Welcoming the rooster

The Chinese zodiac year of the Fire Rooster started on January 28, 2017.  Together with a few friends I decided to welcome the year of the rooster, by cooking a Chinese meal.  Our host had selected the dishes for us to cook and done all the shopping!

img_7252

As you can tell, we started proceedings with a glass of bubbly – just one glass though, there was work to be done yet!!  We cooked five dishes in total:

Simple Thai-style Lemongrass Shrimp Soup:

The soup only required two ingredients which might not be in your cupboard:  fish sauce and chili paste with garlic.  You should be able to find both of them at an Asian grocery store or in the speciality section of a larger supermarket.  The remaining ingredients are easy to find.

The finished soup was delicious, wonderful flavours of ginger and lemongrass.  Definitely one I will make again!

img_7265

Duck pancakes with hoisin sauce:

Preparing that dish was fairly straightforward, but different to the classic way of using crispy duck.  In this recipe, skinless duck breast was cut into strips, then stir fried and finished off with hoisin sauce.  We decided to substitute lettuce leaves for the pancakes, which made the dish lighter and gave it a bit of a crunch.

img_7272

King prawn and scallop stir fry:

The king prawn and scallop stir fry required a fair amount of preparation, but it was very quick to cook!  We substituted sherry for the rice wine, and there were some asparagus spears, so they went in as well! :).

It tasted every bit as good as it looked!

img_7270

Chicken and cashew nut stir-fry:

The chicken and cashew nut stir fry is an old favourite, which was easy to make.  It was great in that it required no special ingredients.

Once all the vegetables and ingredients were prepared, the cooking was very quick!  Another delicious dish!

img_7268

Mandarin Oranges with Grand Marnier and Mascarpone:

We finished our celebratory meal with a light and refreshing dessert.  It was a perfect ending to a delicious meal!

img_7273

A feast of taste

It’s high time I wrote another food related post!  Luckily, I discovered a new restaurant last weekend, with the help of Charlotte and Phil from Languedoc Living!  I met Charlotte and Phil last fall, through mutual friends.  We immediately got to talking about food and restaurants, and agreed to go together to L’Ortensia in Saint-Gervais-sur-Marer!  Charlotte booked a table for last Saturday lunchtime, and so I drove to Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare on a grey and rainy day, along the beautiful Orb valley and over a mountain, to reach the village where L’Ortensia is located.

The restaurant is in a late 19th century mansion (set in a park), which had been bought by the local council some time ago.  The mansion sits high above the village, and it’s park was once a hydrangea nursery.  In 2013, after years of complete renovation, the property opened its doors to the public once more.  The kitchen is run by Eric Balan, who has worked with Alain Ducasse and Marc Veyrat.  His partner, Patricia Rochette, looks after the front of house.

The first impression was one of stark modernity.  A modern glass and metal conservatory extension to the main building serves as the entrance from the car park.  Stairs and a lift go down to the restaurant, which is two floors below.  However, Patricia’s warm welcome immediately broke the ice, and we were soon seated at a round table near the fireplace, where a lovely fire warmed us all.

img_7206

Once we’d had a chance to catch up with Charlotte and Phil, we turned to the menus and decided to go for the Menu Plaisir – and a pleasure it definitely was!

The meal started with a Prelude Gourmand, something to get us in the mood for what was to come!   First, we were served a tray of wonderful little morsels, to accompany our aperitif:  Roquefort macarons, crisp linseed “sails”, prunes wrapped in bacon, chorizo madeleines, and in the beaker four straws made with air-dried ham and filo pastry.  All incredibly delicious!!

img_7204

Then came an amuse bouche, a small bowl of mussel soup, very delicate, with tiny mussels and a sprinkling of pungent spring onions.

img_7208

The starter was pan-fried foie gras, served with quince puree and cranberries.  The foie gras was perfectly cooked and the flavour combination worked really well.  The red cabbage sprouts added an earthy note, which paired very well with the foie gras and the quince.

img_7212

After a little interlude, our fish course arrived.  Seared scallops were served on a bed of salsify puree, and garnished with pink grapefruit and bergamot lemon zest.  The citrus fruit in combination with the scallops was very delicious!  And the pretty looking baby leaves were of course edible too!

