First Class

Question: When does a restaurant automatically become first class?  Answer: When it’s in a former post office!  This pun will be more obvious to British readers – in Britain letters can be sent 1st or 2nd class, which translates to priority and regular mail in most other countries! 🙂

La Carte Timbree in Thezan-les-Beziers is in the former village post office AND it really is a first class restaurant!  I discovered this restaurant with friends, after I had heard about it on the grapevine.  Mathieu (the chef) and Chloe (front of house) transformed the old village post office into a modern and welcoming restaurant – if you have a look at their Facebook post here, you can see that the transformation was pretty radical and far-reaching!  But the end result is a great space, a modern dining room that manages to feel warm and welcoming.  Here’s my attempt at photographing the dining room:The lunchtime menu changes every day, and the a-la-carte menu changes once a month – to make the most of seasonal produce, according to the chef.  It’s also more fun to regularly have new dishes to cook!

This was the lunchtime menu the day I visited:

The starter was a creamy carrot soup spiced with curry and coconut milk, and accompanied by slices of toasted baguette topped with lemon flavoured goats’ cheese!  A great combination and very tasty!!

The main course was a stir fry or “wok” as it’s called in France, naming the dish after the pan it is cooked in.  Rice noodles had been sauteed with chicken and vegetables and seasoned in the style of Thai dishes.  Very yummy and just the right size portion!

The dessert of the day was a tarte tatin which had been made with quinces instead of apples.  I will have to experiment with that at home – the flavour was exquisite and it made a perfect ending to our meal!

The lunchtime menu is priced at 18 Euros for three courses, including either a glass of wine or coffee!  The evening menu (choose from the dishes on the a-la-carte menu) is priced at 28 Euros for three courses and 32 Euros for four courses.  They have vegetarian options available.  You’ll be able to find full details on the website for the restaurant.  La Carte Timbree is open for lunch every day except Monday and for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday inclusive.

I’ll definitely be going back to La Carte Timbree – it’s been added to my list of go-to restaurants!  And next time I might even explore the village a little more!

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A firm favourite

In our area, autumn is chestnut time, and there are several festivals to celebrate the chestnut harvest.  I’ve written about the festivals before.  You can find the posts here, here, and here.  This year, I went to the Chestnut Festivals in both Saint-Pons and Olargues – over the years they have become firm favourites of mine!

The weekend the festival took place in Saint-Pons, the area was experiencing a cold-snap:  temperatures plummeted to 6 Celsius, well below the seasonal average!!  The stall-holders were well wrapped up against the cold!  Below is a picture of a very warmly dressed Lex Page from Love la Foret!  Lex and her husband Andy specialise in dried mushrooms – I bought some delicious cep (porcini) mushroom powder from them a little while back, and I needed a top-up!

The festival in Saint-Pons always has a large number of exhibitors and I found many familiar stands!

I adore roasted chestnuts, so I made a beeline to the square where the chestnuts were being roasted over open fires!

The hot chestnuts were delicious AND they warmed my hands!!

Bands of roving musicians provided entertainment, and there was lots to see and taste.  Despite the cold weather this was a very enjoyable festival!

The Fete du Marron et du Vin Nouveau (the festival of chestnuts and new wine) took place in Olargues a week later.  The weather couldn’t have been more different – it was beautiful!  The sun was out and there was a marked difference in temperature – absolutely no need for thermal underwear!!

I had of course come for the roasted chestnuts!!  The set-up in Olargues is much smaller than it is in Saint-Pons, but the chestnuts were every bit as delicious!

On a recent visit to L’Auberge de l’Ecole in Saint-Jean de Minervois, I tasted a tiramisu which had been made with creme de marron, a sweet chestnut puree made from broken pieces of marrons glacés.  This was a very delicious dessert and I have attempted to recreate the recipe for you below.  When you next visit L’Auberge de l’Ecole, you’ll be able to taste Brigitte’s authentic version!

Tiramisu with creme de marron

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A delicious tiramisu, with a special flavour of autumn. You can make this in individual serving dishes, or use one large dish.

Ingredients

  • 250g mascarpone (1 tub)
  • 3 eggs
  • 125g creme de marron (chestnut puree)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 12 sponge fingers (also called ladyfingers or boudoir biscuits)
  • 200ml strong coffee
  • 2 Tbsp Rum

You will also need six to eight individual serving dishes (I used glass preserving jars), or a single serving dish, large enough to hold 6 sponge fingers in a single layer.

ingredients for chestnut tiramisu

Ingredients for chestnut tiramisu

Directions


1. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.
2. In a medium-sized bowl beat the egg yolks with 1 Tbsp sugar until white and thick. Add the mascarpone and the creme de marron and mix until lump-free.
3. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form.  Add the remaining 1 Tbsp sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
4. Fold one third of the beaten egg whites into the mascarpone mixture to ‘loosen’ it.  Then add the remaining beaten egg whites and fold in until the mixture is smooth.
5. Pour the cold coffee into a shallow bowl and add the rum.
6. To assemble the tiramisu, put some of the mascarpone mixture in the bottom of your dish (one third of the mixture if using one large dish).  Dip each sponge finger briefly into the coffee and arrange in a neat layer in your dish.  Top with another third of the mascarpone mixture and repeat with the sponge fingers.  Finish with the last third of the mascarpone mixture and level with a spatula. If you are using individual serving dishes, break/cut the sponge fingers to make them fit.
7. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge to chill for four to six hours.

Before serving you may wish to dust the tiramisu with cocoa powder but try it without the cocoa powder first. I find that it can overpower the delicate flavour of the chestnut puree.

