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Archive for March, 2010

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.

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The more things change………..


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

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