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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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!

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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.

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

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

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The chicken strips were perfectly tender!

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And the courgettes and aubergines were delicious too!

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

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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?

 

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Cooking with friends – summer food

The theme for our last cook group get-together was summer food, and it fell to my partner and myself to host the group.  It was fun planning the menu and finding the recipes.  Here’s what we came up with:

  • Grilled squash blossom stuffed with goat’s cheese and pine nuts
  • Mango, Avocado and Prawn Salad
  • Chicken breasts wrapped in Parma ham with creamy tomato sauce
  • Foil grilled potatoes
  • Char-grilled vegetables with shredded basil
  • Summer fruit sabayon

I’ll start with the squash blossoms – they are delicious, and pretty easy to prepare: allow 3 squash blossoms per person, and use a good quality fresh goat’s cheese, the kind which mashes really easily.  I’m spoilt as I can always get that kind of cheese from the Combebelle goat farm!  Since there were seven of us I used two cheeses.  To the mashed cheese add four tablespoons of pine nuts.  The pine nuts have to be toasted beforehand to a lovely golden colour in a dry frying pan, and left to cool, before being mixed with the goat’s cheese.  Add a little fresh thyme and some freshly ground pepper to the mixture and taste.  You should not need to add salt, as the cheese will have already been salted.  Next comes the fun part, where you stuff the mixture into the squash blossoms!!

First check the flowers – if they are male flowers (recognized by the thin, long stem attached to the flower) the stamens inside the flower(s) will need to be removed.  Female flowers are usually at the end of a small courgette/zucchini, or there will be no stem whatsoever.  Once the stamen is removed fill the flower with a teaspoon full of the cheese mixture, and delicately reshape the flower.  Continue until you have stuffed all the flowers, then cover them with clingfilm, and keep them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

We cooked them over a charcoal fire on a lightly oiled grill.  The cooking takes only seconds.  If you have a removable wire grill I would suggest you use that, so you can lift them all off at the same time.

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They were all eaten as quickly as they were cooked, and very delicious they were too!!

The mango, prawn and avocado salad was just what the title says: perfectly ripe mangoes and avocadoes, and peeled king prawns, dressed with lime juice and olive oil, and flavoured with red onion, chilli pepper and chopped coriander.  You’ll find the recipe at the end of this post.  The recipe for this salad was inspired by a dish prepared by Andonis Vassalos at Hotel Cuq-en-Terrasses in Cuq-Toulza.

For main course we prepared chicken breasts wrapped in Parma ham.  The twist to the recipe is that you stuff sliced mozzarella and chopped basil under the skin of the chicken breasts, then wrap them in Parma ham.  Unfortunately I could only get skinless chicken breasts, so we improvised a little ;).  The Parma ham was laid on a piece of clingfilm and topped with the sliced mozzarella and the basil.  The chicken breast was laid on top, and the ham wrapped round it with the help of the clingfilm. A few toothpicks helped to secure the ham.

The chicken breasts were baked in the oven until tender and juicy (having removed the clingfilm), and the accompanying sauce was made with tomato paste and cream.  We jazzed the sauce up a little with some Worcestershire sauce, angostura bitter, and a tiny hint of smoked paprika, which worked very nicely!

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To accompany the chicken we prepared foil-grilled potatoes and char-grilled vegetables with basil.  The potatoes were cooked on the BBQ, in individual foil parcels, and flavoured with herbs.

They were delicious, with the potatoes slightly caramelised on the bottom.  The full recipe is at the end of this post.

For the char-grilled vegetables we used a mixture of aubergine, courgette and pepper.  The vegetables were grilled over a charcoal fire, and tossed in a dressing made with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and vinegar.  Shredded basil added a wonderful flavour.

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This is a picture of the main course on a plate.

 

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We finished our feast with a summer fruit sabayon – a deliciously light ending to this perfect meal.

P1100664Fresh raspberries are difficult to find in this area, but I was lucky enough to have a good crop in my garden.  The peach season had just started, though if good peaches or nectarines are difficult to find, you could probably substitute other fruits (think of blueberries, black and redcurrants, blackberries etc.).  The sabayon was prepared in advance, and poured over the fruit just before we were ready to have our dessert.

