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Archive for August, 2009

Recipes

When we lived in Wales there was a fish restaurant we used to go to on a regular basis.  It was unlike French fish restaurants but still had a charm of its own.

I used to have hake in batter, not fillet but hake being a round fish it can be cut in the same way as tuna, in sections, this with chips, mushy peas, French bread which was baked in the town of Barry just down the coast and the nearest thing to real French bread I have ever had in the UK.  They also made their own tartare sauce using Hellmans mayonnaise and capers.  For starters they had potted shrimp and gravalax, and kippers bigger than a dinner plate.  For pud there was never any contest, it was fresh raspberries and cream with a piece of shortbread.

Sadly despite its immense popularity it was bought by a brewery chain who ran it into the ground and it eventually closed.

Anyway on Sunday I collected a large quantity of blackberries and a few raspberries and as we had some fromage blanc battu, whipped fromage blanc, we decided to make some shortbread to go with it.  We were going to put sugar on the blackberries but they were so sweet and with the shortbread and the slight acidity of the fromage there was no need.

I was particularly pleased with the shortbread

I was particularly pleased with the shortbread

it does what it says on the label

it does what it says on the label

Making the shortbread could not be simpler, you need 9oz of plain flour, 3oz sugar, 6 oz unsalted butter straight from fridge.  Mix the lot in a food processor or with a mixer until it turns into a single ball.  Roll out as thick as you like and cut into shapes.  a glass works fine if you dont have a fancy cutter.  I put the shapes onto a buttered tin tray and prick with a fork then bake at 160c, 325f gas mark 3 for 30 mins.  It works with blueberries as well.

The next recipe is a variation from a favourite book of mine, Floyd on France which my mum and dad gave me for Christmas in 1987 and whos recipes we have used over and over again, poulet basque being one of them.  However as we do them from memory these days, we do not always stick to them to the letter.  The tomato ketchup my wife made yesterday, made me want bacon and egg for lunch to try it.  We grill poitrine de porc fumé as a substitute for bacon and I think it goes really well, I also fried some bread using vegetable lard.

So a kilo of tomatoes peeled de seeded and finely chopped, half a kilo of onions finely chopped, a kilo of red peppers de seeded and finely chopped, cook the three vegatables in oil for 45 minutes or until they are soft and like a puree.  Strain through a fine sieve put back into pan and add 3oz of sugar,  3 large cloves of garlic finely chopped, 1 chilli finely chopped, we use tobasco, salt and pepper,  1 tablespoon mustard powder, 1 tablespoon paprika, 2 wine glasses of vinegar, we used red wine vinegar and large pinch powdered cloves.  Cook over a low heat for about 2 hours stirring now and again with a wooden spoon until you have a thick red sauce, taste and adjust the seasoning.

Next we have a wedding anniverary, the village lamb roast and then the dreaded karioke evening, I just got a new video camera, there may be moving pictures on my next our life in France.

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Anglo versus Gallic

The weather on Sunday was probably the hottest so far and we were invited to lunch by a couple who are students of Mrs.Powerfulpierre and who have become friends as well.  We arrived a little late,  The Bishop was attending the local church and it went on a bit, they have a modern house in a village not too far from where we live, and we were introduced to a couple we had not met before and who have a holiday home here.

We drank Kier royales on the patio and chatted before sitting down to a fine meal, Sue was a professional chef so the food was always going to be good.

Now anyone who has read my missives will know that I am a bit of an apple and blackberry crumble aficionado as well as a general all round gourmet.  Desert was an apple and blackberry crumble and I was taken to task about my crumble recipe which appeared recently in one of my blogs, because I use self raising flour whereas the crumble should use oats which the one I had been presented with did and very nice it was too.  But it was not a crumble in all my years of eating them I would have recognised as a traditional crumble and having eaten what the French call crumble, neither would they either.  I am tempted to open this up to debate but am afraid that the self raising flour v oats may not go my way.

