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A lunch to remember

As I sit typing and looking out the window at the murky, wet day it is hard to believe that yesterday was bright, sunny and even dare I say warm.

Yesterday was Sunday and the day of our school lunch.  This has become a bit of a tradition as even though we had very few French/English lessons this last year, the friendship between all our near neighbours who are part of the group meant that we just had to have our annual get together.

Mrs. Powerful and myself were tasked with providing one of the starters and one of the puddings.  I had recently decided that we were tending to have the same meals over and over again.  Not that they are not wonderful, I do a mean Thai fish and my 6 hour lamb is to die for to mention but two.

So I had been nosing my way through the huge amount of recipe books we had collected over the years and came across a prawn cocktail  by Gary Rhodes.  So we got up early Sunday morning and I started de-shelling a kilo of fresh prawns.  Next I made the sauce for the dressing.  The sauce for a classic prawn cocktail is usually bought ready to use in a jar but I was determined to make my own.

So here we have the recipe.  You will need an iceberg lettuce, a cucumber, a kilo of cooked prawns, I was catering for 12 so allow for that.  A lemon, jar good mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, brandy/cognac.

So put 8 tablespoons of the mayo in a bowl and whisk in 3 tablespoons of tomato ketchup.  Add a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon and 2 teaspoons of brandy.  Add the prawns and mix so they are all covered with the mixture.  Get a nice large platter and place the cucumber round the edge with the shredded lettuce  in the middle and the prawns on the lettuce.  Serve with lemon wedges.

Prawn cocktail

Meanwhile Mrs.Powerful was making a blackberry and apple crumble.  We always make it from a recipe in our good old Be-Ro book and it is brilliant.  This time we thought we would be different and used a recipe from the barefoot contessa using flaked almonds and oats.  It was nice but we still preferred our tried and trusted.  Elsewhere in the archives you will find a blog all about crumbles and how at a lunch I was berated and called Walter Mitty!!!

So just before one we set off to our neighbours house and for school lunch.  We were sat and started with nibbles and pommeau,  home-made using red wine, calvados and cider.

Then we served the prawn cocktail and Sue had brought huge platters of charcuterie which I ended up not photographing, sorry Sue.  There was ham and salami, salade and grated carrots it was awesome.

The main course was a chicken tajine, our hosts own chickens naturally served with couscous and carrots and courgettes.

Chicken tajine

At each course we had a different wine starting with an Alcace and then reds including a St. Emillion.

The cheese course was followed by the crumble and a Christmas pudding  both with custard.  The last wine was a sweet dessert wine.

Here are a few more photos,certainly a great time was had by all and amazingly despite all that wine, nearly 5 hours later no hangover, just goes to show.

There were mince pies too

Mince pies being eyed up

Happy 2011

Our village has several events during the year, the fishing day and lamb roast I have covered quite comprehensively in previous scribblings here on my blog but there is also the lotto evening, the steak evening and the most recent one I attended which was the Mayors new year evening.

One of the reasons for mentioning this is because two of our English neighbours  were at the  function and berated me for not having written for a long time and also for not having a link in place for the new website now hosting  powerfulpierre.

I have to say I was  quite taken aback  and touched by their interest and so Sally and Ed see what you have done, Powerfulpierre is back in the saddle.  Thank you.

With regard to the link to the new website, currently there is a problem with the site and until the server gets back on line I will not include the link as all you will get is an error message.

Back to the Mayors new year do which is always well attended and is a way for the Mayor to give out any relevant information regarding all things civic and there is always a presentation or suchlike which this year was given by our neighbours daughter who had spent some time in Rumania

The final part of the evening is a slice or two of the gallette de roi, a puff pastry cake which in years gone by had a bean inside it and if you found it in your piece made you king or queen and a crown was worn by the lucky person finding the bean.  The bean has now been replaced by a small figurine made of some kind of porcelain and is more likely to be a ninja turtle or a cartoon cat.  Rumour has it that it was changed because if you did not want the embarrassment of being royalty you could swallow the bean and nobody would know.

Of course the crown still exists made of card and it is expected to be worn if you are the winner.  As always with French get togethers the wine flowed and at the end a choice of infusions or coffee was offered and the mayor poured his home made calvados into our eager cups and glasses.  I have to say it was the best I have tasted for a very long time.  It had a smell of fresh green apples but an oakiness in the flavour and was not fierce like some calvados are.  Apparently it was old but I did not get a date.

