Inn joy!!

It’s time I shared a few restaurant visits with you – be warned, don’t read this post if you are already feeling hungry!! ūüôā ¬†I’ll be taking you to Auberge de l’Ecole in Saint-Jean de Minervois and Auberge de la Tour in Montady.

Auberge is the French word for inn, designating a small hotel or bed and breakfast with a restaurant, often in a rural location. ¬†These days, the word auberge is often used by restaurants that do not offer lodgings (as is the case with these two restaurants). ¬†Perhaps it’s because the word might evoke certain nostalgic feelings in people?

I’ll start with Auberge de l’Ecole in Saint-Jean de Minervois, which is closest to Saint-Chinian. ¬†Formerly the village school-house, the building was transformed into a restaurant a long time ago. ¬†The Auberge de l’Ecole has been run by Brigitte and Patrick Grau since 2001.¬† Over the years I’ve been to the restaurant numerous times, and I feel that I’ve gotten to know Brigitte and Patrick quite well – they are both lovely people!

Brigitte is in charge of the kitchen, where she cooks down-to-earth country-style food.

She is famous for her cassoulet, the well-known bean stew of the region!  I decided that I would start with a light salad, knowing that the cassoulet would be substantial!

The¬†cassoulet came to the table in an oval dish, straight from the oven and still bubbling! It was heavenly, and I finished every last bit of it! ūüôā

I did manage to have a few spoonfuls of sorbet for dessert, but I did not need anything for dinner that evening!! ūüôā

My dining companions enjoyed their food too!  For their starter they had little round parcels filled with prawns and spring vegetables.

Everyone, except me, chose the grilled squid as their main course Рit was delicious and tender, and served with sautéed potatoes and a medley of peas and beans.

My dining companions managed somewhat more ice cream than I did!!  We had a very relaxed time Рgood food and a great meal with friends!!

The next auberge that I promised to tell you about is in Montady: Auberge de la Tour, so-called because of the tower at the top of the village.  This restaurant has the most wonderful views out over the Etang de Montady, a marshy lake which was drained in the Middle Ages.

There’s a very handsome terrace in front of the restaurant, and the dining room is lovely too!

The prix-fixe lunch menu is a great deal, and people come from far and wide to this restaurant.  The food is always delicious, and the restaurant is always busy.  Here is what we ate on a recent visit:

Salt cod puree, guacamole and crab layer (starter)

Crispy samosas filled with curried chicken (starter)

Tuna steak with tomato salsa (main course)

Guinea fowl breast with thyme ‘jus’ (main course)

Strawberry ice cream (dessert)

Creme brulee (dessert)

Reservations are essential for both restaurants. ¬†You can find contact details for L’Auberge de l’Ecole here, and¬†for Restaurant La Tour here.

Advertisements

We’ve got it all!!

This week, I want to share with you all the great events that will be taking place in Saint-Chinian this summer. ¬†It’s quite a list already, but there will be more events as we move through the summer!!

Throughout the summer months a number of events are recurring every week:

  • Saturdays: vide greniers (flea market) on the market square
  • Tuesdays: marches nocturne (night markets) with music and food on the market square
  • Wednesdays: cinema sous les etoiles – open air cinema in front of the town hall
  • Thursdays: music in the cloisters

A detailed list of activities is available from the town hall and the tourist office!

Tremplin Musical Talent Contest – Cave Cooperative – 29.06.2018 from 7pm

An evening of free music at the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian. ¬†There’ll be a wine bar, oyster bar and food trucks, and you can vote for your favourite band!

Wine, tapas and music at Chateau La Dournie – 05.07.2018, 19.07.2018, 09.08.2018 and 23.08.2018

Three evenings of wine, food and music in the park at Chateau La Dournie.  The events are by reservation only Рdetails on the poster below.

Concert Les Petits Chanteurs de France, Saint-Chinian parish church – 07.07.2018 at 6pm

For those who need a break from the football matches, the concert of the Petits Chanteurs ¬†is timed to be just between two games!! ¬†They’ll be singing a mixture of religious and secular music.

Bastille day celebrations – 14.07.2018

There’ll be fireworks in Saint-Chinian again – followed by a concert in the market square! ¬†The full programme will be available from the town hall nearer the date.

