Discovering new flavours

Our cooking get-togethers are still on the theme of ‘take one cookbook and do as many recipes as you can’.  The last time we met up, the book for the day was Siriana by Sabrina Ghayour.  It’s a book full of delicious sounding recipes, and we prepared three:

The above links are to various sites where you can find the recipes.  You could of course buy your own copy of Siriana.  I’ve not yet added the book to my bookshelf, but I feel that it may not be all that long… 🙂

The scallop dish was pretty easy to prepare.  A mandolin slicer made very short work of shaving the fennel into wafer-thin slices!

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The shaved fennel was mixed with lemon juice and olive oil, and set aside while we made a dressing with honey, vinegar, saffron, orange juice, olive oil and a little lime juice.

The scallops were looking beautifully plump!

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Once we were ready to sit down for our starter, the scallops were seared on both sides in a very hot frying pan.  When they were just done, we arranged some of the dressed fennel and a few scallops on each plate, and drizzled over the prepared dressing – et voila!!  Delicious and simple to prepare at the same time!

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The Bandari monkfish tails were prepared for our main course. There was one monkfish tail per person.

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To prepare this dish, the monkfish tails were marinated with a spice paste, which contained turmeric, curry powder, cumin, ground coriander seeds, cinnamon, garlic, fresh ginger, coriander leaves, dill weed, Greek yoghurt, and lime juice.  Quite a list of ingredients!!

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Sabrina Ghayour recommended that a shirazi salad would be perfect to accompany the fish, so while the monkfish tails were marinating, we prepared that.

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The shirazi salad is a colourful mixture of fresh vegetables: cucumber, tomato and red onion, all cut into small pieces. Here’s the start of it.

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The salad is very simply dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.  Before serving, it is sprinkled with sumac (a sour tasting seed) and pomegranate seeds.  Here’s  our finished salad:

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The monkfish tails were simply fried with a little olive oil…

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…and the finished dish tasted every bit as good as it looked!

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Originally we had planned to have our get together on Shrove Tuesday, also called pancake day in Britain, and so we had chosen crepes suzette for the dessert course.  Unfortunately our get-together had to be postponed,  but we stuck with the crepes suzette for dessert all the same.

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Wwe used Gordon Ramsay’s recipe (you can find it here), but we didn’t quite follow his method!  First we made a stack of crepes (thin pancakes), which were covered in plastic wrap, to stop them from drying out.  The oranges were filleted (the peel cut away, and the segments cut from the membranes), and some squeezed for juice.  The sugar was caramelized in a stainless steel pan (please don’t ever use a non-stick pan for that purpose, the temperature is too high for the non-stick coating), and once it was a nice caramel colour, grand marnier liqueur was added and “flamed”.  Careful, don’t singe your eyebrows!  The orange juice was added next, and the whole left to bubble for a moment.  Next the crepes were dipped into this sauce, one after the other, and each crepe folded into four.  They were then arranged on the plates, and decorated with the orange segments.  The crepes suzette were totally delicious!  I wish there had been more!!

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Do you have a favourite cookbook or recipe you return to time and time again??  Do let me know!!

 

Time to renew

We get renewal notices all the time – be it from insurance companies, subscriptions for websites, magazines, software, series of concerts, often marked with ‘Take action now‘ or some such.

Mother nature needs no such reminders or notices, renewal just happens as part of the scheme of things, and seemingly without much effort.  Right now, we’re in the midst of springtime (even though spring won’t officially start until March 21), and there is renewal all around us.  Leaves and blossoms sprout from barren looking trees, bulbs push up flowers, and there is birdsong in the air once more.

I took a walk through the vineyards, to try to experience that wonderful spring feeling.  Here is what I came across, captured for your delectation!

At the end of a path through the vineyards, I followed a little stream.  Where the stream flows into the river, there is a meadow, which is almost totally covered in wild narcissuses – such a joyous sight to behold!!

Nearby, I found some buttercups

Buttercup, also known as lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

Buttercup, also known as lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

The bee was having a fun time on the dandelion flower!!!

The plant below is bay laurel (laurus nobilis) –  most of you will have some of its dried leaves in your herb and spice cupboard.  Looking at the plant, it’s not going to be long before the flower buds will burst open!

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I’m not sure what the tree in the pictures below is – could it be witch hazel?

