
What are these paragons of
virtue? Believe it or not coming from the ultimate carnivore they're
both vegetable didhes! For this post I'll do them both, but I'll
separate them in the
Index of Recipes. They are; "Roast
Ratatouille" and what I call "Roasted Roots" Roast Ratatouille
Ingredients: 2 nice big eggplants
(aborigine) about a pound (500g) of
cherry tomatoes. (if not available just chop regular tomatoes into
bite size pieces.) 2 good sized yellow
onions 2 each of both red &
green sweet peppers 2-3 good sized zucchini
(courgettes) Fresh basil (dry if you
can't easily find fresh) Salt & Pepper. A dab of olive oil Method: Cut the eggplant into
about 1/2 inch cubes then lightly salt it & let it sit in a colander
while you prepare all of the other ingredients. Cut up the onion, peppers
and zucchini into bite sized pieces. Rinse the salt off of the
eggplant then pat dry. Place ALL of the
ingredients into a large mixing bowl, add Salt & Pepper & the dab of
olive oil. Mix gently, but well. When ready to cook (this
can be an hour or many later or the next day) heat an oven to about
190 degrees C. Spread the Ratatouille mixture evenly over a baking
tray (or two) & place in the hot oven. Bake for roughly 45
minutes. Until. that is, all the veggies are nicely cooked.
As you can see the prep work
for this dish consists of cutting things up. The cutting up doesn't even
have to be particularly even. Thus the task can be sub contracted to
guests or even to older children. The results are great. The
Ratatouille looks good and tastes even better. It goes well with most
meats, but is particularly good with lamb, posk or chicken. Roasted Roots Ingredients: 2-3 large potatoes several turnips several carrots several parsnips a nice rutabaga a couple of red sweet
peppers a few cloves of garlic Salt, pepper & olive oil Method: Peel all of the
vegetables. Slice the turnips &
rutabagas cross ways into about 1/8th inch thick slices. Slice the carrots,
parsnips & peppers lengthways into thick matchstick size. Slice the potatoes
lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices, then slice these into 2 or 3
lengthways slices. Peel the garlic cloves.
(a not of caution! Don't use too many cloves of garlic as their
flavour can overwhelm the other ingredients.) Mix all together into a
large bowl with the Salt, pepper & olive oil. Just enough oil to
lightly coat. You can add rosemary, thyme, Herbs de Province or
whatever herb you like. When ready to bake (NOTE:
the veggies can rest for hours or even overnight. Put them in the
fridge if over a few hours.) heat the oven to 190 degrees C. Spread
the veggies over a baking tray or two. Bake for about 45 minutes
or until the potatoes are done as they're slowest to cook/ Like the ratatouille recipe
friends, family or older children can do all of the work on this one.
They go with most meat dishes, the red peppers give a festive air.
Its not too late for this Christmas
the French would come up with this idea Christmas gift for all of you
wine lovers. Click & enjoy!
1st Dinner party in new house
We tried our first 'proper' dinner party since we moved into our new house a couple of nights ago. Because of the down sizing we only have room for 8 at most in our dining area. (Well. I guess we could fit in 10 at a pinch.) For this dinner we were only 7 as one of the guests is single & didn't bring a partner.
This number worked well in terms of seating. Everyone was comfortable and conversation was easy either with the person next to you or as a group. I've always thought that 6 or 8 is the ideal number for a dinner. Since I'm not used to cooking in an 'open kitchen where the hob is just beyond one end of the dining table I was a bit leery as to what to cook. I didn't want 4 pots on the hob that near our guests so I choose a menu that didn't need too much last minute cooking on the hob. Things seemed to work pretty well despite my misgivings.
The menu consisted of a started salad of chevre with sun dried tomatoes plus rocket & lambs lettuce with a creamy vinaigrette followed by a main course of chicken with ham & a creamy mushroom tarragon sauce accompanied by roast roots & green beans with toasted almonds. We finished up with a wonderful pear tart that Linda made. Two of the recipes are new so I'll write them up below and post them in Index of Recipes. The Roasted Roots recipe is already there.
Chevre & Sun Dried tomato salad.
Stuffed chicken thighs with a mushroom/ tarragon dressing
French Guacamole, that may sound like a contradiction in terms, but its not. What I'm talking about is making guacamole here in France. You'd be hard pushed to find a Mexican restaurant in France (in Paris, perhaps) and trying to make Mexican cuisine here is a challenge. With, however, luck & persistence it can be done.
The saving grace is that for reasons best known to the French Supermarkets many of them stock a range of Mexican style products under the 'Old El Paso' brand name. They even stock tortillas, pretty awful, but at least they try. The useful thing that they stock is packets of spice mix for guacamole. These as it turns out are good and are a great aid to making French Guacamole.
One can from the Market spice & herb stall buy all of the herbs & spices one needs for guacamole, but the packets are far easier. To make your own mix you need to buy: Ground cumin, Turmeric, chili powder, ground coriander (cilantro to you Yanks), salt & black pepper. You need to mix these until you get a balance of flavor that you like. Not difficult, but fiddly to do. The Old El Paso mix is about right for my taste.
The other thing you need are very good avocados. Fortunately these are easy to find. Both the Markets and the Supermarkets' have them. This time of year they're even very cheap. One can buy little filets with four or five in them very cheaply, but you're better off buying them separately so that you can feel each avocado for ripeness. You want avocados that are slightly soft when you squeeze them. Not mushy soft, but roughly as soft as a ripe orange. If you can't find the right degree of ripeness then buy the best you can and take them home & keep them in a paper bag somewhere reasonably warm, but not hot. They should ripen up in a few days. Once you avocados are ready you're good to go.
Here's the recipe:
Serve the guacamole with tortilla chips (corn chips). Again, these can be found in French Supermarkets. If not you can use crinkle cut potato chips instead.
We've found that our French friends adore guacamole. Most have never had it before or have had some awful version. A properly made version is a revelation to them. For that matter many of our English friends have never had a proper guacamole either. They to adore it.
Of course you don't have to be in France to use this recipe. I suspect you can get the ingredients in most European countries if you look hard enough. Anybody in the states shouldn't have any difficulty at all. Have a go.
We inherited two tiny olive trees with our new house. Well. they are more like olive bushes as you can see below.
In any case as we were bringing them in I decided to pick the tiny olives as there was a good crop & they looked edible. As the trees are so small we only got about a pint of olives from them both.
Now I had to decide what to do with them now that I had them. I've never cured olives in my life; in fact I never thought much about it. I love to eat olives, but it just never occurred to me to think of preparing them myself. In this case there certainly weren't enough to even think about pressing them for oil.
Internet to the rescue. Some Google searches quickly resulted in more information than I would ever need.
Turns out that you can brine olives or salt them. I found a nice pictorial write up on how to salt olives so I followed that (unfortunately I've lost the link to it.)
All I had to do was to wash my olives thoroughly then cover them in coarse sea salt. I then put them into a colander and suspend the colander over a bowl. Then I covered the whole thing with a tea towel and put the bowl in a cool place.
After about a week I turned the olives to make sure they were still all coated and I added a bit more salt. After two weeks plus a few days I rinsed off an olive & tasted it. No bitterness.
Now I rinsed all of the olives very carefully of remove all of the salt. I dried them carefully before proceeding to the next stage. Seasoning!
I decided to keep mine simple for this first effort; olive oil, bay leaves, garlic and pepper flakes. Thus all of the olives went into a sealable container & were covered with olive oil. I then added the garlic, bay & pepper and gave the mixture a good stir. Here's what they looked like after 10 days in the olive oil.
They were starting to taste pretty good. I gave them a good shake & waited for Christmas.
Yesterday I took them to our friends where we were sharing Christmas lunch. We had them with our pre-luncheon drinks.
In all due modesty I must say they were delicious. Everyone enjoyed them. A had a hit on my hands.
The moral of this story is that doing some things is much easier then you anticipate and the results exceed your expectations. I can't wait for next year's crop!!
Easy Holiday Dishes
Cooking's a great
pleasure, but there are times when it can all get to be too much.
Holiday cooking can certainly be one of those times; a houseful of kids
plus a houseful of relations is enough to drive any cook to distraction.
What are these paragons of virtue? Believe it or not coming from the ultimate carnivore they're both vegetable didhes! For this post I'll do them both, but I'll separate them in the Index of Recipes. They are; "Roast Ratatouille" and what I call "Roasted Roots"
2 nice big eggplants
about a pound (500g) of
cherry tomatoes. (if not available just chop regular tomatoes into
bite size pieces.)
2 good sized yellow
2 each of both red &
green sweet peppers
2-3 good sized zucchini
Fresh basil (dry if you
can't easily find fresh)
Salt & Pepper.
A dab of olive oil
Cut the eggplant into
about 1/2 inch cubes then lightly salt it & let it sit in a colander
while you prepare all of the other ingredients.
Cut up the onion, peppers
and zucchini into bite sized pieces.
Rinse the salt off of the
eggplant then pat dry.
Place ALL of the
ingredients into a large mixing bowl, add Salt & Pepper & the dab of
olive oil. Mix gently, but well.
When ready to cook (this
can be an hour or many later or the next day) heat an oven to about
190 degrees C. Spread the Ratatouille mixture evenly over a baking
tray (or two) & place in the hot oven.
Bake for roughly 45 minutes. Until. that is, all the veggies are nicely cooked.
As you can see the prep work for this dish consists of cutting things up. The cutting up doesn't even have to be particularly even. Thus the task can be sub contracted to guests or even to older children.
The results are great. The Ratatouille looks good and tastes even better. It goes well with most meats, but is particularly good with lamb, posk or chicken.
2-3 large potatoes
a nice rutabaga
a couple of red sweet
a few cloves of garlic
Salt, pepper & olive oil
Peel all of the
Slice the turnips &
rutabagas cross ways into about 1/8th inch thick slices.
Slice the carrots,
parsnips & peppers lengthways into thick matchstick size.
Slice the potatoes
lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices, then slice these into 2 or 3
Peel the garlic cloves.
(a not of caution! Don't use too many cloves of garlic as their
flavour can overwhelm the other ingredients.)
Mix all together into a
large bowl with the Salt, pepper & olive oil. Just enough oil to
lightly coat. You can add rosemary, thyme, Herbs de Province or
whatever herb you like.
When ready to bake (NOTE:
the veggies can rest for hours or even overnight. Put them in the
fridge if over a few hours.) heat the oven to 190 degrees C. Spread
the veggies over a baking tray or two.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are done as they're slowest to cook/
Like the ratatouille recipe friends, family or older children can do all of the work on this one. They go with most meat dishes, the red peppers give a festive air.
Its not too late for this Christmas Present
Only the French would come up with this idea Christmas gift for all of you wine lovers.
Click & enjoy!