Plenty more

A couple of weeks back, I published the 200th post on this blog!!  To mark this milestone, I treated myself to a very special dinner at Nopi, whilst stopping over in London on a recent trip.  Nopi is a restaurant which was created by Yotam Ottolenghi, amongst others.  I’ve long been a fan of Mr Ottolenghi’s recipes, so this was very exciting!!  Plenty more is the title of Yotam Ottolenghi’s fourth book.  There’ll also be ‘plenty more’ posts on this blog!

The restaurant was very stylish and there were beautiful touches everywhere!  The food was sublime, and the menu was very much geared towards people sharing a multitude of smaller dishes – perfect for me and my companion!  That way we got to taste far more than just two starters and two main courses.  I felt too self-conscious to take many photographs, and the pictures I did take did not come out well enough to share with you, because of the low light levels.  Phone cameras can only do so much, unfortunately. :(

But fear not, I have been doing some more cooking with my friends, and together we tried out more of Mr Ottolenghi’s recipes!! :)

Here’s what we cooked:

Since it was not long after Christmas and New Years, we all agreed that we wanted to keep it as simple and light as possible. The dishes we had chosen were perfect for that!

You’ll be able to download and print off the recipes from the above links (to find the pear recipe please keep scrolling down the page), so I won’t go into any details as regards preparation or ingredients.  Without further ado, here are the pictures for the grilled red mullet with lemon and celery salad:

The multi-vegetable paella was a glorious combination of rice and all kinds of vegetables:

With the caramelised pears we substituted strained yoghurt for the mascarpone, and left out the fennel seed crackers – it was still a very delicious dessert!!

It was such fun trying out these new dishes, and the results were so very good.  Have you tried out any of the recipes from my blog?  I’d love to hear how you got on!

Looking ahead

For a little while I’ve been thinking about an events page for this blog – there is no better time than the new year to start this!! :)  On the new page, I will list upcoming events in and around the area, which you might enjoy.  I will try and update the page as often as possible – if there is an event you think should be listed here, please drop me a line.  If you want to visit the area and need accommodation please head to www.midihideaways.com .  Here now are the events I have added to the new page. This is only the start . . .

Limoux Carnival – 03.01.2016 – 13.03.2016

IMG_5494

The good people of Limoux take their carnival very serious.  Different groups have the run of the central square every Saturday and Sunday during the carnival period.  It’s always a fun festival to visit – I have previously written about it here.

Fete du Mimosa in Roquebrun – 14.02.2016

P1010157

The Fete du Mimosa is a must if you are in the area – a great fun fete!  I have visited many times and I’ve written about it here.

Grand Deballage in Pezenas – 01.05.2016

3

This is one of the larges antiques and flea markets in the area, with at least 150 stands.  Serious bargains can be found if you are prepared to look!  I’ll try and be there – should be good fun!

Tour de France 2016 – 13.07.2016 and 14.07.2016

IMG_4097

On July 13, the cyclists of the Tour de France will be racing from Carcassonne to Montpellier.  Rumour has it that the route may be going through Minerve and past La Caunette, but nothing has been confirmed yet.  On the following day the Tour will go from Montpellier to Mont Ventoux.  This should be an interesting stage, as the cyclists have to climb more than 1300m in altitude!  Here’s a post from when the Tour came through Saint-Chinian a few years ago!

Bastille Day, all over the area – 14.07.2016

IMG_0050

France celebrates her national holiday in great style – parties and fireworks take place in pretty much every village!  Some fireworks parties take place on the 13th (e.g. Beziers) and some on the 14th (e.g. Saint-Chinian and Bize-Minervois).  Not to be missed!

Fete du Cru, Saint-Chinian – 17.07.2016

IMG_0411

A whole day of wine tasting, a not to be missed event in Saint-Chinian.  You can read about a previous fete here.

Trading places

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember my mentioning Domaine La Madura every so often.  Over the years, I have become friends with Nadia and Cyril Bourgne, who own the domaine, and I’ve been able to observe the wine-making process at close quarters.  If you type “la madura” in the search box on the blog website, you’ll find quite a few articles which mention the domaine.

Today’s post isn’t as much about wine making as it is about the winery itself.  When Nadia and Cyril first bought the vineyards in 1998, the winery building was part and parcel of the deal.  It was located in Saint-Chinian, on Avenue Raoul Bayou, and it was very typical of a small winery building dating from the early part of the 20th century: two rows of concrete fermentation vats/tanks facing one another, and a kind of attic space above.  Very little room to manoeuvre  and almost completely dark without the lights switched on or the barn doors open.

IMG_2929

For years, Cyril had been dreaming of working in a modern, newly-built winery, where he would be able to have the best possible working conditions for making his wines.  After many months of wrangling with the planning authorities, Nadia and Cyril finally received permission to build a new winery on one of their former vineyards, just outside of Saint-Chinian.