img_7216

Pigeon breast in a gingerbread crust was the main course, accompanied by different members of the brassica tribe: romanesco, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cress, and thin slices of radish.  Someone in the kitchen was having fun, and we enjoyed eating it!! 🙂

img_7217

Our dessert had a very sculpted look – two curved biscuits were holding a delicious “blond” chocolate cream, topped with pears poached in red wine, cubes of pear jelly, and citrus sorbet.  It was a sublime combination of flavours, and a dessert which had been very carefully constructed.  The “blond” chocolate used for the cream was Valrhona’s Orelys; the poached pear was a poire martin sec, an old (and mostly forgotten)  French variety of pear which is perfect cooked in red wine; the citrus sorbet was made with calamondines, a hybrid between a kumquat and a mandarin orange.  The sorbet was sharp with an incredible citrus flavour, a perfect foil for the sweetness of the chocolate cream.

img_7222

After dessert came coffee, and with it Les Mignardises – a beautiful selection of treats to round off this wonderful meal.  The beaker held a coffee foam;  the chocolate lollipop was flavoured with pear, and the madeleine with rhubarb.

img_7223

What a fantastic meal – wonderful food AND great company!

On the way back I stopped at Colombieres sur Orb to take a picture of the rather spectacular waterfall.

img_7235

Just by the waterfall is the starting point for a marked walk, up the Gorges de Colombieres – it looks like a really interesting hike, and I’ve earmarked it for the spring!

Flaming hot

Summertime is BBQ time for me – there’s nothing I enjoy more than grilling food over hot coals!!  At the butcher’s shop I usually go to in Saint-Chinian, Boucherie Peyras, I saw some beautiful rump steak.  I thought it would be perfect for a meal with friends, and even more tasty if cooked on the BBQ.  Right now, the garden is yielding a great many tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines, so they were all added to my basket of ingredients, and also some freshly dug potatoes.  Along with the steak, I also got some chicken breasts for one of my invitees.

Here are all my ingredients ready to go on the grill!  I seasoned the steak and chicken breasts with my uncle’s secret spice mixture.  It’s a blend of various herbs and spices, such as caraway, curry, paprika, powdered garlic, oregano, and more, all mixed up with salt.

IMG_6096

The BBQ I use is the type which has a domed cover on it – you’ve probably heard of the German-sounding US brand which seems to have cornered the BBQ market? 🙂  I find it really easy to use and it works very well for me.  Here it is, all set up and ready to light:

IMG_6089

The chimney is a great tool to get the coals heated up without much effort.  Once it was filled with coal (I used charcoal briquettes), I lit a firelighter, which was put on the lower rack, and placed the chimney over it.

IMG_6100

About 20 – 30 minutes later the coals were glowing nicely, and were ready to be turned out onto the grill.

Once the coals had been distributed and the top grill was in place, I put on the potatoes, since they take the longest.

IMG_6104

After about 15 minutes I started the other vegetables.  First were the courgettes, which had been tossed with olive oil and seasoning.

IMG_6105

Next came the aubergine slices, which had been lightly brushed with olive oil on both sides.

IMG_6106

While all this cooking was going on, I was enjoying an aperitif with my friends.  Once we had finished our drinks and nibbles, we moved on to our starter of ice-cold gazpacho, made with tomatoes from the garden, and some cucumbers from the market.

With the vegetables cooked, it was time to put the meat on the grill!

IMG_6108

There was the most wonderful smell coming from the grill as the steak was cooking!  I waited with the chicken until the steak was done on one side.

IMG_6111

The potatoes turned out perfectly, and the flavour was great!

IMG_6113

Here’s what the finished steak looked like – it had had a busy day, so it was resting! 🙂

IMG_6114

The chicken strips were perfectly tender!

IMG_6112

And the courgettes and aubergines were delicious too!

Here’s a picture of a heaped plate – I hope you’re not feeling too hungry!!

IMG_6118

No French meal would be complete without cheese and dessert – we had a selection of local cheeses, bought at the market.  For our dessert I had prepared a flan, or creme caramel, as it’s called in France.

All very yummy and perfect for a summer’s evening!  Do you have any favourite BBQ recipes?

 

Bon appetit!

I know that I’ve not been writing much about food in recent weeks.  This post aims to rectify that, but a word of warning: if you are hungry, then close this window immediately, and do not look at this post again until you’ve had something to eat.  Otherwise, I cannot be responsible for anything which might happen!! 😀

Over the years I’ve been to La Cave Saint-Martin in Roquebrun numerous times, and I’ve written about one of my meals there a few years ago.  I thought it was time that I shared another visit to that restaurant with you!  La Cave Saint-Martin is a wine and tapas bar, which serves a selection of more substantial food along with the tapas.  The wine selection is heavy on vins naturels, wines which have not had sulphites added.

I went there last week with a group of people, two of whom were on their first visit to Saint-Chinian.  Those two were also enthusiastic “foodies” and they were looking forward to trying as many different items on the menu as possible!  We looked at the menu and debated, and finally Raymond, the proprietor of the restaurant, put an end to our agony of choice by suggesting a kind of tasting selection – thank you Raymond!