I think that the flowers below are wild rocket, a plant which grows abundantly in the vineyards, where it flowers almost all year long!  The leaves are edible, but tougher, and more pungent than the leaves of the cultivated variety.

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Of course there were daisies too – such cheerful flowers!!

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Here’s one of the many different kinds of euphorbia, which grow so well in our region.

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The leaves below promise that there will be wild tulip flowers – and lots of them!!

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These blossoms were tiny, no larger than 5mm across, and the branches were very close to the ground.  Any suggestions as to what the plant might be?

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Botany is not my strong suit – I think the flowers below could belong to a type of viburnum, but I’m far from sure 🙂

I do know what plant the exotic looking balls belong to – they are the fruits of a plane tree (platanus).

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This is most probably a periwinkle (vinca) flower:

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I could not resist taking a picture of this beautiful branch – the colours of the lichen against the bark is so beautiful!

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Here’s another mystery plant – these seed pods look a little bit like a cardinal’s hat.  Or is that my imagination??  Any ideas about the name?

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Another bee, this time on a marigold flower (calendula):

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I don’t know what the following flowers could be, but they looked so pretty!!

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I came across a small cluster of grape hyacinths (muscari), right by the path.

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The river at the Platanettes was so pretty – it will be lovely to take a dip in the cool water during the summer!

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A cornilla bush (coronilla glauca) was flowering quite close to the river.

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Here is another unknown plant – it has the most beautiful feathery foliage, and very delicate little flowers!

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On my way home I came across this explosion of pink flowers, probably an apricot tree, or perhaps a peach tree?

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Here’s a close-up of some of the flowers from this beautiful tree:

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And there you have it – nature’s springtime abundance, to be found for the looking!

Food, glorious food

Of late I have neglected writing about restaurants.  It’s true that I’ve not been getting out all that much recently, but nonetheless I have a few meals to share with you, from restaurants that I have visited over the past few months, and whose delicious food is worth writing about!

First on is Les Cuisiniers Cavistes in Narbonne. If you have been reading this blog for a little while, you may remember the gourmet walk in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois last year.  Les Cuisiniers Cavistes provided the excellent food for that event.  The restaurant sits on a little square, just across the road from the Musee Lapidaire, where all the bits of Roman carved stone are exhibited (something for another blog post).  I visited on a beautifully sunny day last October.

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The lunchtime prix fixe menu was not extensive but offered a good choice.  Since it was autumn, I opted for the pumpkin soup with wild porcini mushrooms and foie gras.

P1000631 My dining companion chose an autumnal salad (Meli Melo), which contained celeriac, brussels sprouts, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions and Spanish ham.P1000629

There were two dishes to choose from for the main course – easy – we had one of each!! 🙂

Here is the filet of cod, served with haricot bean puree and whole haricot beans, veal gravy, and thin strips of cured lard:

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I went for the carnivore option and had the duck breast, on a bed of roasted vegetables:

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There were two desserts to choose from.  I opted for profiteroles, which were filled with vanilla ice cream:

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My dining companion chose the chestnut tiramisu, which was served with chocolate sorbet and gingerbread crumbs.

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The entire meal was very delicious, and as you can see, the portions were not on the small side.  On top of that, the autumn weather was glorious, so it was a pretty perfect lunch!

Another memorable meal happened more or less by coincidence, on the way back from visiting an art exhibition in Serignan (see post here).  It was getting late, and we were getting hungry.  I remembered that friends had mentioned a place by the marina at Port Chichoulet in Vendres, and since we were close by, we thought we’d have a look.

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There’s really not very much going on at Port Chichoulet, unless you have a sailing boat in the marina, or want to go birdwatching in the nearby marshland.  There is a large building at the end of the quay, and three buildings, which, for want of a better word, I will call shacks.  The shacks all serve food, and our friends had recommended that we try the one in the middle, which is called L’Etal du bateau Joel et Valerie III.

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Since it was a little chilly outside we opted for eating inside.  The restaurant was very charmingly decorated with all kinds of things maritime.

But we’d come for the food – the fish!!  Joel Rodriguez, the owner of the restaurant, also has a fishing boat, which is called Joel et Valerie III.  I am assuming that Valerie is his wife? All of the fish served at the restaurant is his catch.