So a new year begins and next up is a party on Sunday for which I will try very hard to remember the camera and then the lotto or bingo night this Saturday.

I remember the first time we went, Mrs Powerful decided it would be a good way to learn my French numbers so I was going despite my protestations.  I am not a bingo fan, but  it was our first year and Mrs Powerful went on about meeting our new neighbours and how we should support events etc.  So we went and Mrs.Powerful started winning everything, nothing big or expensive but all the little things like a box of groceries or a set of bowls.  Everytime a number was called for the little sub games, everyone with that number had to stand up and everytime she got up she would get the next number and so on until she was the last one standing, time and again.  The room was getting quieter and I was sure there was whisperings about new people winning everything.  I honestly though there might be a lynching party at one point!

Of course as soon as the decent prizes appeared, the video camera or the big screen telly, she got nothing for which I was extremely grateful.

I do not think we have won anything since in the last 7 years, I will not feel too bad if our luck changes next Saturday.

Due to our longstanding lack of car problem, now sorted at great expense with the arrival of Schumie, a Ferrari red Ferr,  okay Twingo, and Mrs Powerfulpierre doing a bit of supply work at a school in Evron,  I have been a bit remiss in writing and for that I apologise sincerely.

Schumie in all his glory

We had a wonderful evening at our new chums house in a village nearby, they are a French couple and Mrs Powerfulpierre helps their son and daughter with their English.  We were thrilled when they invited us round for dinner a month or so ago.

As it happened we ended up going round the following evening and spent it playing French scrabble, I think.

Anyway we had Kir and nibbles and good home made pork rillettes.  The main course was venison which was so tender.

Fantastic venison

The cheese course was lifted to a point of epicurean delight with the wine being served which was a 1997 St Emillion from their fathers cave.  Now regular readers will recall that I consider myself somewhat of a gourmet and have had the privilege to have drunk 60 year old calvados, 90 year old cognac, 25 year old port and now a 13 year old wine which I could not even afford to buy at today’s prices let alone vintage.

Our host carving the meat

It was a sensational evening and went on till quite late,  the calvados being the final thing I seem to recollect, an awesome meal with fantastic company.

I have not written for a long time mainly due to having a car again and a fullish diary of customers to see,also Mrs. Powerfulpierre getting up at 6am to go to school, I get up as well before you bombard me with your comments, mind you a few comments would be appreciated because this may be the last missive I write before transferring to a new site which is my own paid for site, thanks to my eldest son and which should mean a lot more exciting and interesting bells and whistles.  Of course it will still be Powerfulpierres weblog so keep checking for the opening extravaganza.

Thank you and goodnight.

Hidden secrets

I am a great fan of French restaurants particularly the kind that are usually found in villages the length and breadth of France.

These are restaurants for working men, farmers etc which are cheap and cheerful, open at 12 and have a fairly fixed menu.  I have written about them in previous missives and have rarely been disappointed.  However I would be less than honest if I said that this was gastronomy of the highest order,  it is not and does not pretend to be.  This is steak and chips and red wine country and good baguette and is all the better for being so.

So when our good friends Sue and Mike asked us to go with them to Le Mans for lunch on them to celebrate my birthday and indeed Mikes, we were not prepared for the haut cuisine to come.  We never get any further than the huge shopping area on the outskirts of Le Mans but today we were taken to the old town in the shade of the huge cathedral which to my mind is quite ugly in comparison to say Notre Dame but awesome nevertheless.

We parked in a huge car park and then set off to the labyrinth of narrow streets which zig and zag this part of the old town.  The buildings are reminiscent of York in the UK with typical medieval wooden beams everywhere and indeed one had a plaque dating the building to the 1500’s.

There were some intriguing shops too, a brass instrument restorer and a model shop which was a delight with scale model cars and models of Tin Tin the Belgian comic character to mention but a few, oh and Asterix as  well.  We wandered around taking it all in, the weather was fabulous, the sun was incredibly hot considering this was mid March.

Lunch had been booked for 12.30 at Les Sept Plats, an unremarkable building from the outside but inside was a different matter, we were greeted at the door by smiling staff who confirmed our reservation and advised us that we were to be seated in the cave.  And it was just like a cave, the entrance looked as though it had been dug out from solid rock and the stairs whilst very well lit are nevertheless steep and you have to bend low so as not to bang your head.

The dining area is quite long but narrow and cosy is a word I would probably use.  Once installed the waitress almost immediately poured us a Kir, white wine and in this case blackcurrant cordial and from the flavour certainly homemade.  She then appeared with a basket of country bread, some fresh some half toasted and we dipped it in a creamy, herby concoction which was delicious.

The mains included beef in a sauce, fish in a butter sauce but on hearing what the plat de jour was,  we all went for it.  The Chef here has a lightness of touch, and an ability to create a dish so far beyond the budget he is working within, and when the dish arrived I cursed myself for forgetting the camera again.  Veal is a meat which like foie gras tends to evoke strong emotions with people in the UK but not so the French nor me or my fellow diners.  This was veal with foie gras and chanterelle mushrooms in a sauce that cried soak me up with that fine country bread, but there was more to come, in a separate bowl was  mashed potato to die for, not only creamy, buttery, light but flavoured with what I thought was just finely minced mushrooms but now I think about it was there not a hint of truffle as well?

Just for good measure another larger bowl of the fabulous mash was put on the table between us and it soaked up the sublime sauce beautifully.

On the wine front a bottle of muscadet went down well but a carafe of plain water was provided without needing to be asked for.

Puds were typical French, myself and Mrs Powerfulpierre went for the Paris Brest, choux pastry filled with hazelnut cream and doused in icing sugar and crushed hazelnuts.  There was lemon meringue pie, white chocolate ice cream and hot chocolate sauce,  I forget what else but what we had was delicious.  Coffee came with a jar of marshmallows which was unusual but went really well.

And after just over 2 hours we exited into the bright afternoon sunshine well fed and content and affirming that we would go back again this time with a camera.

So thank you to Sue and Mike for treating us in the first place but also for letting us into their little secret as well.


As you will no doubt be aware, our car engine self destructed on the autoroute just outside Rennes at the beginning of January and needed over 3 grand spending on it to repair it.  We have spent the last month debating the best course of action and after going up many blind alleys, new engine, reconditioned, secondhand car, brand new car, all worthy contenders and all feasible if you have the money in the first place!!!!!!!!!!

There cannot be many people who can put their hands on over 3000 euros at the drop of a hat to repair a 9 year old car that just weeks later was due for the French version of the MOT and whilst I am fairly confident it would have passed, there was a lingering doubt that if it needed more work and more expense, what would we do then.  Even worse, what if it had failed the test and was irreparable, we would have lost 3300 euros and got nothing.

On top of this was the thought that if we had to get a secondhand car, we would get nothing for the old one, a car that cost us nearly nine grand less than 5 years ago.  We did not pay that much, the insurance paid out for the previous car I wrote off on black ice coming back from Caen.

All this and a car sitting at a Renault garage 135 Km from home.

Well in the end we went to our local Renault dealer and told them our tale of woe.  We were offered 2 grand for the old car as part of the French version of the scrappage deal if you buy a new car.  We went for the cheapest they had and we await delivery of a fire engine red Renault Twingo sometime in March.

The moral of this tale is that if you have a car like a Renault Laguna, ie one with a camshaft belt that needs changing regularly, do not ignore it no matter what it costs to replace because if it breaks your engine will be so much junk metal.

Having now got our lives back on a relatively even keel, I will now talk food and as inconsistent as ever rather than do what I said I would do in my last missive when I said I would be passing on French local recipes, instead I am doing Cornish pasties and seafood and fish pie, about as English as you can get.

There is method to my madness in as much as several of our friends have been asking for the recipe for my wife’s famous Cornish pasties for quite some time but first the fish pie.

As you know I am a huge fan of Rick Stein and in his book A taste of the sea, he describes a fish pie which is made by a Frenchman at a restaurant in England and who is a great lover of English cuisine.

I have used pieces of fresh salmon and haddock, fresh and smoked in the recipe before and also frozen Pollock with frozen mussels or seafood cocktail.  It really does not matter, they all work fine.

To start you need a large shallow pan, the amounts are for a generous pie for 2 people, up the amounts accordingly for more people.