Fete du Cru – 22.07.2018

A day packed with wine-tasting! The winemakers of the AOC Saint-Chinian set up their stands on the market square – paradise for wine-lovers, who’ll be able to taste and buy their way around Saint-Chinian wines!! ¬†There will be food trucks, music, games and a tombola (prize draw)!!

8eme¬†Academie Musicale, Saint-Chinian ‚Äď 14 to 21 July 2018

For the eighth time in as many years, Herve Hotier and Lauranne Chastal, with the collaboration of Michel Lavignolle and Laure Zehmann Lavignolle, are running a¬†week of classes for flute students. ¬†Masterclasses will be given by Michel Moragues, 1st flute of the Orchestre Nationale de France on July 15 and 16; he will also give a mini recital on July 15 at 7:30pm. ¬†On July 20th the students will give a concert in the Salle de l’Abbatiale at 7:30pm

Festival MusiSc – 23.07.2018 to 29.07.2018

Twelve concerts over six days – this music festival has something for everyone! ¬†There’s classical music, jazz, world music and even gospel. ¬†The full programme is at www.festivalmusisc.com

Open day at the Cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian – 03.08.2018

During the day, there will be guided visits of the winery. ¬†At 6.30 a newly commissioned mural will be unveiled in the winery. ¬†Outside the winery, there’ll be a dinner with live music from 7.30pm – reservations are essential!

Jazz au Cloitre – 07.09.2018 to 09.09.2018

Four evenings of jazz concerts in the wonderful surroundings of the cloisters.  Full details can be found on www.festivalmusisc.com 

If you haven’t already planned a visit to Saint-Chinian, this should be an incentive!! Accommodation can be found on www.midihideaways.com

Quick ‘n easy!

The apricot season has started!!  Last Sunday I bought my first apricots of the season from one of the vendors in the market in Saint-Chinian.  Mr Cathala grows all kinds of fruit in Argeliers, not far from Saint-Chinian, and he sells his fruit at the market on Thursdays and Sundays!

I bought two different kinds of apricots from Mr Cathala. ¬†I’m no longer sure what the names of the two varieties were – they were both delicious even though they were very different from one another!

The red ones were somewhat smaller than the apricot coloured ones, and their flesh was softer.  Both were juicy, with the apricot coloured ones tasting sweeter.

When I went last fall to visit Top Fruits, a pick-your-own farm also in Argeliers, I signed up to their mailing list. ¬†With the fruit-picking season now under way, I receive weekly newsletters from Sarah Pearce at Top Fruits. ¬†She always concludes her newsletter with a couple of recipes, and this week’s apricot recipe was perfectly timed for my purchases!

I decided to use the firmer apricots for Sarah’s¬†Poele d’abricots aux pain d’epices, pan-fried apricots with gingerbread. ¬†The ingredients are simply apricots, butter, and¬†pain d’epices.

Sarah’s recipe called for 16 apricots, 15g butter and four slices of¬†pain d’epices. ¬†Since my apricots were on the large side, I decided to use only five (they were about double the size of a regular apricot), but kept the butter and¬†pain d’epices quantities of the original recipe.

I cut the apricots in half, removed the stones and sliced the apricot halves thickly. ¬†The pain d’epices was cut into small dice.

As my frying pan is on the small side, and since I didn’t want the apricot slices to be too crowded in the pan, I fried the apricots in two batches. ¬†I heated the butter over high heat until it started to brown, then added the apricots.

After about a minute I gave the apricot slices a gentle stir.

After a further minute of cooking, it was time to add the diced¬†pain d’epices.

Another gentle stir, and voila, dessert was ready!!

This was a wonderfully tangy dessert with great flavour!! ¬†There was too much for two people, so we ate the leftovers on the following day. ¬†It tasted even better, as the flavour of the ¬†pain d’epices had had a chance to meld with the apricots! ¬†Better still was the scoop of vanilla ice cream I had bought to go with the leftovers :)!!

How do you like your apricots??

It’s artichoke time!

