It’s time!

This post is long overdue!!  I had wanted to start writing again at the end of August, but with one thing and another it didn’t happen quite as planned.  🙂

It’s been a long and busy summer, and with the weather still balmy it feels as though summer is not over yet!  All kinds of things have happened in Saint-Chinian since I wrote my last blog post: night markets, flea markets, concerts, open air cinema, the music festival, guided visits and …

The garden has also kept me busy — the warm summer weather meant that things did grow very well indeed! But in order for the plants to grow that well, the garden needed to be watered – very regularly!  It was all worth it though – the produce was wonderful: tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, beans, cucumbers, melons, onions, okra, raspberries, strawberries, chilli peppers, potatoes and pears!!  I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve forgotten to list! Apples, kiwis and winter squash are yet to be picked.  Part of that bountiful harvest was canned and put in my store cupboard for the winter months, but most of it was eaten right away or given to friends and neighbours.  The orangeglow watermelon in the picture below weighed a whopping 7.2 kg!!  I felt immensely proud for having grown that from seed! 🙂

The orangeglow melon formed the base for the salad in the picture below: watermelon, tomato, red onion and feta – apart from the feta cheese, all the ingredients came from my garden!

Another favourite dish this summer was a salad made with thinly sliced raw courgettes, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan.  The recipe came from the telegraph website – give it a try if you can find small courgettes!

A friend introduced me to the Glory Bowl salad from Whitewater Cooks – it’s a layered salad that starts with cooked rice, topped with grated carrot, grated beetroot, fresh spinach, fried tofu cubes and toasted almonds.  The dressing that goes with this salad is fantastic!  I’ve made it a good many times since, with some variations in the ingredients:

Another favourite this summer was Thomasina Miers’ Roast Aubergine Salad with chickpeas, tomatoes and summer herbs.  Roasting the aubergines with pomegranate molasses turns them into a delicious vegetable in their own right!

Combined with the other ingredients, the aubergines make a most wonderful salad – unlike any I’ve eaten before!  My dressing looked a little grey as I used black sesame paste, but it was delicious all the same!

The fig harvest was not as abundant as last year, but there were still enough to make a delicious compote of figs with lemon and ginger!

The pear trees were heavily laden this year – a lot of them are slowly ripening in my fridge, the remainder are still on the trees!  There’s nothing nicer than a perfectly ripe and juicy pear!!

Late summer plums made an appearance in one of the farm shops I went to recently – they were perfect for a plum tart!!

I leave it at that for now – just one more thing:  If you are in France (or in Europe for that matter), don’t forget that this weekend is European Heritage Weekend – there will be many places to visit!!  I’ll be exploring some of Beziers’ lesser known places and will report back soon!!

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Figgy Jam

There are so many foods to taste and cook before summer is over!  With figs being abundant at the moment, there’s no better time than right now to prepare fig jam!

To stock up on a taste of summer I went on a little expedition to gather black figs, and then set to work, with a knife and the camera!! 🙂

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This year, the summer in Saint-Chinian has been very hot and dry, and as a result the figs are even sweeter than they usually are!!  For my jams, I always use less sugar than the received wisdom of 1 part sugar to 1 part fruit suggests.  I never use more than 1 part sugar to 2 parts fruit, but I use the kind of sugar which contains pectin.  That way the jam always produces a nice set, and the jam only needs to be boiled for three minutes.  The end result is bags of fruit flavour and none of the overpowering sweetness, which some jams have.

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Another important ingredient for my jams is lemon juice.  In this case I had to use lime lime juice – I had run out of lemons and it was Sunday afternoon, with all the stores closed!!  How could I possibly have  forgotten the lemons … 🙂

The figs only needed a brief rinse to remove any dust, and once they had drained I cut them into quarters.  Here’s a purely gratuitous picture of half a fig:

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Once the figs had all been cut up I added the sugar and tossed them so that they were all coated.P1000322

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The sugar draws out all the juice, which will cook to a lovely jelly!  After a few hours (or overnight), the figs were glistening lusciously, just like this:

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The contents of the bowl were all scraped carefully into a large pan, and the lemon (or lime) juice was added.

On to the cooker on medium high heat, stirring regularly.  Once it reached boiling point it only took three minutes.

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Luckily, fig jam does not froth like strawberry jam – there’s no risk of its bubbling right out of the pan!  Before I knew it the time was up – the jam was done and ready for potting up:

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Every last bit was scraped from the pot to fill five jam jars.

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Luckily there was a little left on the spoon for me to lick off 🙂

Those five jars will be hoarded away for a taste of summer, for when the days grow shorter and the weather colder, and when the supply of locally grown fruit has been reduced to apples and pears.  I just know that those jams will not be around when spring starts next year!!

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How do you enjoy your fig jam – on toast, with yoghurt, or . . . ??

 

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 🙂