The French are very pragmatic when it comes to food and particularly if it is something new to them.  They will taste and then deconstruct the meal, itemising all the ingredients they can discern and will ask questions about ingredients they are unfamiliar with or cannot recognise.

We once gave cornish pasties to our French neighbours, did I tell you how good the pasties my wife makes are, they are sublime.  You have to eat them with gallons of gravy, something that our neighbours could not get their heads round, the French have jus and in tiny amounts.

The French are also very much into local and regional food unlike in the UK where we used to eat Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican et al, the French have only recently started getting foreign food in the supermarkets and when I say foreign it invariably means processed food something even now that is baulked at over here.

To the French it is all about fresh French products,  you would never see anything other then French fruit and veg, you might see the occasional New Zealand or British lamb but this is rare.  It is also about seasonality, you buy and eat what is in season and this can be quite amusing if there has been a glut of something.  Our neighbours are all keen to get rid of their glut of plums, peaches, cherries, each year is different and there is only so much jamming, bottling  you can do.  If you were to come to our house this year, you would leave with a pot of homemade plum jam or else.

The French do not have the British thing about home ownership either,  renting is far more the norm than in Britain and therefore there was never going to be the problem with mortgage debt  or indeed any kind of debt, credit card ownership is far less than in the UK and interest rates less than a third than credit cards in the UK.

Another difference I have noticed, whereas in the UK we embraced Japanese, German and French cars, probably causing the death of the indigenous industry, the French in the main buy French, if you see a VW or a Beemer here it invariably has English number plates, that is probably why they have still got a car industry.

Okay so you are probably getting the impression that I am leaning just ever so slightly towards the Gallic more than the Anglo but I am finding it difficult to think of many good things in the UK which affect the general population in a positive way.

The French have radars on some of their roads but they have huge signs warning you and reminding you of the speed limit well in advance and several times before you get to the radar.  Not the cynical tax collecting that appears to go off in Britain.

And then there is the fish and seafood, when we holidayed here which got more and more frequent over the years, I used to look at the fish counter in the supermarkets here and I use to say to Mrs.Powerfulpierre, the French do not know how lucky they are.  We lived 6 miles from the sea in Wales and yet the local supermarket had a bit of farmed salmon, frozen and frostbitten prawns that I used to virtually fight the guy behind the counter for a 100 grams.  Here the guy behind the fish counter starts putting me a kilos worth in a bag the minute he sees me walking towards his counter and they are fresh and a fraction of the price I paid in Wales 6 years ago.

So there you have it, am I pro Gallic, well yes, but ok I still drink Tetley tea and some days I could kill for a hob nob.

I would love to hear your comments, please come back at me if you think I am wrong or if you think I am right.

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Our Commune

The weather has been so hot these last few days that doing anything outside apart from sitting in the shade and drinking beer, has been virtually impossible.

On top of that we have been invaded by moles who seem to have delighted in making hills in every bit of grass they can.  Apart from making the garden look a mess it is also a nightmare trying to mow around them.  Ah but you have 3 cats and a dog surely they must be on the case.  Well no, they seem either unwilling or incapable of catching moles, certainly the odd dead one has been seen but nothing like the number that must be burrowing beneath me even as I type.

So battle has been joined.  We were afraid to use poison in case the cats took it so we bought some what can only be called flares from the local Agriel of which more later.  You find a fresh hill, find the hole, light the flare, drop it in the hole and the smoke drives the little blighters away allegedly.  The war continues.

Going back to the Agriel I mentioned earlier, this is located on the outskirts of the village and across the road from the Town Hall.  It sells apart from things to kill pests with,  things like gravel for drives and also it is where the farmers come to weigh the grain etc on the weighbridge in the courtyard.

Our house is about 2km outside the village along a very narrow and winding road.  We are actually on the edge of a field owned by Alain who provides us with the organic milk straight from his dairy cows.

There are not many houses in the village itself, but the farmhouses, converted barns etc in the outlying area come under the jurisdiction of the Town Hall and are called collectively The Commune.

There are approximately 200 inhabitants of the commune, many are farmers but about 10% are English people who are either retired here or are self employed.  Apart from myself, I run a computer repair service, Mrs.Powerfulpierre who runs a french/English tuition service, there is an electrician, carpenter,  digger driver and a roofer.

Of course even for a tiny village like ours, the Church dominates the square and is prominent at the top of the hill from all around the surrounding countryside which I must say is the most beautiful countryside you will see.  The hills roll down all around you and even though it is mainly farmland, the farmers look after the land and there are still hedgerows boardering the fields.

Mrs. Powerfulpierre is the deputy treasurer at our local environment society, for more details go to

http://www.saint-thomas-de-courceriers.eu

It was at one of these meetings that we were told that we had a 15th century granite cross on our land,  much strimming and clearing of ferns uncovered the simple cross, whose origins we have tried to discover so far without success.

Our life here is pretty well integrated with the locals and as an example and something that would never have happened in the UK was when it was the local elections, we are French residents not citizens yet, so we can vote in the local and european elections but not the national elections.

The local elections here are quite strange in that there is not a list of people from different parties to vote for as in the UK, here anybody can nominate anyone else in the commune to serve the 6 years on the council.  So it was that we discovered that Mrs. Powerfulpierre had been nominated as a candidate.  Now if you do not want to have your name put forward you simply write to the Mayor and ask to be taken off the list, we were so honoured and slightly bemused that my wife let her name go forward.  There are two rounds and unbelievably she got into the second round missing out eventually on a seat on the Council by only a few votes.  However our good friend and neighbour Sonia who is English won a seat, something in fairness some French members of the Council wanted as there are so many Rnglish people here.

Anyway today has been the hottest day so far but as I do every day, I go out and feed the fish in the pond and then collect yes you guessed it, blackberries.

I wanted to make a crumble or to be more accurate two.  It has become a bit of a tradition that every year I bake a crumble for our friends and neighbours Alain and Francoise and there children.  The French have only recently discovered the delights of crumble spoken by the French as crurmble.  We walked the dog round to their farmhouse and the pleasure and delight that was expressed by them defies description.  They say that giving is better than receiving and in this case it just blew me away.

So here is my blackberry and apple recipe.  Put a lot of freshly picked blackberries and thinly chopped, cored and peeled eating apples, I never use cookers, into an oven proof dish, I did sprinkle with a bit of sugar, mix 4oz of self raising flour with 2oz brown sugar and 2oz of unsalted butter.  I chuck the lot in a food mixer with a blade.  Pour the crumble over the fruit and cook for about 30 mins in a moderate oven, leave a bit longer if you like a browner top.  Serve with cream, custard or ice cream.

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Some recipes

I feel I have perhaps been a little remiss with the number of recipes I have published.

This is partly due to such brilliant sites as food stories and leftoverqueen who do a lot better job particularly on the photo front.

Anyway I came across this recipe recently as a result of taking tea at our house with our good friends  Pat and Harry who we have known for a good few years and were once students of Mrs. Powerfulpierre.  Pat brought a homemade lemon cake with her and it was delicious, she let us have the recipe and yesterday I made it and it is so easy.

Now I think I am a pretty good all round chef but I do appreciate things being simpler and they dont come simpler than this.

Ingredients   in ounces sorry

6 oz caster sugar

6 oz self raising flour gateau flour in France

4 oz unsalted butter doux in France

pinch salt

2 tablespoons warm water

Grated rind of a lemon

2 eggs

Now the easy bit, put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well, I used the food processor and it was ready in seconds.  I put the mixture in a square tin approx 7 inch having lined the sides and bottom with greaseproof paper and bake at 180c for 40 to 45 minutes.  When it is ready, mix the juice of a lemon with a large tablespoon of icing sugar and heat the juice and icing sugar in a saucepan then pour over the cake in its tin then leave to cool.