It takes no time at all to grill, so long as you remember to pre-heat the grill in time :)!

And here you have it – lovely caramelized egg foam, with the fruit just warmed through!  And then it was all gone…

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The recipes for Chicken breasts wrapped in Parma ham, char-grilled vegetables and the summer fruit sabayon came from very old issues of BBC Good Food magazine, and can be found by clicking on the links to the PDF files further down in the post.

Mango, Avocado and Prawn Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 ripe mango
1 ripe avocado
20 prawns, cooked and shelled
2 limes
½ red onion
1 red chilli pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped coriander
8 lettuce leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

In a non-metallic bowl or dish mix the juice from one lime with the olive oil, and season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper.

Prepare the mango: cut the flesh from the stone, and cut it into 1cm cubes.

Cut the avocado in half, remove the stone, peel and cut the flesh into 1cm cubes.

Cut the chilli pepper in half, remove the seeds and cut into very fine dice. You may not have to use the entire chilli depending on the heat.

Put the onion half on the board, cut side down, and make a lengthways cut from the root end to the top.  Then slice thinly across.

Add the chopped avocado, mango, onion and chilli pepper to the bowl, along with the prawns, and mix gently until all ingredients are well blended. Be careful not to overmix or mash up the avocado.

Leave in the fridge to marinate for half an hour or longer (up to four hours).

Cut four thin slices from the remaining lime and reserve the remainder.

Place two lettuce leaves on each of four plates, and heap with the salad, distributing the prawns equally between each plate. Sprinkle each serving with some of the chopped coriander, and garnish with a lime slice. Use the remaining lime to squeeze a little juice over each portion.

Serve with bread if liked.

Chicken breasts wrapped in Parma ham

Foil-Grilled Potatoes

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

750g potatoes
1 large onion, sliced
30 g butter
6 tbsp. olive oil
Fresh thyme and rosemary
Salt and pepper

You will also need aluminium foil

Scrub the potatoes well; if they are new potatoes there is no need to peel them. Cut the potatoes into 5mm slices.

Prepare six pieces of aluminium foil, about 40 cm long. Smear the centre with a little of the oil, then distribute the sliced potatoes evenly between the six foil pieces, making mounds in the centre of each piece of foil.  Top each portion with the sliced onion, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil, dot with a piece of butter, and sprinkle with thyme and rosemary if liked.

Bring the long edges of the foil together and fold over several times to make a tight seal. Fold the short edges up, and crease to complete the seal. Repeat to make six tightly sealed foil parcels.

Place around the edge of the pre-heated grill, close the lid and cook for approx. 40 minutes. Serve one foil parcel per person.

This is best made in a Kettle type BBQ, but could equally be baked in the oven at 220 – 240 centigrade.

Chargrilled vegetables with shredded basil

Summer fruit sabayon

Food, glorious food

The past few weeks have been incredible where food is concerned.  With friends who were staying in St Chinian I cooked and ate in, barbecued in my garden and on their terrace, picnicked, went to fetes and to restaurants….  With all that food you’d think that I would have put on quite some weight, but luckily for me that was not the case.  I put it down to my reduced intake of bread and other wheat based foods, but perhaps I just managed to balance calories and exercise?

Most of the meat we cooked on the BBQ was lamb, but there were some delicious pork sausages too, from Boucherie Peyras, one of the local butchers in St Chinian.

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These wonderful lamb chops were accompanied by vegetable millefeuilles, stacks of grilled aubergine, courgette and tomato slices, interspersed with goats’ cheese and basil, and drizzled with some olive oil just before serving.

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On another occasion we grilled a leg of lamb – M. Peyras had expertly boned and trimmed it, and I marinated it following a recipe from the Moro Cookbook (Spanish marinade), which uses garlic, thyme, smoked paprika and red wine vinegar.  The result was absolutely divine!

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Our friends also introduced me to Yaki Onigiri:  cooked Japanese rice is formed into triangles or balls and grilled until crispy.  They can be finished in a variety of ways: spread with sweet miso paste and dipped in sesame seeds, or glazed with soy sauce, and I am sure there are other ways too!  They were very delicious and somehow they disappeared so fast each time we made them, that I have no pictures!