The artichoke season is under way¬†in my garden, and I am very fortunate with my crop this year! ¬†I re-planted a row of artichokes last year – and I am reaping the rewards!! ūüôā ¬†Artichokes are a delicious vegetable that I never tire of!

IMG_9873

When I bought some new plants last year, I asked the vendor how far to space them.  He recommended a distance of 1 metre between plants, and added some advice: he told me to dig holes halfway between two plants and to bury a bucketful of compost.  The plants would  find the nutrients and take what they needed.  Good advice!!

What with the rain we had over the winter, and the compost, the artichoke plants are looking magnificent.  As a result of their lush growth, they have sent up many flower stalks and an impressive number of large, beautiful artichokes!!

I’ve not yet completely solved the problem of earwigs, which started a few years ago – they just seem to love squatting under the outer layer of leaves of the artichokes!! ¬†I imagine that I could resort to insecticides, but that wouldn’t do! ¬†I would rather live with the fact that I’ll have to shake them out of their hiding places!! ūüôā

P1100030

One of my favourite recipes is called “Barcelona Grilled Artichokes” from Patricia Wells’ book, “Patricia Wells at home in Provence”. For this delicious dish the prepared artichokes are sliced, marinated in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, and grilled – the result is totally yummy!

Barcelona grilled artichokes

Talking to other people about food and cooking is always rewarding and interesting. ¬†One of my neighbours told me to braise artichokes with potatoes – I tried that, but the result didn’t taste exceptional.¬† The same neighbour also gave me the idea of adding tomatoes, so I tried cooking the artichokes with smoked bacon and tomato, which worked wonderfully well!

IMG_9878

In Claudia Roden’s “Middle Eastern Cookbook” I found two recipes I enjoyed. The first used honey, lemon juice and preserved lemons, the second paired the artichokes with broad beans and almonds. Both produced delicious dishes and I’ll be preparing them again.

IMG_9880

My overall favorite dish was the artichokes cooked with bacon and tomato and I will attempt to give you the recipe below.  Pictures of the progress are at the end of the recipe.

Artichokes with bacon and tomato

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

5 globe artichokes
200g smoked bacon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
1 large clove of garlic
1 tin chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
1 lemon, juiced

Prepare the artichokes:  Pour the lemon juice into a bowl large enough to hold all the artichokes and add enough cold water to submerge the trimmed artichokes in.  Trim the artichokes by snapping off the leaves, starting at the base and working your way up.  Once in a while dip the artichoke into the acidulated water Рthe newly exposed flesh can turn brown very quickly.  Once the leaves remaining on the artichoke start to look yellow-ish you can stop snapping.

Trim the top with a sharp knife.

You will probably be able to see the choke now Рa mass of fine white hairs at the centre of the artichoke.  I imagine that they would make you choke and hence the name?

Remove the choke with the aid of a teaspoon, and keep the trimmed artichoke bottoms in the bowl of water.

Cut each artichoke bottom into eight wedges.

Chop the onion and bacon into small dice and cook gently in the olive oil until the onion is softened.

Add the garlic (chopped finely or pushed through a garlic press) and cook for a minute longer.  Turn up the heat and add the drained artichoke pieces.

Fry, stirring from time to time until the artichokes start to brown around the edges, then add the chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.

Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the artichokes are tender and the sauce is reduced.

Serve hot on their own as a vegetable course, or allow to cool, dress with a little olive oil and lemon juice and serve as tapas or an appetizer.

Note: you can of course use frozen artichoke bottoms for this recipe, which will reduce the preparation time and will produce very similar results!

A delicious day trip

I took a trip with friends recently – we went to visit¬†La Pepiniere du Bosc,¬†a specialist plant nursery near Lodeve. ¬†Since it is a little way away, we decided to make a day of it. ¬†The nursery has a very interesting selection of plants – we were all keen to buy some plants before the nursery closed for the season at the end of April. ¬†We all found more or less what we wanted. ¬†I bought some raspberry and gooseberry plants for my garden, along with a kaki¬†tree (diospyros kaki or persimmon), which are all planted in my garden now. ¬†ūüôā

Here are a couple of unusual insect hotels, which were for sale at the nursery:

We had timed our visit to the nursery so that we could have lunch at La Petite Fringale in Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquiere. ¬†The name of the restaurant translates (very loosely) to: “slightly peckish” or “snack attack”.