Getting the new winery built was no mean feat – all the services had to be connected, and the smallest detail had to be thought of.  When he wasn’t working in the vineyards, Cyril spent every moment he could spare at the building site, to make sure that everything was going to plan!  The new winery was ready in time for the 2015 vintage!!

Here now, is an overview of the new winery, in all its gleaming glory.  The new building is off the Route de Salabert, and you’ll see this sign on the side of the road:

IMG_3131 Arrive at the winery and you’ll see that everything has been thought of.  There’s even a car park!

IMG_3244

Here’s what you see when you approach the building:

IMG_3134

Of course by the time of your visit, it won’t look like this any more, the landscaping around the building will be much more advanced!  The colour of the wall render was carefully chosen to harmonise with the surroundings.  If you turn away from the building, looking towards the village, you’ll see the most wonderful view:

IMG_3136

There’s another great view from the terrace outside the tasting room:

IMG_3225

IMG_2575

Perhaps I’d better tell you a little more about the layout.  There are several parts to the new winery.  There is an office, where Nadia can be found most days, during office hours.  The office is behind those three windows, as you arrive at the winery.  Next to the office is the laboratory, where Cyril analyses samples of wine and grape juice.  From the laboratory a door leads into the winery proper, where the fermentation vats and storage tanks are:

All of the tanks are fitted with sensors and equipment which allows for temperature control during fermentation.  Stainless steel stairs and a walkway give access to the air locks on top of the tanks.  The air locks ensure that the fermentation gases can escape, but no air can enter the tanks.

IMG_2559

There is ample space for storage:

IMG_3147

… and there is lots of light and air – it must be a pleasure to work here!

From the winery a door leads to the storage area.  At long last, all the bottled wine can be stored under one roof.  Before, it had to be stored in several different locations, in Saint-Chinian and Assignan, because of lack of space.

IMG_2570

From the storage area, another door leads into the barrel cellar, where the wine is ageing in oak barrels:

IMG_3182

From the barrel cellar, a glass door allows access to the tasting room.  The tasting room has lots of space, along with a very zen atmosphere!

The views from the large glass windows are wonderful, especially with a few bottles of wine in front:  :)

IMG_3192

So you’ve seen pretty much everything – all that is left to do is for you to visit the new winery in person!  And taste the wines, of course! :)

If you would like to visit Domaine La Madura, please get in touch with Nadia Bourgne ahead of time, either by e-mail or by phone on +33 (0)4 67 38 17 85.

Running out of time

Life is full of serendipitous moments, and it’s all too easy to let those moments slip by if we don’t grab the opportunities presented by them!  One such serendipitous moment occurred to me very recently.  On Facebook I saw that Domaine La Madura had shared a post about the sale of furniture from O Bontemps, a restaurant I had been to a number of times. This is a screenshot of the post:

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 12.13.33

And this is a screenshot of the text, as translated by Fb!!

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 12.13.56

As you can see, the translated text was somewhat cryptic – they were selling the furniture and pretty much everything else, including the menu case and door sign, and closing on February 15, but then what?  I had to find out more!! :)

Eventually I found an article, on the website of the local newspaper, Midi Libre (see the article here).  In the article, Olivier Bontemps, the chef owner of the restaurant, explained that he was re-locating within the area, with a concept more centred on the lunchtime trade, so that he could spend more time with his family.  While I was in the middle of reading the article, a friend stopped by for coffee, and we started talking about how nice it would be to go to the restaurant once more, before it closed.  “Why don’t we go this week?”, said the friend.  Just what I needed :)!  I picked up the phone and made a reservation for the following evening!

And so it was that I got to eat at O Bontemps in Magalas one more time!!  Here’s the outside of the restaurant:

P1010165

And part of the dining room:

IMG_0914

Ever since he opened his restaurant, Olivier Bontemps has been serving mussels, as a little appetizer, while the guests browse the menu.  These mussels were small and plump, and prepared wonderfully with smoked bacon, chopped almonds and cream – they were heavenly!!

P1010153

Once we had ordered, we were served an amuse bouche, a small glass of brussels sprout soup, topped with a cream made with smoked paprika.  The soup had a wonderfully clean flavour of brussels sprouts, and was just delicious.  It was also served hot – not tepid – which pleased my friend immensely – she likes her food to be served hot!