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But here are some tomatoes instead – the first of the season and very sweet and tasty.  As always I’m growing many different varieties and this year I have just over 20 different kinds of tomatoes in my garden.   I haven’t  quite decided which I like best – yet.  I’m sure Tomato Pie will figure on the menu again very soon.

For dessert I had made a raspberry and chocolate tart, and my friend Janet had prepared flan.  The flan had the most beautiful silky texture and there was only one little piece left over at the end of the meal.  The raspberry and chocolate tart was not bad either, but might be better suited for when the weather is a little cooler (spring or autumn).   I froze a lot of raspberries this year, so I’ll be able to make it again, and the texture and calories will be lovely as the days get shorter :-)!

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All of the restaurants we went to as a group were great! We went to the Salin in Gruissan again, for another visit, and this time had dinner at Cambuse du Saunier afterwards.  The food was very fresh and tasty.   Service started off very good but deteriorated somewhat as the restaurant got very busy.  When night fell we were attacked by swarms of mosquitoes, despite the repellent we had all put on.  So it’s a great place to eat at, but go for lunch!

Our starters were prawns and oysters, a pate of john dory, fresh crab, and mussels.  For main course there were different kinds of fish and chicken, both baked in salt crust, and a seafood cassoulet.  Desserts were pretty good too, but by then I’d put the camera away.

A total change from the rustic simplicity at Gruissan was Restaurant Le Parc in Carcassonne.   Franck Putelat, the chef, has been awarded two stars in the Michelin Guide, and the food and surroundings are just what you would expect.

The meal started with an Amuse Bouche of Gazpacho, accompanied by a platter of various nibbles:  thin cheese straws (one lot dipped in squid ink, the other in parmesan butter), radishes (buttered again) with summer truffle,  a macaroon filled with foie gras, and a biscuit topped with half a cherry tomato and a chorizo crisp.  Fantastic flavours and gorgeous presentation!

A second Mise en Bouche was served in a double walled glass – very simple and yet refined – a salad of fresh peas and seafood, topped with crispy garlic and onion slivers.

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The “real” starter came up next.  A most gorgeous looking confection made from potatoes for the crispy rings and the cannelloni wrap.  The cannelloni were filled with fresh sheep’s cheese, and the plate generously decorated with shavings of summer truffle – oh what a feast!!

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The next course was a soufflee of haddock, served with aioli and a selection of perfectly cooked vegetables, along with some crab claw meat and a langoustine sauce.

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Just when you think it can’t get much better along comes the next course:  breast of duckling, cooked at low temperature and accompanied by a stuffed courgette flower, and a condiment made with kumquat – Heaven!

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The cheese course was beautifully presented: Cabretou de Bethmale cheese, served with the thinnest slices of melba toast imaginable, and a melon chutney made with Banyuls vinegar.

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Dessert was quite simply spectacular, even on looks alone!  But the taste was pretty spectacular too:  cherries cooked in red currant juice, accompanied by elderflower sorbet; the biscuit tube was filled with a yoghurt emulsion and the whole topped by a cherry meringue disc.  And all the flavours complemented each other beautifully.

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Of course there was coffee at the end, and some more small sweets, and we were probably the last table to leave the restaurant.  The terrace is great to sit out on, and the dining room is very stylish and air-conditioned, for when it’s too hot outside.  The whole meal was accompanied by beautiful wines, all local to the area, and expertly chosen by the wine waiter.

The children had their own menu, less elaborate and with fewer courses, but none the less expertly prepared and beautifully presented.  And of course we went for a walk around the castle at Carcassonne afterwards to get rid of some of the calories :-)!

The last meal I’ll tempt you with in this post was at La Cave Saint Martin in Roquebrun.  This is a wine bar/restaurant with a terrace overlooking the river, and it specialises in tapas.  Since there was a crowd of us we ordered a number of different dishes and just passed them round to share.  All of the food was delicious and the service very friendly and relaxed, but efficient all the same.  The peach and tomato salad with basil was outstanding, and a fantastic idea for a summer salad; the pesto ravioli were bursting with basil flavour.  And then the peach crumble…  If you’re in the area and enjoy desserts then that is an absolute must!

If you’ve gotten this far without the slightest hunger pang then you deserve a medal!  And if you want to visit any of the restaurants, please be sure to reserve your table to avoid disappointment.  You can always tell them you saw it on the midihideaways blog 🙂

And they’re off

Earlier this week I was driving along and noticed the car suddenly making a very strange noise, a kind of loud hum, as if the cooling fan was going flat-out.  It disappeared again after a few seconds, but not long after I heard it again.  I started to worry a little.  Then I opened the window and the reason for the noise became clear: sticky grape juice all over the road!  I’d completely blocked out of my mind that the grape harvest had started on Monday in a lot of villages, and of course with the harvest come lots of small tractors all over the countryside, taking the grapes to the wineries.  The machine-harvested grapes get a little more squashed than the manually picked ones, and inevitably some of the juice leaks out on to the road, dribbling as the trailers bounce their way along.  And then the tyres stick to the sugary road and make a very strange noise indeed 🙂

At the cooperative winery in Saint Chinian things are well under way and incredibly well organised.  Weeks before the harvest each vineyard is visited and analyzed, and later on grape samples are taken to check for ripeness and sugar content.  Then the different parcels of land are picked in succession, generally the same kind of grape variety at the same time.  Once the tractors bring the grapes to the cooperative they queue up for the weighbridge, where the grapes are also tested for sugar content.

Then they are sent to the various dropping points.  I am sure that it takes lots of skill to reverse the trailers to exactly where they are supposed to be.

In a great big whoosh the grapes are tipped into the stainless steel container and start their way to becoming wine.

An Archimedes screw takes the grapes up to the de-stemmer, the machine which removes all the stems from the bunches of grapes (and any leaves too).

The grapes then go on to be either pressed or go directly into tanks for fermentation.  It really is a wonderful time to be on holiday in the area; the weather is generally very good, the smell of ripe grapes lingers in the air, and it’s fun to watch all the activity in the villages!  And of course soon the wine fetes will be under way…

This post would (of course) not be complete without a mention of food!!  Last Sunday I was invited to a mechoui at the house of friends near St Chinian.  According to Wikipedia,  “In the cuisine of Northern Africa, Méchoui is a whole sheep or a lamb spit roasted on a barbecue. The word comes from the Arabic word šawa, which means “grilled, roasted”. This dish is very popular in North Africa.”  And it was just that.  A whole lamb (15 kg) which was spit roasted over an open fire for about four hours.  I didn’t know what to expect but the meat was just amazing, tender, juicy and oh so tasty!!  I leave you with a few pictures of the process.  Needless to say I ate far too much; there were aperitifs while we enjoyed the beautiful evening, and then everyone was invited to pick at bits as the roast was carved.  Finally we all sat down and accompanied the choice cuts with couscous, vegetables, roast potatoes (also cooked in the fire) and harissa sauce.  Cheese followed, and then came three desserts, and the whole meal was accompanied by wines from Domaine la Madura.  Life really can’t get much better than an evening spent with good friends sharing great food and wine!

A week of food!

This week has been wonderful as culinary experiences go!  At the end of last week friends arrived for their annual holiday in St Chinian, and we started as we meant to go on, with a great BBQ on Sunday evening at their place (sausages, lamb chops, grilled courgettes and aubergines).   A few days later I visited Domaine Gayda near Limoux to celebrate the birthday of another friend.  The sunflower fields along the way were beautiful, lifting the spirits!

Domaine Gayda is a beautiful property, at the same time winery and restaurant, and if you’re in the area you should stop by for a wine tasting or a meal or both!  I was particularly taken with their Sauvignon Blanc, which was served with lunch and took home a case.  The lunch menu is three courses, and there are two choices per course; wine and coffee are included and the views from the terrace are spectacular!  For starters I chose the tartare of tuna fish with nori which was very good!  Some of my dining companions opted for skewered quail, which smelled divine.  For main course I stayed with Fish, a beautiful piece of pan-fried salmon with smashed potatoes and bean sprouts.  A couple of fellow diners had chosen the roasted pork filet, but I wasn’t fast enough with my camera to capture it – I can assure you though that it was very good and looked it too!  The choices for dessert were apricot soup or chocolate tart.  Can you guess which one I had?