We found a shady spot for the car – the plants didn’t want to get too hot – and walked to the restaurant. ¬†On the way, we saw a somewhat unusual steeple – I had never seen one with a kind of ‘hat’ over the bell!

The steeple belonged to a romanesque church. ¬†The doors were unfortunately locked, perhaps because it was lunchtime? ūüôā

As the day was beautiful and sunny, the tables had been set on the terrace.  We had a lovely view from our table!  And no, before you ask РI did not use a filter, nor did I play with the colour saturation Рthe sky really was that blue!!

The restaurant is run by two energetic young men, Laurent and Antoine, who took the restaurant over in early 2017. ¬†Here’s what we had to eat – starters first:

Chickpea fritters

Chickpea fritters

Spinach cream soup with poutargue (dried mullet roe)

Spinach cream soup with poutargue (dried mullet roe)

Gratinated asparagus

Gratinated asparagus

These were our main courses:

Slow braised pork belly

Slow-braised pork belly

Hamburger

Hamburger

Oxtail ballotine on butternut squash puree

Oxtail ballotine (parcel) on butternut squash puree

Chicken breast stuffed with salt cod puree

Chicken breast stuffed with salt cod puree

And finally, desserts:

Pavlova with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis

Pavlova with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis

Pannacotta with strawberries

Pannacotta with strawberries

The food was absolutely delicious and the service was friendly and relaxed.  The restaurant does not have a fixed price menu, but our three courses came to 20 Euros per head РI felt that was very good value!  If you are planning to eat at La Petite Fringale, make sure you book Рit does get very busy and seating capacity is limited.

After that wonderful lunch, we went to visit the priory of Saint-Michel-de Grandmont – I’ll tell you about that next week! ūüôā

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay

After that wonderful visit at Noilly Prat (see last week’s post) we needed some sustenance!! ¬†There are a good number of restaurants to choose from in Marseillan – we headed to La Taverne du Port because of its quirky interior! ¬†I had eaten there a number of times before, and I knew that the food was going to be good – another major criteria when choosing a restaurant!! ūüôā

La Taverne du Port is just a short stroll away from Noilly Prat, and right across a canal which functions as a harbour for fishing and pleasure boats.

Standing with my back to the restaurant, I could see the visitor’s centre of Noilly Prat on the other side of the canal (on the right in the picture below)!

I mentioned the quirky interior of La Taverne du Port earlier – the picture below will give you some idea:

The furniture is all made from wooden barrels, and the walls are lined with rows upon rows of bottles.

La Taverne du Port has an amazing collection of whiskies, armagnacs, cognacs, spirits and wines, and they are all for sale, either by the bottle or by the glass!  All together, the restaurant stocks over 800 different types of drinks, and their list is impressive!!

But we had come for a bite to eat – we’d already had our ‘aperitif’ across the water! ¬†Here, without further ado, are the starters:

Gratinated oysters

Salad with smoked mackerel fillets

A selection of charcuterie, cured meats sliced wafer thin.

The restaurant has one of these fancy hand-cranked slicing machines, which allows the cured meats to be sliced ever so thin!

Next to the selection of charcuterie was an impressive cheese board, arranged on top of a barrel!

For my main course I had chosen the day’s special: boeuf bourguignon:

This was a most delicious and rich beef stew, wonderfully flavoured!

My dining companions had opted for the catch of the day – small red mullet and mantis shrimp, served with a very tasty garlic sauce.

All main courses were accompanied by a delicious potato and vegetable gratin.  The portions were generous, so we all skipped dessert.  Instead we decided to go for a walk around Marseillan.

Before we leave the restaurant, here is a picture of what the terrace in front of La Taverne du Port looks like – it’s just by the water, which you can’t see in the picture. ¬†For further details visit the website of La Taverne du Port.

Here are some pictures taken along the canal:

On a good day, you can see right across to Sete and the Mont Saint-Michel:

As well as the beautiful views along the canal, there are many quaint views and interesting corners in Marseillan, a few of which I’ll show you below. ¬†Do visit if you are in the area!!

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave