Camembert to the rescue….

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Camembert to the rescue....

Larder pretty empty after the trips abroad so making the most of what IS in as I have been lazy and not made a serious trip to the shops yet….also heading off to the Lake District on Friday so not worth stocking up much. Anyway…tonight we had simple but scintillating fare. Pearl new potatoes, stimulating smoked bacon, steamed broccoli and cauliflower enrobed in a camembert and crème fraîche sauce (simply break up a whole camembert and add to a pan with a 300ml tub of crème f – heat gently until it all blends together – no need for seasoning believe me – it is nirvana. It may not have been 5 star Michelin food tonight but it hit every spot available on my taste buds on a rather damp squib of a night in darkest Hampshire. 5 star yum!

Bats, cheese & birthdays in Deep Burgundian bliss….

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Bats, cheese & birthdays in Deep Burgundian bliss....

Back now from wanderings for a while and I just want to share with you my time last week in beautiful Burgundy. We stayed with two of the most wonderful people ever to step foot in France and the whole 5 days were simply heavenly. I could have chosen so many pics to head this article, but this local dish of jambon persillé was never far from my plate – I simply adore the stuff – a ham hock terrine in a parsley jelly – it is divine. I will definitely be having a go at making this soon and will share the recipe when I do – if it works! The other daily indulgence was the local epoisses – a cheese that proves there is a god – a cow’s cheese that just takes the breath away with its unctuous cream texture. To quote Mr Wiki P –

Époisses de Bourgogne is a cheese made in the village Époisses, which is in the département of Côte-d’Or in France. It is located around halfway between Dijon and Auxerre.
Commonly referred to as Époisses, it is a pungent unpasteurized cows-milk cheese. Smear-ripened (washed in marc de Bourgogne, the local pomace brandy), it is circular at around either 10 centimetres (3.9 in) or 18 centimetres (7.1 in) in diameter, with a distinctive soft red-orange colour. It is sold in a circular wooden box.’

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We had it the first night at our friends’ place on a cheese board to walk miles for.

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Another favourite cheese of mine and my daughters is this beauty made with fresh cranberries – a seasonal cheese oddly which is only available around the summer months – it slips down the throat like velvet.

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We celebrated my son’s 16th birthday whilst we were there – and spent the end of that evening trying to eject peacefully two bats that had decided to take up residence in his bed room – I did my best Christian Bale impression and it sort of worked!  – and two days later my daughter’s 18th and the meal we had at a local restaurant was one of those experiences that will be engraved on my culinary memory slates from now until I’m eating with my ancestors in some celestial brasserie. My friends both started with eggs poached in Burgundian beef wine stock – wow!

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De-lish-us!

I had a remarkable inventive starter of crème brûlée epoisses. Very, very good!

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Then a simply sumptuous tournedos rossini.

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My wife had this beautifully presented and flavoursome boeuf bourguignon, served in hollowed out tomatoes, courgettes and onions.

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Magnificent. It was all washed down with a couple of bottles of this beauty….

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–  made from local Pinot Noir grapes. It was a night I could have happily remained in for hours more had I the power to slow down time!

And to finish off here are some more pics of our time in Burgundy. The first is of the charolais faux-filet that we had one evening with Mark’s superb Epoisses sauce – simply add an epoisses cheese to a pan with a large tub of creme fraîche and stir gently till the cheese has melted and combined with the cream. Stunning.

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IMG_3849 Always amazing fish counters…

IMG_3871The most extensive range of glorious garlic at Avallon market….

IMG_3847 Incomparable wines…..

IMG_3927Sun flowers waking up on a bright Burgundian morn….

And last but not least – what life is all about – enjoying meals with fantastic friends……thank you Mark and Alex for everything!!!

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A Blanc Birthday!

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A Blanc Birthday!

Sunday. 4pm. I spent a delicious 2 and a half hours of culinary bliss indulging in one of my favourite restaurants…Blanc’s Brasserie in Winchester. In France at this time the place would be heaving – being England, it was quiet but blissful. The staff here are so unassuming, gentle, polite and welcoming. House wine arrived…and the ordering took little time – a sumptuous rare rump steak for my son, roast beef for my other half, and for my daughter and I, onglet steaks… rare.