Please try it and let me know what you think.

On Sunday we entertained our friends from Ireland and  California who both have  holiday homes here.  We do not see them very often so we had dinner before they departed to their respective countries and er work.

We started nibbles and drinks on the patio which was ok for a while then it started raining so we all moved inside and sat to eat.

We decided on a mix of starters, Monique our french neighbour had brought us some rabbit paté which was still hot from the oven, I bought some extra large prawns and mixed them with a creamy Thai sauce and we also had air dried ham with melon.  We had a lettuce from the garden and a pain from the bread van in the village, for wine we had a rosé, well several actually altogether.  Main course I did my famous poulet Basque, chicken portions slow cooked with onions, tomatoes, green, red and yellow peppers, lots of garlic and a good glug of chardonnay for the dinner and me.  The recipe is in one of my previous blogs and it is important to skin the chicken otherwise the sauce is too fatty.  Helpful hint use a paper towel to hold the skin in as you pull it off it comes away a lot easier.  I served it with the red, white and green spiral pasta.

same colour as the Basque flag

same colour as the Basque flag

Almost ready to cook

Almost ready to cook

Next up was the cheese and we had a blue creamy petit bleu, a Cantel and a Reblochon which was made from raw milk and beats the pasteurised version hands down.

We had 3 puds, Ann brought some tiny cakes, eclairs, rum baba, creme anglais choux buns whilst Mrs.Powerfulpierre made a fruit salad and a blackberry mousse, blackberries hand picked by me.

Coffee and chocolates, great big lumps of praline, milk and dark chocolate and after eights.

By the way, the mousse was extraordinary and I will have the recipe here next time

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A bit of controversy

It will be a year ago that I first started writing this weblog and I took some time out to read the very first one I wrote last September.

At the moment blackberries and harvesting them are my main concern and the question of what to do with them apart from jelly, crumble and pie came up and we decided a mousse or fool would be good, now read my first blog and be amazed at what was on my mind then……

Which set me off thinking, yes I know I am probably boring and yes it seems nothing changes but then it occurred to me, this is what is called seasonality, I live in the country, the last week has seen a huge amount of activity by the local farmers rushing to harvest the crops, that is what happens and you learn to stay off the roads because they are very  narrow with deep ditches either side and combined harvesters are very big and french farmers drive them like they are on a stage from the world rally championships.

So that set me off thinking again, when I first decided to write a blog I sort of thought a french version of the Archers but with food and recipes but that is not what I got and that set me off thinking again.  Why had my original idea not come to fruition, when all said and done everybody likes a bit of controversy,  a little gossip perhaps.  The problem is that virtually everyone we have met here both english and french are so kind and friendly and would bend over backward to help you, however there have been a couple of people, sadly fellow ex pats that have been less than nice to us, but hey you live and learn and move on.

After all this thinking my brain was starting to fuse together and melt but I carried on.

When we decided to move here, probably even before that, we devoured anything to do with moving to France, newspaper articles, all the French life type magazines anything we could get our hands on.  Now we are here and I guess what I have ended up doing is writing a kind of guide for people who are thinking about coming to live here, or people who are interested in our life here because it is different to their own and they are lovers of travel or just France or maybe they wanted a recipe and ended up here, it happens a lot I am pleased to say.

So no Archers then, because I would have to make things up and you would not want that, would you?  Or I write about the not nice people and get sued for liable or slander I can never remember which is which.

So I will continue writing about our life in France, the food, the culture and anything else I can think of.  Next up is another party in September, apparently I am singing in the kareoke with Mrs Powerfulpierre, and the following day it is the village sheep roast, ah seasonality, you cannot beat it.

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We came to France to get away from the rat race of the UK, to live a quieter, simpler life and to a large extent we have achieved our dream.

