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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.

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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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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

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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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The Americans are coming Part deux

Here is a confession which Mrs Powerfulpierre will no doubt loudly confirm.  I am not a sightseeing kind of guy.  I am more a sit by the pool, drink in one hand and latest novel in other hand kind of guy.  The latter is my kind of holiday, so why are you driving a minibus through Paris at rush hour?

Fair question and the answer is simple.  There are a lot of places to visit in France, I think I read somewhere that over a 100 million people visit France each year, compare that with 35 million for the UK.  So if you had the opportunity to see all these sights for free and all you had to do was drive the bus, then even I have to admit it is worth seeing all these places at least once particularly when it is your adopted country.

So eventually we arrived at the pickup point and set off for, well I will get to that later because I have gotten ahead of myself.

The weekend before,  we took in the sites including the Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower and had a trip down the Seine.

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No we are not in the Big apple, this is a smaller version of the real thing

Now when we visited The Louvre, it was a Sunday and it is free to go in and it was heaving.  I am not a crowd sort of person, and I think it is true to say that I have not seen so many people in one place for a very long time.  We queued to get in and then spent ages trying to see anything of any real interest.  The Mona Lisa for instance was in a room which would have taken hours just to get into so we squinted at it from a distance.  It is amazingly small anyway much to my surprise, I was expecting something far bigger.

However despite all this I have to admit it was an experience that I would not have missed.  Here are a bunch of photos of The Louvre, not inside, cameras are banned, Eiffel Tower, which by the way was my most dreaded place to go to as I suffer from a fear of heights.  I get vertigo on the second step of a ladder.  Nevertheless I did go half way up and probably would have gone to the top if the queues for the lift had not been so huge.  Notre Dame was nice, I think the front window measures 30 metres across, but the coffee at the café nearby, I think it was The Ezmeralda, was a bit dear at a fiver a cup.

Anyway here are the photos and next stop the Latin quarter and lunch.

buildings surrounding The Louvre with the Eiffel Tower in the distance

The architecture is outstanding

The Ezmeralda café with Notre Dame in backround

Powerfulpierre enjoys the pleasures of the Latin quarter

If you are in Paris then the Latin quarter is a must visit particularly if you are a foodie like me and still count the pennies, cents, centimes etc.

The place is a huge eaterie with restaurants next door to each other up and down each street.  There is every kind of food, from Greek to Italian and all the way back to French.  Not only that, the owners or the front of house employees vie for your custom, and try to entice you to their restaurant with offers of free wine, or desserts or specials so if you like to haggle this is the place for you.

We were enticed to the restaurant we chose for the moule marriniere starter, steak and chips and the free carafe of wine, even with dessert and coffee it was well under 15 euros apiece and this is Paris for goodness sake!

Next up D day landing beaches, Versailles and a whole lot more and some exquisite food with our neighbours.

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Autumnal delights

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Autumnal bounty

I thought we had better have some recipes today, and the first is something which if I did not make with Christmas lunch, my sons would not be happy at all.  They love it so much and to be fair so do I.  To have any chicken, guinea fowl, goose or game bird without it would be sacrilege if that is not too strong a word.

I have to make it in almost industrial proportions and even then there is still a fight for the scrapings.

Not that you have to eat it only at Christmas, in fact this Sunday last I made some because we were having chicken for dinner and it is so easy to make.

So I hear you shout for goodness sake Powerful what is this wondrous stuff that we are missing out on, which goes hand in hand with your force-meat stuffing, your chipolatas wrapped in bacon, your butter fried chestnuts?

Of course I am referring to BREAD SAUCE and if you have never had some I urge you to try it and if you are a convert and buy the packet stuff then please try making your own, it knocks the socks off it and this is what you need to make your own.

Now as I said I have to make huge quantities but for a normal family of four the following should be enough, for more just up the proportions.

First of all you need to flavour a half pint of milk by putting a medium sized peeled and halved onion in the milk with a few cloves,  probably half a dozen, if you want a stronger flavour add more cloves but do not go too mad, you want a subtle flavour.  Leave it as long as you can to get the flavour but not so long that the milk curdles, half an hour should do it but play it by ear.  You will also need 2 ounces of fine breadcrumbs and a pinch of nutmeg and the obligatory salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the milk through a fine sieve to get rid of the onion and cloves and put the now strained milk in a saucepan.   Start heating the milk and put the breadcrumbs in stirring all the time until the sauce starts to thicken, you want a very thick sauce not a runny one.  When the sauce is really thick grate some nutmeg in or use ready ground and season with salt and pepper.  You can swirl a little single cream in just to add a bit of luxury.  Then serve with your chicken, turkey etc and enjoy.

As I am writing this Mrs Powerfulpierre is in the kitchen making Potage Crecy, French carrot soup.

The carrots grown in the vicinity of Crecy have the reputation as the tastiest in the whole of France which is why the name was given to the soup. From France, the soup crossed into England.  According to 14th century  tradition, loyal Britons should eat carrot soup or “potage Crecy” on the anniversary of the battle of Crecy, a legendary victory of the English over the French in the the Hundred Years’ War.   Yes I am sure all good Englishman remember the 26th August 1346 and celebrate accordingly.

The smell of the soup has now started to waft into the study and it smells delicious.

So to the carrot soup, what you will need

Butter for frying

1 pound carrots peeled and chopped

1 medium sized onion peeled and finely chopped

1 large potato peeled and diced

one and a half pints chicken stock

1 tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley

1 tea spoon of sugar

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Melt a knob of butter in a saucepan and add the vegetables.  Cover and cook gently for 5 minutes.  Gradually stir in the chicken stock and bring to boil, add salt and pepper to taste, parsley and sugar. Lower the heat and half cover.  Simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

Purée the soup in a blender and return to the rinsed out pan, reheat gently and adjust seasoning, pour into warmed bowls for serving and swirl a spoonful of cream or creme fraiche in each bowl and top with fried croutons.DSCF3439

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So there you have it a creamy, nourishing soup all the way from Crecy, bon appetit

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