We started with some wonderful saucisson:

P1020065

You see the bread basket by the side of the plate – the bread comes from the bakery in Azillanet, run by Stephane.  I wrote about the bakery in 2013 – Stephane is still making wonderful bread!

Just when we got settled with a glass of red wine and the saucisson, another lot of treats arrived at the table!  Here is some tuna belly:

P1020068

I’m not sure why the fish is served in the tins, with the wrappers by the side, but perhaps it’s to show the authenticity of the product?  Moving the fish to a serving plate could also make it break up, so that could be another reason?

The smoked anchovies were divine!!

P1020066

Then there were some tiny sardines, which were lovely!

P1020070

Raymond stocks a large selection of canned fish from a Portuguese brand called Tricana. The products I have tasted have all been very delicious!  Do give them a try if you ever come across them.

We also had some very tasty meats!  The restaurant always keeps some amazing Spanish Iberico hams in stock, and we had a plate with two different kinds:  lomo and lomito.

P1020067

We also had some cecina, wafer thin slices of air-dried beef…

P1020077

…and also the home-made pate de tete, which translates to “head cheese” or brawn.  Forget about the name, it tasted very good, and the pickles were the perfect accompaniment!

P1020069

Instead of manchego we ate a Dutch cheese, whose name I cannot remember, I’m sorry!  It was a cheese to remember though, the mouth-feel (awful word, but describes it well) started off like a good parmesan, slightly crunchy with salt crystals, and then turned to meltingly soft, like a really good comte!  Just fabulous!

P1020078

Have a look at the table!  We really were not short of food, but we took it easy and did eat up everything 😀!!

P1020076

So far so good – all the above was really one huge appetizer!!  No, I am not kidding!!  Raymond had had a delivery of entrecote steak from his supplier. Beef from the Aubrac region of France, which had been aged for 30 days.  Here’s Raymond showing us the steak – it’s one big piece for all four of us, just in case you are wondering!

P1020080

And here is what it looked like after it had been cooked to perfection:

P1020083

And perfection it was!  I’m not a huge meat-eater, but from time to time there is nothing that can beat a well aged and well cooked steak!!

From July 7, 2016 until August 31, 2016 La Cave Saint-Martin is open seven days a week from 11am to 11pm.  Reservations for the evening are essential!

A cherry classic

On one of my recent flea market forays, I found these lovely porcelain dishes – they just called out to me from their crate!  They weren’t all that expensive so I bought six!!

IMG_5560

With the cherries in season, it was time to put the dishes to work.  I had a feeling that they would be the perfect size for an individual cherry clafoutis.  You might have heard of clafoutis – it is a kind of flan, traditionally made with black cherries.  I had some red cherries, but I thought they would work just fine too! 😀

IMG_5569

The basic ngredients are very simple: cherries, cream, milk, eggs, sugar and a tiny bit of butter to grease the dishes.

IMG_5565

Here’s a completely gratuitous picture of the cherries in one of my new dishes:

IMG_5575

The cherries can be pitted or not – as you wish.  Traditionally the stones are left in the cherries, as they are supposed to release some additional flavour during cooking.  To my mind, the advantage of leaving the stones in the cherries is that it makes for faster preparation.  The washed cherries are simply stemmed and arranged in the dishes – there are 17 cherries in each dish!

IMG_5578

For the batter, the eggs are beaten with the sugar, then the cream, milk and kirsch are added.  Once all is well mixed the batter is evenly divided between the four dishes.

After 30 minutes the clafoutis should be nicely browned and puffed up.

Now you just have to wait until the clafoutis are lukewarm, before you tuck in! 😀  The tops can be dusted with icing (confectioners) sugar, but I prefer mine without.  Bonne degustation!

IMG_5594

Cherry Clafoutis

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 45 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

500 g cherries
90 ml creme fraiche
60 ml milk
2 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp kirsch (replace with milk if making this for children)
butter for greasing

Pre-heat the oven to 185°C.  Butter four individual oven-proof dishes, just large enough to hold your cherries in a single layer;  my dishes measure 10cm across the bottom and 14cm across the outer rim.  You could also use a single (larger) dish, just be sure that the fruits fit snugly. A square baking dish, approx 23 x 23cm should work well.

Wash your cherries, remove the stems and decide on whether or not you want to remove the pits.  Arrange the cherries in the dishes.

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl; add the sugar and beat to mix well.  Add the creme fraiche, milk and kirsch and stir until well blended.  Divide the batter evenly between the four dishes and bake in a pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until nicely browned, and puffed around the edges.