P1010156

The amuse bouche was followed by the starter – a reimagined club sandwich.  The plate was covered in a carpaccio of courgette, which was dressed with a most wonderful vinaigrette.  There was an elusive flavour in that dressing – the chef told us that it was kaffir lime, a citrus fruit which is a major component of Thai green curry.  The courgette carpaccio was topped with a wonderful salad, beautifully decorated with edible flowers, and of course there was also the sandwich:  slices of crispy bread filled with some very tasty smoked ham and cheddar cheese:

IMG_0907

After that wonderful starter came an even more wonderful main course – rumpsteak, which had been cooked at low temperature for 18 hours!!  I know that if I were to cook a piece of steak for 18 hours it would not look like this!  It was perfectly pink, juicy and tender, and it had great texture and flavour.  The sauce had been prepared with trompette de la mort mushrooms and truffles, and there was a side dish of vegetables, served in a separate bowl. The vegetables were mostly green in colour, but with different textures (crunchy, crispy, soft).  A chewy element was introduced by the rice shaped pasta, which was mixed in with the vegetables.  The broth in which the vegetables had been cooked was spicy, and it complemented the beef beautifully.

IMG_0908

Finally it was time for dessert.  Once more there were contrasting textures and flavours.  On a base of a kind of redcurrant cake was a light cream, topped by Italian meringue, accompanied by home made vanilla ice cream, and a masala tuile biscuit.

 

IMG_0910

Wow, what an end to a great meal!!

Now, there’s a reason why I inserted the video below (e-mail subscribers, you’ll have to visit the website to see the video):  the title is “Get here” and you should get there if you can, before the restaurant closes.  They still have space up until February 11, 2016.

More information on the website at http://www.o-bontemps.com

All things bright and beautiful

Here’s to another year!!

And here’s what I would like to wish you: May 2016

  • bring peace
  • be joyous
  • be full of health
  • sparkle with exciting adventure
  • be full of sunshine
  • bring you prosperity
  • be enjoyable!

Whilst writing this post I was thinking back to when I first started this blog in 2013.  Back then I couldn’t have imagined that I would never have to look very far for subjects to write about.  Can you tell that I am still enjoying the discoveries which I am making when I write and research my weekly posts?  Writing has allowed me to look at things differently, to pay more attention as I go through life.  Is there anything you would like me to write about?  What has been your favourite post?  Do please let me know by leaving a comment at the end of this post!

IMG_0870On one of my walks in late December, I came across a grove of mimosa trees, where several of the trees were already in full flower!  The grove is in a little dell, not all that far from the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian, and on the side of a hill.  The trees nearest the track seemed to be getting the most sun, as they were the ones flowering.  It was a glorious sight to behold, and the scent was heavenly.

I wasn’t the only one to appreciate the blossom, the bees were out in force for a winter feast.  The mimosa trees usually flower from late January onwards, but because of the mild winter, many trees are flowering much earlier than usual.

Here is a video I took (e-mail subscribers, please visit the website to watch the video) – please make sure that your speakers are turned on!!

 

Happy Holidays!

For as long as I can remember, the festive season has been synonymous with light for me.  In Germany, the nights draw in very early around Christmas, and the festive illuminations make those dark nights brighter.  I grew up there, in the days before everybody had electric lights on their (sometimes artificial) Christmas trees – we had real candles on a real tree.  I would only lay eyes on the tree on Christmas eve, when the candles were lit as if by magic (my parents never appeared to have anything to do with that!!), and the whole tree was sparkling with glass ornaments, tinsel and sparklers.  At the time you read this, I will be decorating my own tree, with tinsel, glass ornaments AND electric lights!  As I am writing this post before that tree will be trimmed, I won’t be able to share any photographs with you, I’m sorry!

But I do have some other photographs to share with you – I visited Montpellier very recently.  On my meanderings through some of the narrow streets, I passed by the entrance to a church, which had in the past always been locked.  That day the doors were wide open, so I had to have a look in – and I’m very glad I did!  The church was the Chapelle des Penitents Blancs, the chapel of the white penitents. This lay brotherhood was founded in Montpellier in 1517.  In 2013 it had 49 members, aged 25 to 103 years!  The chapel, which dates from the 17th century and earlier, serves as their headquarters.

IMG_3669

The interior is richly decorated, with much gold leaf in evidence.  Parts of the decor have been restored, whilst other parts are still awaiting much needed work.

On the balcony at the rear of the chapel are two mannequins, dressed in the traditional white robes of the penitents.

IMG_3666

There was a reason why the chapel was open to the public that day:  the very large Provençal creche or nativity scene!

IMG_3668

The popular Provençal nativity scenes appeared during the French Revolution, when la Terreur had closed churches and forbidden worship.  In 1793, at Christmas, people in Marseille started to make small figures, which could easily be hidden in case of police checks.  They used clay, paper, the white of a loaf of bread – whatever was to hand.  The figures represented the faithful, who could not go to midnight mass.  They were given the names santouns, little saints in Provençal. Today they are usually called santons.

