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Archive for July, 2009

The chinese garden

We enjoy going to Le Mans now and again, firstly as there is the biggest hypermarket there called Auchan and two of my favourite eating places are conveniently situated nearby.  These are Buffalo grill, I know shocking pun but they do burgers and steaks which are fabulous.

Our other favourite is the chinese restaurant The chinese garden, jardin de chine.  They do a lunchtime buffet which is exemplary.  On top of that the French government as one of their responses to the creoit crunch, have reduced VAT for restaurants and the buffet here is now less than 10 Euros.  We were treated to the meal out by our friends Matt and Ann who have a lovely holiday home near to us.  We arrived at more or less mid-day and this being a tuesday it was fairly quiet, later in the week I recommend you arrive at this time because it is very popular.

entrance

entrance

The staff are very friendly and the service is quick without being overly fussy.  We were shown to our seats and a plate of prawn crackers was put in front of us and very good they were too.

Delicious prawn crackers

Delicious prawn crackers

We ordered a bottle of muscadet and a bottle of Peligrino water and set off for the buffet.

The buffet is effectively laid out in two, a starter area, and a main course and dessert area.  The choice is immense, in the starter area there are hams, hard boiled eggs, prawns, crab sticks, lettuce, cucumber, potato salad, sushi, spring rolls, an amazing assortment of chinese leaves and vegetables.  I went for the eggs and ham with mayonnaise, lettuce, then saw the prawns and crab sticks and sushi, so had to go back for more.

My first starters!!!

My first starters!!!

The main courses are all hot and there is a huge selection and do not forget this is an all you can eat place.  There was cantonese rice, egg noodles, duck and pineapple, pork caramel, gosh that was good, chicken dishes, squid, prawns in every conceivable way, beef with oyster mushrooms,  pork pancakes, chicken pancakes, stuffed baby cabbages, the list just goes on.  As you can imagine we had to make a number of visits and new things were being added all the time and everything was fresh and refilled long before the heated containers were empty.  Here is a selection of photos to whet your appetite.

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After stuffing our faces, we went back for dessert.  Again buffet style, help yourself to chinese fruits, one was lychees, the scented floral juicy flavour gave it away, there was a red round fruit with a stone in the middle and a few others I could not identify but boy were they delicious, then there was apple fritters and banana fritters and a help yourself to ice cream freezer with coffee, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream to choose from, or have some of everything.

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We rounded the feast off with coffee and as I did not pay I cannot say with certainty how much it came to but I reckon it would have come to well under 60 euros for the four of us.

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Amazing value for money and a lovely way of spending a couple of hours.

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Sorry for the delay in writing about our excellent day on Bastille day, 14th July.  The truth is that I had a sudden stampede of customers wanting new broadband fitted and computers fixed that had gone wonky.  On top of that my wife came home on saturday after teaching french to a small group of pupils and told me the wonderful news that my computer and broadband fixing skills were required by a a couple of her students as well.  As you know this is a new venture for me and I am so grateful for the support I have received,  I hope everyone is happy with the results and will spread the word, thank you.

On top of that we had a great day out last sunday with our irish friends and Buster, our scruffy little dog got to meet his brother for the first time.

Unfortunately Buster does not react the same way with everyone, some people he gets on fine with and others he growls and barks at.  There seems to be no logic in his behaviour at all and thus it was that he and his brother did not get on well at all.

Busters brother

Busters brother

It was amazing how alike the two were, in mannerisms, looks, apart from buster has not had a hair cut for a while.  The thing is he does not like being touched with scissors and the last time he had his hair cut it took the best part of the day and even with a muzzle on, there was much biting or attempts to.

So he is a scruff and there you are.  We are also convinced his breeding does not help, his mother lives in a barn but when she gets the urge she disappears to meet the dog that lives at the chateau and we are not convinced that they are not brother and sister, enough said.

