Bon appetit!

I know that I’ve not been writing much about food in recent weeks.  This post aims to rectify that, but a word of warning: if you are hungry, then close this window immediately, and do not look at this post again until you’ve had something to eat.  Otherwise, I cannot be responsible for anything which might happen!! 😀

Over the years I’ve been to La Cave Saint-Martin in Roquebrun numerous times, and I’ve written about one of my meals there a few years ago.  I thought it was time that I shared another visit to that restaurant with you!  La Cave Saint-Martin is a wine and tapas bar, which serves a selection of more substantial food along with the tapas.  The wine selection is heavy on vins naturels, wines which have not had sulphites added.

I went there last week with a group of people, two of whom were on their first visit to Saint-Chinian.  Those two were also enthusiastic “foodies” and they were looking forward to trying as many different items on the menu as possible!  We looked at the menu and debated, and finally Raymond, the proprietor of the restaurant, put an end to our agony of choice by suggesting a kind of tasting selection – thank you Raymond!

We started with some wonderful saucisson:

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You see the bread basket by the side of the plate – the bread comes from the bakery in Azillanet, run by Stephane.  I wrote about the bakery in 2013 – Stephane is still making wonderful bread!

Just when we got settled with a glass of red wine and the saucisson, another lot of treats arrived at the table!  Here is some tuna belly:

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I’m not sure why the fish is served in the tins, with the wrappers by the side, but perhaps it’s to show the authenticity of the product?  Moving the fish to a serving plate could also make it break up, so that could be another reason?

The smoked anchovies were divine!!

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Then there were some tiny sardines, which were lovely!

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Raymond stocks a large selection of canned fish from a Portuguese brand called Tricana. The products I have tasted have all been very delicious!  Do give them a try if you ever come across them.

We also had some very tasty meats!  The restaurant always keeps some amazing Spanish Iberico hams in stock, and we had a plate with two different kinds:  lomo and lomito.

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We also had some cecina, wafer thin slices of air-dried beef…

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…and also the home-made pate de tete, which translates to “head cheese” or brawn.  Forget about the name, it tasted very good, and the pickles were the perfect accompaniment!

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Instead of manchego we ate a Dutch cheese, whose name I cannot remember, I’m sorry!  It was a cheese to remember though, the mouth-feel (awful word, but describes it well) started off like a good parmesan, slightly crunchy with salt crystals, and then turned to meltingly soft, like a really good comte!  Just fabulous!

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Have a look at the table!  We really were not short of food, but we took it easy and did eat up everything 😀!!

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So far so good – all the above was really one huge appetizer!!  No, I am not kidding!!  Raymond had had a delivery of entrecote steak from his supplier. Beef from the Aubrac region of France, which had been aged for 30 days.  Here’s Raymond showing us the steak – it’s one big piece for all four of us, just in case you are wondering!

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And here is what it looked like after it had been cooked to perfection:

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And perfection it was!  I’m not a huge meat-eater, but from time to time there is nothing that can beat a well aged and well cooked steak!!

From July 7, 2016 until August 31, 2016 La Cave Saint-Martin is open seven days a week from 11am to 11pm.  Reservations for the evening are essential!

Almost springtime

Spring is very much on the way in Languedoc – the almond trees have been blooming for some time now, and I just had to share the wonderful flowers with you!

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And what better way of celebrating spring than to cook some wonderful food with good friends.  We got together once more in Narbonne, this time to try our hand at tapas, fish baked in salt, and key lime pie.  As before we started our food-fest with a trip to Narbonne market halls.  The selection there is just too wonderful, and great discipline is required not to come away with far more than one needs!

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The sepions are tiny squid and we got some for the tapas.  The fish came from the stall just around the corner.  We decided that we needed two and ended up with around 3kg of seabream for the seven of us – too much??

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One of my favourite stalls is to one side and stocks a selection of wonderful dried hams and other Spanish charcuterie.  The hand-cranked machine is used to cut beautifully fine slices of dried ham, and it’s fascinating to watch the ham falling like silk ribbons onto the waiting paper.  We got some for our tapas, and I bought some more to take home for later in the week.  After a few more stops for creme fraiche, bread and a few vegetables we headed back to the ranch again, weighed down with bags.

As so often I got too stuck into the cooking and as a consequence did not take nearly enough photographs.  I promise to try harder next time!! 🙂

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The recipe we used for the fish came from Jamie Oliver;  I’ve included a link to it here.  The salt mix contained lemon zest and fennel seeds, along with egg and a little water.  So here are the two seabream,  already stuffed with parsley and basil, on a bed of salt.  The fishmonger had gutted the fish for us, and explained that one of them had the roe inside, so he’d emptied them both via the gills instead of cutting the belly open.  Soon they were covered with the remaining salt mix and set aside while we prepared the rest of our feast.

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Our tapas selection included some stuffed cherry bomb peppers, bought at the market, tomato toasts (slices of toasted french bread, rubbed with a garlic clove and half a tomato and drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil), serrano ham, and baby squid.  Have you ever prepared squid?  Well, I hadn’t either!!  There’s a kind of hard, bone like plate inside the soft body, which needs to be removed and the tentacles need to be pulled off the body, which needed to be emptied and cleaned.  Messy work!  the “beak”, the squids mouth, needs to be cut off the tentacles along with the eyes.  Eventually I got them all done, and after rinsing the larger bodies were cut into pieces.  The squid were cooked very briefly with some olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and parsley.  There must have been some ink left as they turned black-ish (no, not burnt!!), and they did taste delicious.