Put a pint of milk, half a sliced onion and juice of half a lemon in the pan and bring to boil, simmer for five minutes.  Put the fish, I used about a half a kilo of thawed pollock but that is quite generous, I love fish,  in the milk and poach gently until cooked.  Remove the fish from the milk and onion and keep separate.  Next make a roux of sunflower margarine and plain flour and then strain the milk through a fine strainer, I use a spoon to push on the onion to get as much of the liquor into the sauce as possible and mix the milk a bit at a time into the roux making sure there are no lumps.  When the sauce is the right consistency I add a small handful of grated cheese, in this case cheddar but sometimes emmental.  In a large ovenproof bowl I layer  the cooked fish and thawed and shelled prawns and thawed seafood cocktail and then pour over the sauce.  I then smooth creamy mashed potatoes on top and put in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes and voila the best fish pie ever in my opinion anyway.  I think in some circles it is called Admirals Pie but hey what do I know?

Next up is the world famous and much asked for Cornish pasties recipe.  Mrs Powerfulpierre wants me to say a couple of things before I reveal her secret recipe.  First of all she does not want to offend any of our Cornish readers, she is well aware that there are other versions of this and the Cornish pastie name owes as much to the shape of the finished article as it does to the filling.  Furthermore this is not the original recipe she started off with many years ago, rather it has been an evolving and improving recipe as experience has taught her better ways to make them.  So without further ado, here is the recipe together with photographs taken by the lady herself.

Ingredients

For the shortcrust pastry

8 oz plain flour

4 oz fat butter/hard margarine/lard

The best pastry uses half lard, half butter/margarine

cold water to mix

Filling

1lb stewing steak cubed

2 large carrots peeled and cubed

1 large onion peeled and chopped

2 large potatoes peeled and cubed

flour

butter/margarine

seasoning

Cook the stewing steak in plenty of water as this will make the gravy.  In a pressure cooker this will take about 20 minutes, in an ordinary saucepan 1 to 2 hours or a slow cooker about 4 hours.  Cook until the meat is tender adding the carrots to the meat in time for them to soften. they need 5 minutes in the pressure cooker, 15 minutes in the saucepan or if using a slow cooker put them in at the beginning.  When cooked put in a colander to drain making sure you keep every drop of the gravy.

Make the pastry, rub the cold fat into the flour add cold water do not make it too wet.  Roll out into 4 circles.

In the middle of each circle layer the fillings, first the diced potatoes and chopped onion then the cooked and drained carrots and the meat.

It is important to add a knob of butter or sunflower margarine if worried about cholesterol and a sprinkling of flour, Mrs P forgot this once and it was not the same, add salt and pepper to each pasty.

Moisten edges of pastry and join them up into a pasty shape, making sure the edges are well stuck together, make a couple of slits in each pasty with a knife for steam to escape.  Bake in hot oven for 40 minutes.

These are giant pastys and are a meal on their own, serve with gallons of gravy and Mr  P likes them with processed peas and Henderson’s relish, a Sheffield made delicacy not unlike Worcestershire sauce but in my opinion far superior.

Check it out here.

www.hendersonsrelish.com

Bonne Année

First of all I would like to wish everyone a very happy new year.

Yes I know it is a bit belated but needless to say the year started with a disaster.  Whilst driving our eldest son to the airport after Christmas, the car broke down just outside Rennes and we have not seen it since.  I do not even want to think about the cost which seems to rise daily and the inconvenience.

I will say our neighbours have been absolutely brilliant.  As regular readers will know we live in the back of beyond where a car is a necessity not a luxury and we are unable to get to the shops or work or anything.  Our friends and neighbours have all offered to take us wherever we want whenever we want and to those people we would like to say a huge thank you, words are not enough.

So this is a quick blog to say I am still here and working on a new more recipe orientated content which will be mainly real French recipes, ones that you will not see in standard recipe books, real down to earth rural French food cooked by and for French families.

It has been gratifying to see the number of people still visiting old Powerfulpierre even though it has been a while since anything new has been put up and again I thank my loyal readers.

Finally during Christmas my good lady wife made mince pies amongst other scrummy Christmas Fayre and we discovered, in fairness it might have been Jamie in one of his Christmas programmes, an alternative to brandy butter.  We used Mascarponi cheese, mixed with cognac and icing sugar and blobbed on the warm mince pies.  Oh happy days, served with real  coffee and more brandy in and squirty cream in the coffee, delish.