Buster and brother

Buster and brother

We arrived early and took the dogs on a walk, the countryside around here is fantastic and the weather was lovely.  We got back and settled down in the garden for nibbles and drinks and then had dinner in our friends newly renovated house

when you opened a beer the voice of Homer Simpson came from the bottle opener

when you opened a beer the voice of Homer Simpson came from the bottle opener

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The following tuesday was the village fishing day.  Several thousand trout are put into the river and people from far and wide come to fish.

The ever popular beer and wine bar

The ever popular beer and wine bar

This is the life

This is the life

We had a walk through the poplar plantation and at 12 it was lunch time

Steak, sausage and chips mmm

Steak, sausage and chips mmm

People fishing, our garden is the other side of the river

People fishing, our garden is the other side of the river

Heading for the beer tent

Heading for the beer tent

Everyone had a great time

Everyone had a great time

Ah the smell of the bbq

Ah the smell of the bbq

So another fishing day over and time for us to wander down the road to home after drinking a little too much wine.

So what is next on the agenda, well it is party time, next saturday we have been invited to a fancy dress birthday party, on the sunday we are going to a wedding anniversary party, before that on tuesday we have been invited to lunch at probably the best chinese restaurant I have ever eaten in.  If you are ever in Le Mans go to the chinese garden for the buffet but go hungry!!!

Then at the beginning of august we are going to a barbecue and at the beginning of september another wedding anniversary do, there is the village lamb roast at the end of august not to mention our very own wedding anniversary on the 30th of this month.

All will be suitably blogged and lovingly photographed for your delictation, this is our life in france.

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More eating out

This is just a very quick note to say that even as I wrote the last paragraph of the last blog, we got yet another invite out for dinner.  However even before that I had forgotten that this coming saturday we had volunteered to help with the setting up of the fishing day held on the communal field next to the river that runs past our pond.  The reason is the 14th of July which is a public holiday in France.

As our house is the only one within miles of the field, we normally provide the electricity for the event but this year the organisers have bought themselves a generator.  I have to say that our helping put the stalls and things up is not purely out of the goodness of our heart, the fact is that we will be treated to the kind of lunch I used to read about and dream of.  At the appointed hour, we will stop work, trestle tables will be set up in the field, beer and wine opened, starters will appear at the start of a long and boozy session of which all will be revealed including photos in my next blog.  We can both get merry because we live within walking distance of the field.

The following day we have been invited to dinner at our Irish friends house and something special has been promised, the Jamesons whisky will no doubt be in evidence and I have persuaded my wife to let me be excused designated driver, it was my turn to drive and I never touch alcohol if I am driving, but I have promised to not drink the next two times we go out, so that is fair isnt it.

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French Sunday lunch

Even though we have lived in France for less than 6 years I think it is fair to say that we have dined out and entertained more in that time than we ever did when we lived in the UK, so we will have been married 32 years this very month actually and spent 26 of those years living in the UK.

Ah you must have been Mr and Mrs. no friends before you moved to france I hear you cry and perhaps we were but I also think that we have more time for these things living here and more importantly the culture is more orientated around eating with family and friends, although we have always tried to eat as a family together around a table and when we all get together we still do.

So it was that we drove to our french friends house for a fondue, which I had been looking forward to all week.  As eagle eyed readers will have seen in earlier scribblings, we had a seventies evening recently and had a thoroughly enjoyable fondue.  I was therefore keen to see the french version.

The view from our hosts patio

The view from our hosts patio

The french seem to love whisky even more than they do cognac or any other home grown liquor, supermarkets have usually got a far larger range of malts and blended whisky than anything else other than wine and so it was on arriving,  a large scotch was pressed into my hand with much shouting of chin chin and santé and we took our seats at the table.

