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.

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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 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

Let’s meat again!

At the end of February, I got together with friends to explore the making of terrines and pates.  Some were to be for the store cupboard and others were to be eaten right away.

A recipe for rabbit terrine came from Simon Hopkinson’s book¬†Roast Chicken and Other Stories; the recipe for perfect smoked mackerel pate came from Felicity Cloake; and from Jamie Oliver’s website came a recipe for pork rillons.

We started our cooking session with the rillons, which we had planned to eat for our lunch.  The pork belly had been cut up and salted the night before.  After being rinsed and dried, the pieces went into a frying pan with a little lard, to be browned all over.

The smell of the sizzling pork was wonderful!!

The remaining ingredients for this dish had already been prepared.

The browned pork cubes were put into an oven-proof dish, along with the herbs, the garlic, some lard and white wine.  The dish went into the oven for an hour and a half!

With the rillons out of the way, we started on the rabbit terrine.  The recipe called for a small rabbit, pork back fat, skinless belly pork, pork fillet, bacon rashers, onion, garlic, butter, egg, herbs, breadcrumbs, cognac, salt and pepper Рquite a list!!

The butcher had already boned the rabbit, which was incredibly helpful!  In his introduction to the recipe, Simon Hopkinson calls for all ingredients to be chopped by hand, as the resultingtexture is nicer.  We chopped everything into small pieces, but the results were still a little too coarse for our liking.

We chopped some of the meat using two very sharp knives – that worked fairly well!

The hand-chopping took a lot of time and elbow-grease, so we put some of the meat through an old-fashioned meat grinder.

The remaining ingredients were mixed with the chopped meat..

… and then we packed the mixture into terrine jars – the kind that seal with a clip and a rubber band.

The terrines were put in a deep baking dish.  Hot water was added to come halfway up the jars, and then the dish went into the oven for just over an hour.

At that point, we were ready for a little aperitif!!

After a few sips of¬†vin d’orange, we made the¬†perfect smoked mackerel pate. ¬†The recipe was very simple. ¬†Smoked mackerel fillets were skinned (and any remaining bones removed), then pureed in a food processor with cream cheese, creme fraiche, and horseradish. ¬†A few grinds of black pepper, some lemon juice and some chopped dill were folded in, and that was it!

I had dug up a horseradish root from my garden – somehow it looked a little like a sea creature, don’t you think?? ūüôā

We ate the smoked mackerel pate with some toast – it was absolutely delicious and a perfect start to our meal!!

The rillons were our main course.  They had been filling the kitchen with the most delicious aromas for far too long!!

We served them very simply, with a salad of ‘bitter’ leaves and blood oranges. ¬†The ‘bitter’ leaves were endive, chicory and radicchio. ¬†It was the perfect accompaniment to the rich taste of the pork.

At the end of that delicious meal, our terrines were ready to come out of the oven:

They were looking very good! Of course the jars would have to cool completely before the clips could be taken off, and then they would have to stand for a week or two for the flavour to develop fully.

Prior to writing this, I opened a jar to taste it.  The pate is absolutely delicious Рwell worth the effort, and definitely one to make again!

Lunch in Mirepoix

At the end of last week’s post, I promised that I would tell you about my visit to Mirepoix and my lunch there. ¬†We had chosen Monday as a day to visit because that is when there is a market in Mirepoix, and also because the restaurant at¬†Relais de Mirepoix was open.

The market was as delightful as I remembered from my last visit (see my post from a while back).  The stalls were set up in the square, some in front of ancient timber-framed houses, and others under the arcades.  There were all kinds of wonderful things for sale Рwoven baskets, vegetables, carpets, cheeses, incense, bread, shoes, and not forgetting the dried chillies!

After a bit of retail therapy, we set off to find the hotel and restaurant, Relais de Mirepoix, where we had booked a table for lunch.  My friend Lynn had heard a lot about the Relais de Mirepoix from her friends, so we were all eager to experience it for ourselves! The cold light of a grey and chilly winter day is never ideal for taking pictures, but the building shone with an elegance that had witnessed several centuries

We had a very warm welcome from Emma Lashford, who has been running the hotel with her husband Karl¬†for just over a year. ¬†Karl had worked at the hotel a few years ago for the previous owners, which was when Lynn’s friends met him. ¬†When the hotel closed down and the 400 year old building came up for sale, Lynn’s friends decided to buy it, and they put Emma and Karl in charge of running the business!