Note:  In her version, Brigitte uses chestnut brandy, which is pretty impossible to find.  I found rum to be reasonable substitute, but if you can find chestnut liqueur it would be even better.  Brigitte also omits the coffee and uses only alcohol to soak the biscuits in.  

 

Back again!!

It’s been a long time since my last post – my apologies to all of you who have been wondering what had happened to me!!  To answer that in detail would take a long time (and might not be all that interesting), so I’ll keep it brief! 🙂 What I had thought of as a short summer break turned into a more prolonged vacation!  The summer in Saint-Chinian was busy, filled with visitors, endless days of hot and sunny weather, and lots of work in helping to organise the music festival in July.  As soon as the July festival was over, work started on another series of concerts in September.  The good weather continued until fairly recently, and with it the flow of visitors.

Some of you will have read reports of the devastating floods which hit our area in Languedoc recently.  Saint-Chinian did get a huge amount of rain, but our river did not do any serious damage to the village.  Some of the gardens along the river were completely flattened, and the nursery downstream outside the village suffered some damage and loss to their plant stock, but that was pretty much it.

My heart went out to the people around Carcassonne who lost so much to this devastating flood, and I counted myself to have been very lucky.

Now that things have settled down, I am writing once more.  I thought I would start off with a food post.  I recently taught a couple of friends how to make chocolate mousse and i would like to share that with you.

Making chocolate mousse is not difficult and it requires very few ingredients: good chocolate, eggs, cream and water.  Depending on your taste, the chocolate can be dark, milk or white.  It needs to be of a good quality as the final result depends very much on the chocolate.  It goes without saying that the eggs should be very fresh.  (You’ll find a printable recipe at the end of this post.)

Ingredients for chocolate mousse

Ingredients for chocolate mousse

For my tutorial, I decided to use two different kinds of chocolate, white and dark.  The dark chocolate was 72% cocoa; white chocolate contains no cocoa solids at all.  This way, both of my friends could have some hands-on experience!  🙂

Preparing chcolate mousse - melting the chocolate

Preparing chocolate mousse – melting the chocolate

The chocolate pieces were melted in separate bowls set in bowls filled with hot water.  Melting chocolate takes very little effort – just give it a stir from time to time and wait until it is all melted.  The main thing is to not over-heat the chocolate, which can happen when it is melted in the microwave.  When melting the chocolate, be careful not to splash water into the melted chocolate, as this would cause the chocolate to “seize up” and become granular.

While the chocolate was melting, we separated the egg yolks from the whites.  Once the chocolate had melted, the egg yolks were stirred into the chocolate.  This was easier with white the chocolate than with the dark.  Don’t worry if the chocolate goes granular or gritty to begin with, just keep stirring/beating until it becomes a shiny mass or lump.

The water was added next.  In this recipe, the water is used to make the chocolate and egg yolk mixture a little less stiff, so that the whipped egg whites don’t deflate as you try to fold them in.  For the white chocolate only a very little water was required – about half a tablespoon was enough for 135g of white chocolate.  For the dark chocolate we added about 5 tablespoons to 135g of chocolate.  Every chocolate reacts differently, so you’ll need to use your own discretion with the water.  The finished mixture should have the consistency of softened butter.

All ready for folding in the egg whites

We first whipped the egg whites, taking care not to over-beat them, until they formed soft peaks when the (stationary) whisks were pulled out.  I added a tiny pinch of salt to the egg whites, which improved the flavour of the finished mousse.  Next, we whipped the cream to soft peaks – it remained somewhat “floppy”.

The egg whites being folded in

The whipped egg whites were divided between the two bowls, and folded in gently.  The reason that we added the egg whites first was that they would not have deflated if the chocolate mixture had still been a little warm.  The whipped cream would have gone runny had it been added to a warm mixture.

We added the whipped cream before the egg whites were completely blended in.  Further careful folding helped to keep the mixture as light as possible!

The finished mousse.

The white chocolate mousse turned out to be more runny than the dark, most likely due to the lack of cocoa solids in the white chocolate.  We filled eight bowls and ramekins with some of each colour mousse.

Ready to go in the fridge!

The filled bowls looked very pretty!!  Before they went into the fridge, each bowl was covered with cling film/plastic wrap.

Chocolate mousse needs a minimum of four hours in the fridge, so it is best made the day before you want to eat it, or in the morning if you want to serve it for dinner.

Delicious!!

We ate it the following evening – it was delicious!!

Chocolate Mousse

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A light and airy chocolate mousse, the perfect ending to a meal.

Ingredients

  • 270g chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 200ml whipping cream
  • 100ml water

Directions

  1. Chop the chocolate or break it into small pieces.  Separate the egg yolks from the whites
  2. Melt the chocolate in a medium-sized bowl over hot water.
  3. Beat the egg yolks into the melted chocolate until the mixture is glossy and clears the sides of the bowl.
  4. Add water one tablespoon at a time, mixing it in until the chocolate mixture has the consistency of soft butter.  You may not need to add the full amount of water.
  5. Whip the egg whites with a tiny pinch of salt until soft peaks form.
  6. Whip the cream until soft peaks form.
  7. With a spatula or spoon, fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture, followed by the whipped cream.
  8. Divide the mixture between your individual serving bowls, or use one large serving bowl. Cover with film and refrigerate for a minimum of four hours before serving.

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!! 🙂  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! 🙂

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

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 – it 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 – good 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.

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??

A delicious day trip

I took a trip with friends recently – we went to visit La Pepiniere du Bosca 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.  🙂

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? 🙂

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 – I did not use a filter, nor did I play with the colour saturation – the 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 – I felt that was very good value!  If you are planning to eat at La Petite Fringale, make sure you book – it 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! 🙂