The starter was also nibbles as well, these consisted of blini with smoked salmon, small squares of what look like fruit cake but are in fact a cake with wegetables in them and slices of what I took to be pork saucisson sec but were in fact beef, not only that but not any old beef but Charolais

Starters await

Starters await

beef.  If you go back into my previous blogs you will come across a burger I made to rival the 15 quid one my sons partner had experienced and written about in her excellent food stories, of which a link is provided and which I recommend heartily.  The burgers I used were pure charolais beef and they are so soft and juicy it is not true, so I bit into the saucison expecting the hard chewy texture one gets with pork but to my amazement It was soft and full of flavour, a real revelation.

Whilst eating, a second large whisky was put in front of me and a glass of rosé wine.  The bowls with raw chicken and steak were brought in along with homemade bread.  We sat drinking and talking whilst the fondue was organised and the various sauces lined up, ranging from hollandaise, to bolanaise to aoli and marie rose.  A bottle of red wine was opened and we started putting our forks in the hot oil in which had been placed a bouquet garni.  The beef was fantastic and and I was cooking it very rare.  Our host Jacquie said to try it raw as it was good enough to be used in steak tartare.  I have always shunned the idea of raw beef or mince but the steak I tried raw was magnificent and has changed my mind regarding trying steak tartare.

Lunch

Lunch

After the main course a fantastic selection of cheeses, then mixed red berries in a wafer basket with ice cream.

Coffee came with the usual homemade calvados and we adjourned to the front of the house where a game of boul was played.

the french take boul seriously

the french take boul seriously

After a few games, I felt the need to rest as I had hurt my big toe the day before whilst doing some strimming in the garden.

These pictures of me are getting too regular

These pictures of me are getting too regular

Next will probably be the village lamb roast unless we get invited out again before then.

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Hopefully you have read my summer holiday special edition and you will recall the beurre blanc sauce we had at a restaurant in Granville.

Now I have always avoided trying to make it myself because all the books and the celeb chefs bang on about how difficult it is and how it is very unstable,  and if it cracks blah de blah.  However having tasted the incredibly buttery, unctious sauce at said restaurant and compared it with the bland commercial stuff we have bought in the past, I decided that I would have a go at making it myself.

Whist on holiday we squandered 4 euros on 2 huge fish which the french call dorade royale and which I think is called john dory or st peters fish, all of which could be wrong because the french have different names for fish and sometimes there is no english equivalent.  these were gutted by my able assistant and wife and cooked on the george.  I looked at an awful lot of recipes but finally went for my hero of fish Sir Rick Stein, yes I know he isnt a Sir but one day.

We had new pots straight out of a neighbours garden, she gave us them ok, we have to go back because she has a ton of blackcurrants and redcurrants which will just rot on the vine otherwise, mmm pretend ribena.

Tinned french peas are not my favourite but that is all we had.  So to the sauce.  I have to say I was a little nervous about this what with all the dire warnings of disaster but in the back of my mind I could hear Rick spurring me on, feel the sauce I heard him say in a obi wan kenobi type voice.

So as there are only 2 of us I did half the recipe, a shallot chopped finely, 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of dry white wine, I used chardonnay because we had a drop left in a box.  3 tablespoons of water or fish stock, yeah right like I have fish stock, 2 tablespoons double cream, does not exist in france so left out, 3 ounces of unsalted butter, I used salted.  Put the shallots, white wine, white wine vinegar and water in a small saucepan and heat till boiling than simmer until nearly all the liquid has evaporated at this point you would add the cream and reduce again, then remove the pan from the heat and whisk the butter in a bit at a time until it is all amalgamated.  Unbelievably it worked, it was perhaps not up to the restaurant standard but it beat the commercial stuff into a cocked hat whatever that means.  It was light and er well buttery with perhaps the shallots being a bit crunchier than they should have been, but hey I loved it and so did my wife.  It melted on the potatoes and added brilliantly to the big white chunky fishes flavour.  So to finish off here is a photo and if you have never made it before I really urge you to give it a try with a decent quality fish.

okay I forgot about the photo until we were half way through, sorry

okay I forgot about the photo until we were half way through, sorry

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Holiday special edition

Hi folks, just got back from a glorious week on the Normandy coast.  The weather was stonking and if you are into seafood then this is the place for you.