However things do not always go the way you want to and so it was that on Friday morning we drove to Evron to find some fancy dress costumes for the party we had been invited to on saturday night and find a present  for the anniversary party on Sunday.  Now I have to plead guilty here, when I saw the price of the red indian outfit my wife proposed to wear, I bottled out and we left the shop empty handed with my wife ever so slightly upset with me.

We returned home to find a message on the answering machine from Francoise our neighbour we get our milk from.  She explained that Christaines mother had died on tuesday evening and that the funeral was in the village that afternoon.  Although we did not know her that well, I think she was 94 and had been very ill for some time, it is very important to the people here that you show support for your friends and go to the funeral, there was never any question that no matter what other plans we had we were going to the funeral.

The day had been one of heavy showers and I mean heavy and as I looked for something appropriate to wear my mind went back to my fathers funeral that took place in the same church we were going to.  It was a very wet May when he died suddenly, he had lived in his own flat in the village for about 10 months and in fairness he had enjoyed the gastronomic delights of France with us during that time.  He was 86 when he died and we bought a plot in the village cemetary which stands on the hill on the edge of the village and has the most magnificent views of the countryside.  My father could not speak a word of french and he knew very few people except the friends we introduced him to.  But there must have been 40 or more people at his funeral, not particularly for him though of course they wanted to pay their respects to a man who had been a soldier in ww2 and a fireman.  But because of Margaret and me, the support was phenominal.

We drove up to the village really early because we just knew how busy the church would be when a long term resident dies and we had to park some distance away and walk to the church in torrential rain.  The Mayor was sat in his car parked across the nearest parking spaces keeping them clear for Christaine and her family who were following the hearse from Villaine.

As predicted the church was packed and it was heartening to see so many people paying their last respects and supporting the family.

The following day we went to the fancy dress party and as we had been warned not to come as ourselves or else!  I managed to find some military looking clothes and an army style jungle hat and went as colonel Blake from MASH whilst my wife went as a footballer.  Needless to say the time when it would have been nice to have got some photos of some intriguing costumes, the batteries in the camera failed despite being charged up for a long time before we went.

On the Sunday we went to a wedding anniversary party and the weather was fantastic, we arrived at around 4pm to find our hosts already opening presents on their huge pristine lawn in front of the large lake.  The setting could not have been better for some serious eating and drinking with about 30 or so other guests both french and english.

flower display in the lake

flower display in the lake

We walked down to where the tables had been laid out and helped ourselves to kier, sparkling white wine and blackberry cordial, then we sat and had a prawn cocktail for starter.  I sat with some french people and astounded myself at how well I understood them and I was being understood by them, my french seemed to get better and better the more I drank, how odd is that.  I was really looking forward to the main course, John our host had already told me previously that he wanted to spit roast a piece of beef and I advised him that the best beef we had had was from our friend and neighbour Patrice who rears organic beef cows just down the road from where we live.  His meat is sold exclusively at the butcher in our nearest town and that is where he got it.

The beef being spit roasted

The beef being spit roasted

Gourmet or gourmand, lurking at the table anticipating dinner

Gourmet or gourmand, lurking at the table anticipating dinner

So on to the main course.  Dear reader I cannot describe sufficiently how outstanding the reasonably thickly sliced pieces of beef were.  After the garden fresh sauted potatoes and ratatouille were added to the plates I cut a piece of beef which was still pink and moist, the flavour was big and er beefy.  I was in heaven.

Now the french are renowned for eating red meat almost raw but they were equally satisfied with the outcome and there was a distinct hush in conversation as we all tucked in.

just look at that beef

just look at that beef

Next up was the cheese course, with a fine selection.  Lettuce with a vinaigrette dressing and more bread and wine and then pud.

dessert x 3

dessert x 3

Of course I had to have some of all 3.  The black forest gateau I think was my favourite and all baked by our english friend, Shirley, bravo.

Finally coffee and calvados although a lot of the french had whiskey which I have said before is incredibly popular here.  I also had a cigar which rounded things off nicely.  Here are a few more photos of the day.DSCF3223DSCF3219DSCF3221

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