Another BBQ in my garden followed – I decided to make the hamburgers which we’d tried out for our last cooking get-together, accompanied by courgettes marinated in lemon juice with garlic and olive oil, grilled courgettes and grilled potatoes and buttered green beans.  And just in case that wasn’t enough, I’d made an apricot tart for dessert.  My friend Janet has a wonderful recipe for stuffed courgette flowers, and since there were quite a few flowers on my courgette plants we prepared that too!

For the recipe only the male courgette flowers are used and the fresher they are the easier they are to handle. Once they are cleaned, the stamen are removed from each flower, being careful not to tear the flowers open. The filling is made with very fresh goats cheese, roasted pine nuts and chives, seasoned very lightly, and then stuffed into the flowers. I guess a piping bag with a wide nozzle might make this easier, but all we had to hand was a teaspoon. Just before grilling the flowers are drizzled with a little olive oil, and they don’t take very long, perhaps 3 minutes?

Janet had also prepared some parcels of sweet onions, one seasoned simply with pepper, the other with Piment d’Espelette, which cooked for a long time and were beautifully tender.  The left-over goats cheese filling went very well with the smaller of the grilled potatoes.

The sun had started to set by the time we were ready for the apricot tart, which had all the promise of summer, juicy golden fruit and a hint of sweetness from the base.

Going up with a bang!

The St Chinian fireworks were wonderful as every year, and just in case you are wondering, here are a few seconds of the finale

Bastille day was celebrated in style, with two days of partying and music.  Both evenings the children gathered with their parents in front of the Mairie to await the distribution of lampions and flags, in preparation for the procession around the village. The play of shadows on the walls was too much for me to resist – and the actors were most likely quite unawares of their “performance”.

The gardens in front of the Mairie were beautifully lit and decorated – it felt just like in a fairytale.
Marianne was watching over it all, lit up with tricolor lights!

And the colours of the French flag were present even in the red, white and blue lights strung on the main square all the way down to the stage.Off we went to the football stadium along with most of the village, to watch the fireworks.

Over the years the fireworks have gotten better and better, and now we have an amazing display, which lasted some 15 minutes!

Now for some food!  Our cookery group got together in my garden in St Chinian this week – the theme was BBQ as it was summer, and the food was eclectic and very delicious!  We started off with a salad of crabmeat, avocado and mango, followed by marinated prawn skewers, and we cooked damper bread to go with some of the food.  There were also some marinated and grilled courgettes.  I got a bit carried away with the food and missed out on taking pictures 🙂

Then came the pork spare ribs, glazed with home-made BBQ sauce.  On my last visit to Colorado, Peter Holm gave me his recipe for a spare rib seasoning mix, and Bill Law, one of my facebook friends, pointed me to a site called amazingribs.com .  A little while back I’d seen an article on using a kettle BBQ to smoke food, and was keen to explore that with the ribs.  My butcher trimmed the ribs for me and cut the slab lengthwise, to make for easier manipulation on the grill, and I seasoned them the night before.  The recipe called for long, slow cooking (3 – 4 hours) and that was worth all the effort – evident by the speed with which the ribs disappeared.

And once they were gone we grilled some Rissoles, burgers which had a medley of vegetables incorporated, making them very light and tasty. To finish we had grilled nectarines with vanilla ice cream, with little drizzle of brandy over the nectarines – just a perfect finish. And the weather… we ended up sitting out until almost midnight and as it was a new moon all the stars were out.

The recipe for the Rib Rub is as follows:

1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp granulated garlic
1 tbsp granulated onion
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp coarse salt
1 teasp cayenne pepper
1 teasp ground black pepper
1 teasp ground white pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well, store in an airtight jar until required.  Rub into ribs and leave to marinate over night.

The recipe for cooking the ribs was found on www.amazingribs.com and the claim that they are the best tasting ribs ever is definitely not far-fetched!