We stayed at a new apartment in Julouville that is owned by our friends and neighbours Christane and Robert,  we were a minutes walking distance from the beach which are huge with the most incredible blue sea.

We actually walked along the beach and into the town to buy pain au chocolat and baguette from the boulangerie for breakfast.  The first sunday we were there we came across a guy who had a stall next to the local supermarket in town.  He was only there on a sunday morning but he had a huge assortment of live spider and edible crabs, live lobsters, tiny beach crabs, mussells et al and he was doing a roaring trade, the oysters which were huge were particularly popular, of course it was fathers day and the french go overboard at lunch time, one guy had bought the biggest bag of oysters I have seen but at less than 3 euros a kilo,  I cannot say I blame him.

As it was fathers day we went in search of a fruit de mer for me for lunch and that took us just down the coast road to Granville.  We eventually found a place to our liking and I ordered the plateau de fruit de mer and Margaret had moules  for starter and john dory for main.  We had a bottle of entre de mer to go with it.

Restaurant at Granville

Restaurant at Granville

I have to say that I was a little disappointed wuth my fruit de mer, it certainly came no where near to as generous as the one I had when we stayed in the lande region two years ago.  Only half a crab, a small beach crab, 4 oysters, 3 langoustine; 3 prawns and a lot of whelks and winkles.  It still took me over 3 hours to demolish it.

the napkins were folded to look like sail boats

the napkins were folded to look like sail boats

plateau de fruit de mer

plateau de fruit de mer

So with desert and coffee the bill at 69 euros was pretty good value.  However my yearning for seafood had not been sated and I was convinced I could put together a better plateau than the restarant one and for a lot less than the asking price of 26 euros.

We spent most of the time on the beach and as it got too hot at mid-day  had long lunches on the terrace of the apartment.

my appetite for crab continued

my appetite for crab continued

I saw this cooked crab for less than 4 euros and it was a monster, eaten with salad and washed down with a bottle of my favourite white bordeaux.

We got into a fairly laid back routine spending the mornings and late afternoons on the beach, paddling in the sea, trying to entice the dog to go in the sea, no chance.  Then having long lunches and siestas.

the prawns were big and almost like lobster in texture

the prawns were big and almost like lobster in texture

On the friday we drove into the town to get breakfast and discovered it was market day.  It never ceases to amaze me how big and wide ranging these are especially when you look at the size of the town.  In france people have their holidays in july and august, this was june so you cannot say it is because of the holidaymakers.  On the food front, there were huge stalls with every cheese imaginable as well as small stalls with local goats cheese for sale, the fish stall was unbelievable with an assortment of fish that beggars belief.  Then there were the shelfish stalls absolutely wonderful and another reminder as to why I love living here.  As we did not know about it we did not have the camera with us so no photos I am afraid.

Anyway friday was our last full day so I was determined to get another fruit de mer.  I know but I do not get out much so please humour me.  the lobster was 26 euros a kilo so it had to be crab again, cost 3 euros, 4 oysters 1 euro  5 cooked scottish langoustine, 1 euro, half a kilo of large prawns, I shared them, 4 euros, a huge bag of whelks 2 euros, cost 13 euros, I could not see winkles.

my take on a you know what

my take on a you know what

So a delicious end to our holiday, and now a few photos to give you a feel of the place.  By the way the john dory my wife had at the restaurant was a bit on the small size but the buerre blanc sauce that accompanied it was phenominal.  The shalottes had been left in they normally are strained for a smooth sauce but being left in was a revelation.  You could taste all the individual elements, the white wine, the butter, and of course the shalottes.  I have got to make this, we bought a couple of really big john dory before we left so I will let you know how I got on with the recipe.

Buster enjoying the beach

Buster enjoying the beach

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sunset

sunset

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This is not a tree just a very big hanging basket

This is not a tree just a very big hanging basket

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