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For dessert there was key lime pie.  Well almost, as the limes came from Mexico instead of Florida, but that was good enough.  The recipe we used comes from this website.  We’d initially planned to make two different versions, one which was to be baked and the other which sets without baking.  In the end we made two different types of crust but only made one filling, which turned out to be more than enough.

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Making the filling is very simple, the lime peel is grated into a bowl, the limes are then juiced and the condensed milk and creme fraiche mixed with the remaining ingredients – it does thicken magically as the recipe says!  Poured into the prepared crust and chilled for a couple of hours, then decorated.  We decided that the creme fraiche to decorate/serve would have been overkill.

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Look at those beauties!!  They did taste every bit as good as they looked and we did eat them both!

Now back to the fish:  Jamie’s recipe says “Pre-heat the oven to full whack” and to cook the fish for 15 minutes.  I do like his ideas but I intensely dislike sloppy instructions like that – every oven is different and “full whack” just doesn’t do it for me.  The fish monger in the market hall had told us to cook the fish at 180 degrees for 40 – 45 minutes and that’s what we did.  It turned out absolutely perfect, juicy and tender.  I found that the fennel seeds and lemon zest in the salt mixture added no flavour whatsoever, so I would skip that next time.  Interestingly enough, the fact that we had left the fish to stand for about 45 minutes meant that the salt had had a chance to penetrate the flesh of the fish.

We did attempt Jamie’s recipe for aioli, which promptly split, despite following instructions.  So we started again using an egg yolk as the base and added the split mixture slowly, resulting in a very delicious aioli, which went very well with the fish.

We also opted to make a different salad to go with the fish, with endives and citrus fruit, to counterbalance the richness of fish and aioli.  All in all a wonderful meal, and everyone agreed that they would be happy to cook the fish in a salt crust again. Do give it a try, and let me know what you think!

And here is one last picture of the almond blossom for you…

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A lady in waiting and other tales from Languedoc

I’ll start with the last bit first – a visit to Sete last night, so see Stacey Kent in Concert at the Theatre de la Mer.  The Theatre de la Mer was built on what remained of the fort built by Vauban in the 18th century – it was perfect for an amphitheater and the view from the seats beyond the stage is magical.  If you want to find out a bit more of the history of the fort/theatre have a look here.  The concert was due to start at 9pm, with a warm up by Terez Montcalm, a Canadian singer, who’s currently promoting her tribute album to Shirley Horn, followed at about 10.30 by Stacey Kent and her quintet.  The evening was great, the lights twinkling and the occasional boat going by and the atmosphere in the theater wonderful.  Of the two Terez Montcalm got the audience going much more, Stacey Kent was missing that je ne sais quoi that would have turned her performance into something more memorable.  But still….
 We had arrived in Sete in plenty of time before the doors opened, so decided to wander along the port and look for somewhere to have a bite to eat.  The romantic looking restaurant we all wanted to go to didn’t start serving until 8pm, which was too late, so we settled for a small cafe type place a few doors up.  The menu was small and the rose wine came in large bucket full of ice, and our table was right by the water’s edge, perfect for watching all kinds of boats going by!  Here’s the food we had:  an assortment of tapas (cold fish and prawns), and grilled octopus, both very delicious.

The seagull was watching our plates with a beady eye, but didn’t make any attempts at snatching morsels. It looked pretty well fed…. On the way back to the theatre we saw some youngsters training for jousting. They had motor powered boats, and really went for it. If you look closely the second picture you can just about see the splash!  As an aside – if you’re ever going to the Theatre de la Mer, bring some seat cushions with you, and don’t arrive too late.  Seating is first come first served, and it can get very packed.  At the top of the theatre are two terraces, where there are food stalls, so if you want to have something to eat you can take it back to your hard-won seats!

Earlier in the week I met with friends for a picnic along the banks of the Canal du Midi – at Capestang to be precise. There are picnic tables from where you have a great view of the pleasure boats driving by and the magnificent plane trees are still providing shade. With the courgettes starting to glut I decided I would try a Turkish recipe by Yottam Ottolenghi for a courgette frittata, to use up a fair few. The recipe was a little fiddly and lengthy (grating the courgettes, salting and leaving them to stand, then draining and squeezing them out in a teatowel) but the end result was worth every bit of effort. To go with the frittata I made humus and tzaziki, and my friends brought bread, ham and cheese. I could not resist dessert so took some poached rhubarb to be served with custard.

Now back to St Chinian – last Saturday I heard the unfamiliar sound of the clip-clop of hooves coming round a corner.  Luckily my camera was to hand to snap these pictures of a newlywed couple on their way to their wedding breakfast.

Finally, the Lady-in-waiting is Marianne – awaiting her big day on July 14! I think every municipality in France has a bust or statue of Marianne, the national emblem of France.  In the days leading up to Bastille day, our Mairie is beautifully decked out with flags and Marianne takes pride of place on the central balcony. More decorations will be going up this afternoon as the whole park in front of the town hall will be decked out with lampions, which will be lit tonight before a torch-lit procession around town, with a brass band, and all the children carrying flags and lampions.  Tomorrow night it’ll be the same procession, only we’ll end up at the football ground to watch the fireworks!

The park will be scented by the magnolia grandiflora trees, which are in flower now – I’d never paid attention to the perfume, but it is a beautiful smell with a hint of citrus.

I’m sure even the goldfish will have a good time at the forthcoming parties!!