After taking our coats, Emma showed us some of the rooms on the ground floor.  They had turned one of the rooms into a very cosy bar!

The former kitchen of the mansion can be used as a private dining or sitting room for groups. The kitchen for the restaurant is at the opposite end of the building, in case you are wondering.

There’s a wine cellar behind the iron grille!

I’m very interested in old floor tiles – here are three different patterns from the hallway, the bar, and the former kitchen:

In the elegant dining room, the tables were beautifully set!

Below is my place setting, with a glass of ginger beer!! ¬†Because I was driving, I wanted a non-alcoholic drink to start with, and that ginger beer just hit the spot perfectly! ūüėÄ

The food was delicious, nicely presented and expertly served!  Have a look at our menu.

A creamy root celery soup, topped with toasted almonds, chopped egg and parsley.

Perfectly scrambled eggs with smoked salmon

Rigatoni pasta with salmon, sea bream and prawns, and a very delicious shellfish sauce

A skewer of roasted quail, presented on a bed of quinoa and wheat berries.

Crispy almond and pear frangipane tart with mini raspberry pannacotta

Pineapple carpaccio with coconut sorbet, topped with a crispy biscuit.

We finished that wonderful and memorable lunch with coffee, after which Emma offered to show us some of the suites and bedrooms upstairs from the restaurant. ¬†The rooms we saw were very spacious, and there were some beautiful orignal features such as the hand-made terracotta tiles, the doors and the marble fireplaces. ¬†I didn’t take any photographs, you’ll be able to get an idea of the accommodation on the website of¬†Relais de Mirepoix¬†under the heading hotel!

Thanks to Emma and Karl for such a warm welcome – I’ll be back!

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Melting moments

You may know that I adore chocolate in all its forms: on its own, in desserts, in cakes, Belgian chocolates – you name it, I’ll probably have eaten it!! ¬†ūüôā

Many years ago, I ate the most wonderful fondant au chocolat¬†in a restaurant. ¬†A fondant au chocolat¬†is a¬†chocolate pudding with a melting interior!! ¬†I’ve been intrigued ever since, and a few weeks ago I decided to make some at home, purely in the interest of research on your behalf, you understand!! ūüôā

I searched the internet for recipes, and finally settled on this one from the BBC Good Food website.

The ingredients were very simple:  butter, eggs, sugar, flour, a little coffee, some cocoa powder and, of course, chocolate!!

The preparation was not difficult either.  To start with, I brushed the moulds with melted butter and dusted them with cocoa powder.  The recipe specified dariole moulds or individual pudding basins, but omitted to give an idea of the size.  I had some dariole moulds, so used two of them, and I replaced the individual pudding basins with ramekins.

Next, I put the butter to melt over a very low heat, then added the chocolate pieces to that.  While the chocolate was melting, I beat the eggs with the sugar until they were very fluffy and thick.

I added the melted butter/chocolate mixture to the beaten eggs, and mixed the two, then added the coffee and the flour, and folded everything together until well blended.

My mixing bowl had a pouring lip, so it was very easy to fill the moulds.  The recipe called for six moulds РI managed to fill the two dariole moulds and five ramekins.  The darioles are kind of small, so the ramekins might have been the right size.

I cooked the two darioles right away.  The ramekins all went in the fridge.

After exactly 12 minutes, the puddings were well risen!

I ran a knife around the inside of the mould to help ease them out,  and served them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

The fondants were very delicious Рthe interior was still squishy, although not as runny as on recipe photograph.  Next time, I would reduce the cooking time for the dariole moulds by a minute or two.  They would probably turn out to be100% perfect.

A couple of days later, I cooked three of the larger ones, the ramekins that I had put in the fridge.  After 12 minutes cooking, the fondants turned out almost exactly like on the picture in the recipe!!

I have two more in the freezer for another day!!

Have you tried making these delicious puddings or something along the same lines?  Do you have your own foolproof recipe?