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The razor clams looked very tempting, but I’ll have to try them another time…

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On the menu there is fish and only fish!  The way it works is that the diners select the fish they want at the counter, and then it’s freshly cooked for them on a plancha, a cast iron grill plate.

We opted to share a portion of grilled squid to start with, which came to the table perfectly cooked:

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With the food there were no accompaniments, no vegetables, no french fries!!  But there is plenty of good crusty bread, and some aioli and garlic and parsley dressing.

For our main course we ordered a duo of dorade – dorade grise (black bream) and dorade royale (regular bream).  Our waitress recommended that we start with the black bream. Again, the fish was absolutely perfectly cooked.  I got a little carried away and almost forgot to take a picture!! 🙂

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To compensate, I took some shots of the food for some of the other tables, just before it was taken to the tables:

So if you enjoy good fish, think about visiting Port Chichoulet in Vendres – it might be an idea to telephone ahead (+33 628 350 590), to make sure that Joel et Valerie will be open.

Now you see it, now you dont!

One recent sunny Sunday afternoon, I drove to the village of Aigues Vives for a guided visit around the river Cesse.  A fairly large group of people had gathered on the square in front of the town hall – perhaps because the weather was so beautifully sunny?

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Once the guides had settled who would do what, we started on our walk towards the riverbed.

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When you are in Aigues Vives, the river Cesse is nowhere in evidence.  But head north, along Avenue de la Cesse, and you’ll see signs that the river isn’t far away!

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As you leave the village, the road gently slopes down to the riverbed.  At the bottom of the hill we took a left, and soon we were standing on the banks of the Cesse.  It looks a bit dry, wouldn’t you agree?

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Here’s the guide who explained why there was no water in the river:IMG_4020

It was a rather fascinating explanation!  The Cesse can be divided into three distinct sections, the upper, middle and lower sections.  The upper section, from which the river springs, in Ferrals-les-Montagnes, resembles a mountain torrent which runs pretty much all year.  About 16 km downstream from the source, at a place called Moulin de Monsieur, the middle section starts, and the river appears to dry up.  The middle section is about 20 km long and ends at Moulin de Madame, where the river resurfaces again.  The lower river flows all year round from Moulin de Madame through Bize Minervois and on to join the Aude river at Salleles d’Aude.

We were looking at the middle section of the Cesse, and on average this part of the river is dry two-thirds of the year.  That’s not to say that there is no water at all.  The area is made up of limestone, and over millennia the water has carved away at the stone.  If you drive to Minerve, you’ll get a good idea of just how much has been cut away.  The theory is that the river runs underground in the middle section, and only surfaces when there is enough water to fill up the river bed.  That usually happens during winter when it has rained enough.

Just to give you an idea of what it can look like, here is a picture of La Caunette, taken a few years ago, at a time when there was plenty of water:

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And here are some pictures (also from a few years ago) when there was water flowing just outside Agel, downstream from Aigues Vives.  This was taken not far away from Moulin de Madame, and you can see the old dam and a sluice gate for the mill.

Let’s track back to our walk in Aigues Vives though.  The walk continued along the river, and we came to a place where you could see what looked like two big piles of stones, on either side of the river.  One of our guides explained that they were the remains of a footbridge, which had been built in the 17th century.  Wooden walkways rested on a central pillar in the riverbed, and allowed people to cross to the other side, even at times of high water.  Unfortunately, the central pillar was swept away by the floods during the winter of 1999, and with it the bridge.  The force of water is not to be underestimated!!

The path turned away from the river and we started to walk through the vineyards.  Even though the vines are dormant right now, the vineyards can look so pretty!!

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Where one vineyard ends another one starts, but sometimes they are interspersed with a few almond trees such as these:

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There’s nothing as beautiful as white blossoms against a bright blue sky on a spring day!

After our walk I had some time to wander around the back streets of Aigues Vives.  As in Puisserguier (see last week’s post), I had never really stopped to explore the village. It has an interesting mix of old and older buildings!

I wonder if the name of this road means that it can be windy here??

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These two beauties were enjoying a nap in the sunshine.

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They were very happy to pose for the camera!! 🙂

The bakery which this sign points to has long been closed, unfortunately.

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But I came across the restaurant below, the Auberge Minervoise, which is very much open for business.  I’ve put it on my list of restaurants to try!

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So there you have it – a wonderful afternoon walk, with plenty of interesting information!