So that is all for now, it is milk night and no car so we are going to have to walk to the neighbours milking parlour but it is worth it for the full cream deliciousness of it fresh from the cow.

a biéntot

I know I said in my last missive that I would be continuing the whirlwind tour of France but as always events have conspired against me and Christmas has loomed out of nowhere.

So the third instalment will be in January and that gives me time to concentrate on a Christmas special.

You may have noticed that the snow is falling, albeit rather slowly,  on the page as you read just to put you in the mood.

This year has been a bit of a strange one, you will recall last Christmas I had food poisoning allegedly due to an infected oyster, I am not convinced and I have eaten oysters since then with no ill effects but just in case as I do not want to miss Christmas day with my kids who I do not see very often, oysters are off the menu this year.

Then during the summer whilst collecting blackberries in the garden, I was bitten or stung by something which in turn was then infected by a microbe which gave me blood poisoning and even after antibiotics came back a few weeks ago so more visits to the doctor and blood tests hence my lack of blogging of late.  The upside is that the blackberry jam Mrs. Powerfulpierre made was fantastic with intense fruity flavours.

So to Christmas and the shops are already heaving with the most fantastic food and drink and of course being France all the prices of the luxury items come down.  Now I love lobster and back in the UK I think I had it twice in fifty years but here if you do not mind frozen a whole decent size lobster will cost you 2.95 Euros, half a dozen of those are now in the freezer as will be the incredibly cheap Scottish Langoustine and the amazing scallops which you just barely singe in a little butter in a frying pan, they come with what the French call coral which I think is the roe and they are so sweet and nutty and flavourful just on their own.

So apart from seafood what else can you expect to be treated to if you spent Christmas in France?

Well the French are particularly fond of foie  gras, duck or slightly more expensive goose liver which I know in some circles is frowned upon due to the force feeding of the animals, but in France Christmas just would not be Christmas without it and it comes in all shapes and sizes from the whole liver which you gently fry.  I had it cooked with prunes and cognac in a restaurant in the South of France once.

It also comes in a block which you spread on specially baked bread which is thinly sliced.  It also is made into Paté.

One of my favourites at this time of year is the speciality paté en croute, it is about as close to English pork pie that you can get but it is so much more.  The pastry is made with butter and my favourite is wild boar with mushrooms but the guinea fowl is also good.

Carrying on the duck theme, my youngest son adores the slivers of smoked duck which are a speciality of The Landes region and I must admit they are exceptional.

Mrs Powerfulpierre has been busy making Christmas cake and pudding, not something the French go in for and she made mince pies which we served at French school that we have with some of our English and French neighbours.  The French love to try English food and the pies went down a storm.

Now for a confession, in the middle of writing this we had to go shopping and I am afraid the lobsters called out to me as we were passing the freezer and one just jumped into the trolley, how weird is that.  In fairness because we are both on a diet I had only had fruit for lunch and therefore the lobster was a nice starter just on its own with a tiny bit of good mayonnaise and some french bread.  My fellow gastronauts I cannot start to describe the flavour, the different textures of the meat in the claws and the tail meat.

The claw meat is soft and sweet and the lobstery juice is unctuous, you just have to dip your bread into it.  Then the tail meat, I always eat the claw meat first then the tail which is stronger flavoured and firm.

For mains we had would you believe kangaroo fillet steaks, as I said earlier the French go in for exotic and luxury food at Christmas but at a price everyone can afford.  We could have had ostrich or roe deer or stag but the best value was the roo.  These were grilled on the George Foreman, I had mine rare with thinly cut french fries so the blood tinged the golden crisp chips purple and more french bread to mop up the juices.

With the steak we had a Spanish Tempranillo, this was a lovely wine, the equivalent I think of the French Cabernet Sauvignon and was all of 1.50 Euros from a shop called Noz which you learn about very quickly when you live in France.  I am not going to bang on about how cheap a lobster and steak meal was or how there would be no way we could have afforded it in the UK because it winds up my youngest son so I will not do that.  However I can ask his partner and writer of the wonderful food stories whether she can knock together something similar and tell us how much it would have cost.

Well next week we visit our neighbour who has generously given us one of her geese for our Christmas present.  If it is as good as the previous ones she has given us then it will be perfect for Christmas day.

So until next year I wish all my readers a very merry Christmas and a prosperous new year and thank you so much for taking an interest in our life in France.

France on a plate

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