The tradition became very much part of Christmas in Provence, and spread to Languedoc too.  In 1803 a santons fair was held in Marseille.  The traditional costumes of today’s figures hark back to the days when the santons were first made.

Did you notice the chapel with the white penitents?  And did you notice that baby Jesus was missing?  He will be placed in his crib with great ceremony on Christmas eve!

After that wonderfully unexpected stop, I made my way to Place de la Comedie and the Christmas market.  The centre of Montpellier was beautifully decked out in lights.  Here are some pictures of the Opera Comedie, of the Place de la Comedie, and of the streets surrounding the Place de la Comedie:

This year, the Christmas market stretched from the Place de la Comedie all the way down the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle – there were over 100 stalls in all!

IMG_3724There was a nice assortment of edibles:

. . .  and gift ideas:

Note how I have far more pictures of food :) – somehow I’m drawn to that!!

This will be my last post for 2015, and so I would like to wish all of you and yours a wonderful festive season!!  See you again in the New Year!

 

Let there be plenty

Soon the festive season will be upon us all – a time of getting together with friends and family, sharing good cheer, good food, and presents – a time when most of us will eat too much, and some of us may drink a little too much…  It’s all part of the festive celebrations, a time-honoured tradition – and seriously, who can resist all that delicious food and drink??

Mindful of the excesses which may be heading our way I thought I would share a special meal with you, which I recently prepared and ate with some very dear friends.  The starting point was “Plenty”, a book by Yottam Ottolenghi, a British based cookery writer with Italian, Israeli and British passports.  “Plenty” is Ottolenghi’s second book, a collection of vegetarian recipes, which he developed for his column in the Guardian Weekend Magazine.  It is a book that draws on many different cuisines and influences.

 

My friends and I selected three dishes from the book:

“Plenty” is not strong on recipes for desserts.  I wanted to stay with a recipe by Ottolenghi for dessert, so I did a search on the net and turned up an interesting sounding recipe for strained ricotta balls with banana fritters, on the Guardian website.

I started the dessert recipe days ahead of our meal, as the ricotta balls need to drain in the fridge for several days.

For the Soba noodles and wakame, I searched the internet for an on-line retailer, and found a Japanese store in Paris which did mail order!!  Great!!  The package arrived on time – five out of five to http://www.kioko.fr !

I had never eaten or worked with wakame before, so it was interesting to try it.  Wakame is an edible seaweed, most often used in soups and salads.   It was very easy to re-hydrate the required quantity:

P1000989

Other ingredients for the salad were soba noodles, which are made with buckwheat flour; shredded cucumber (skin on), which is salted and left to drain for some time; as well as toasted sesame seeds, coriander and mint leaves, and radish sprouts.

The dressing was made with rice vinegar, lime juice, grated lime zest, chillies, fresh ginger, sugar, salt, sesame oil, garlic and sweet chilli sauce.

P1010034

It was quite a challenge to mix all these ingredients, but the result was worth all the effort – a wonderful combination of flavours and textures!

P1010040

The roasted butternut squash called for ingredients which were easy enough to find!  Butternut squashes are plentiful at this time of year, and I think they are the best of all winter squashes for flavour.  The squash was cut into slices, put on a lined baking sheet and liberally anointed with a mixture and oil, ground allspice and coarsely ground cardamom.  A little sprinkle of salt, and 15 minutes in the oven.

The dressing called for Greek yoghurt, lime juice, tahini, a little water and salt.  The sauce was poured over the cooled squash slices, and the whole decorated with lime segments, finely sliced green chilli and chopped fresh coriander.  Another winner!!

P1010041

The recipe for the caramelised garlic tart called for an incredible amount of garlic – three whole heads!

P1000988

The peeled garlic cloves were blanched in boiling water, drained, fried and then simmered with balsamic vinegar, rosemary and thyme until tender and caramelised.

The tart case was made with ready rolled puff pastry, which was blind-baked (pre-baked).P1010018

For the filling, two types of goat’s cheese (soft and hard) were crumbled and scattered over the base of the pastry case.  The garlic cloves were added, and the whole covered with a custard made of creme fraiche, double cream and eggs.

P1010030

The aromas which came from the oven while the tart was baking were heavenly, and the finished tart absolutely delicious!!

P1010043

When the time came, the dessert was very simple to prepare.  Having made the ricotta balls ahead, all that was left to do was to slice the bananas, prepare a tempura batter and deep fry the banana pieces.  I love fritters, and these were very delicious!!

P1010046

I would definitely make all these recipes again!  They were all straightforward to prepare and oh-so-delicious!!  Vegetarian food does not have to be boring, and “Plenty” is a testament to that!

If you want to try any of the recipes, the links at the beginning of this post will allow you to print them off.  Happy cooking and eating!