Serve lukewarm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar if you like.  This can be prepared ahead of time, but be sure to allow the clafoutis to come to room temperature before serving.

Eggscellent

For as long as I can remember, I have associated Easter with brightly coloured eggs. When we were children, my brothers and I would decorate blown hens’ eggs in the weeks before Easter.  For several weeks before Easter,  instead of cracking eggs open to use them in cooking or baking, a hole would be pierced in either end of the egg (a larger hole in the ‘flatter’ end), and the egg white and yolk would be blown out through the holes.  The resulting blown eggs would be washed and dried before being decorated.  The eggs might be painted, pasted with cut-outs, drizzled with coloured wax – anything and everything was allowed and encouraged as far as decorating techniques went.  The finished eggs would be hung with a piece of thread on the cut branches of forsythia or other flowering shrubs, and they would decorate the house during the Easter festival.

In the run-up to Easter, the shops would start selling brightly coloured hard-boiled eggs – you would be able to find them right next to the fresh eggs, in virtually every store!  They were always looking so perfect and shiny – as though they had been laquered.  Maybe they had been???  Those store-bought eggs didn’t make it into our house very often.  Instead, my brothers and I would help mum dye hard boiled hens’ eggs on Good Friday.  It’s a tradition I still keep alive, all these many years later!

There are a number of ways to dye the eggs using various natural vegetable dyes such as beetroot and spinach juice, or dried onion skins.  An easier and foolproof way, is to use  ready-made egg dyes.  One of my sisters-in-law sent me a packet this year – thank you Veronika!!

It’s best to dye the eggs just after they have been boiled and while they are still warm.  I put all my eggs into one pan (no, not into one basket!! 🙂 ) and covered them with cold water.  When they started to boil I set the timer for six minutes.

IMG_4370

While the eggs were cooking, I prepared the dyes.

IMG_4372

The packet contained five colour papers:  red, orange, green, blue and yellow – a rainbow of colours!  🙂  Since yellow does not really change the colour of brown eggs, I added that in with the orange.  Into each cup were put two tablespoons of white vinegar, 250ml of boiling water, and one dye-paper.

IMG_4375

Once the eggs had finished cooking, I briefly ran them under the cold tap, before they went into the dye bath, one at a time for each colour.

IMG_4376

They emerged totally transformed!!

IMG_4380

Bit by bit my egg box was filling up with wonderfully coloured eggs!  Below are the last four:

IMG_4385

This is a picture of the dye I used for this batch of eggs.  You should be able to find something like that on one of the internet mail-order sites or in your grocery store?

IMG_4392

To make them shine, the eggs can be rubbed with a little bit of olive oil.

2015-04-03 14.06.09

Baking a cake in the shape of a lamb is another Easter tradition in my family.  Some years ago, I was lucky enough to inherit my grandmother’s baking tin.  Nowadays, if I am home for Easter, I will bake at least one cake in that mould.  For the cake recipe, I looked at Gaston Lenotre’s Desserts and Pastries.  It’s a wonderful book, full of very precise and easy to follow recipes.  I used his Genoise recipe, a very light sponge cake.

IMG_4342

The ingredients are very simple:  eggs, sugar, flour, butter and vanilla flavoured sugar!

IMG_4334

Three eggs are mixed with 78g of sugar and the vanilla flavoured sugar in a heat proof bowl – I used the bowl of my stand mixer for this.  The bowl is then set over boiling water, and the eggs are whisked for one minute – no more!  I then put the bowl on the mixer, and whisked the egg/sugar mixture on high speed for two minutes, and on medium low speed for another five minutes or a little longer, until it was cool and very white and thick.

IMG_4338

IMG_4340

While all the whisking was going on, I brushed both halves of the mould very carefully with melted butter, and gave them a light dusting of flour, to prevent the finished cake from sticking to the mould.  I also melted 23g of butter for the cake mix.

When the egg mixture was ready, I sifted 78g of flour over it and folded it in gently.  Then I added the melted and cooled butter, and folded that in too.  The finished mix was poured into the mould, and the cake was baked in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.  For the first cake I had set the oven to the wrong function (regular convection rather than fan-assisted), so the cake did not turn out from the mould as easily as it should have.

IMG_4345

I baked another one right away, using the fan-assist setting, and it turned out near perfect!

IMG_4346

And here they are – decorated with a dusting of icing sugar and some tiny bells hung with red ribbon around their necks, and surrounded by some dyed eggs!

IMG_4407

Do you have a special Easter tradition?  Would you would like to share it with me?