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Puddings were phenomenal – a trio of delicate ice creams for me – hazelnut, choc and vanilla.

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My wife had a stunning hot chocolate mousse and my two kids shared the quite stunning baked alaska.

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I accompanied my ice creams with a velvety glass of muscat – it was my birthday meal after all! We then retired to the bar and sank into chairs so comfortable I thought I might sail away…..a double macchiato rounded it all off for me. This place is fantastic value for money…stylish, warm, friendly and somehow homely. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It made my birthday weekend and lifted the fog from the FA cup defeat of my team yesterday!

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T’as faim, mon ami? French food adventures…

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I think the French just understand the love affair between shopping and cooking. So much more is fresh – even their supermarkets are brim full of fresh veg, always with a great butchers and always a vibrant, exciting fish counter – even with things still moving on it to show how fresh it is! Crabs of all sizes, lobsters, langoustine etc. They have a far smaller frozen food aisle than English supermarkets. They care about even the smallest things. It matters to them where they buy their bread from – one boulangerie we knew was known for its saltier bread, another for how crisp it was. And of course the price of French bread is centrally controlled so you will not pay more than the maximum price. Yes, it goes stale after a day but they always go out and buy fresh anyway each day. Left over bread can be warmed up, just drizzle a little water over it first before giving it 5 minutes in the oven on a high heat. Or you could serve it like my great friend Joel, an ancient soumariner from from St Nazaire used to – as a dish called ‘trempinette’. I have no idea where the name came from originally but it means literally, to dampen down. so I guess you are dampening the hard bread with wine. It certainly is a good way to use up left over baguette and left over red wine. You pour the wine over the bread – add a little sugar-leave it for about ten minutes in the fridge – then eat! It was odd but strangely pleasant. Or maybe I had just had too much to drink anyway!

Joel was a great cook, despite the trempinette (!), and he loved his mid morning snacks. A little glass of ice cold white wine or a small beer with a few small slices of boudin noir. He showed me how to prepare snails and it is a long process! He did not exactly sell the idea to me, it has to be said, especially when he informed me that the best snails were to be found in the local cemetery! Still, I am happy to eat them, though I would not order them in a restaurant. They are not as bad as some English think. The flavour is mostly buttery garlic and they are a tad chewy.

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We always seemed to be constantly eating or drinking at his house – his two favourite lines were – t’as soif, Keith or t’as faim? (Two of my favourite things to hear in France!) We would sit down at mid day and not rise from the table until about 3.30pm. Just enough time to stagger down to the beach, snooze and recover, ready for the festival of food to begin all over again at about 7pm. Another first with Joel was consuming an eel. I had only ever come across jellied eels in London which to me look repulsive. However, down at St Nazaire market, Joel chose some eels, the lady ran a knife down them in front of our eyes – they were still alive up to that point (no pun intended!) and popped them in a bag. Once over the squeamish moment, back home Joel sliced them and pan fried them in butter – they shrink a little so the spine becomes like a ready made skewer and you just nibble the meat off. They are very tasty and quite meaty in flavour. Talking of boudin noir ( I think I was a while ago ) we used to buy the most delicious boudin blanc from a local traiteur, Gervois Pere Et Fils. A traiteur is a catering business devoted to take-out food and supplying banquets etc. Many traiteurs also undertake home delivery. Generally there is no seating on the business premises although a few traiteurs may have very limited seating. Especially in market towns where there is competition, traiteurs take great pride in the beauty of their window displays. The one in Hesdin, where we had or house, was no exception – the array of dishes was phenomenal for what is a relatively small business. Anyway, their boudin blanc was very good. It is traditionally served at Christmas time and New year. The ones we had contained truffles and were just mouth wateringly splendid. It is essentially a sausage like black pudding but filled with fine white meat paste – usually poultry, pork or rabbit, though veal can be used also. Another favourite dish from the local charcuterie is rilettes. a dish similar to pâté. The one I prefer is usually made from pork and the meat is cubed or chopped, salted quite heavily and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded. It looks like a coarse paste and you can clearly see the shredded pork meat. It is great with warm crusty bread or toast and may appeal to anyone who is not a fan of pâté. Joel also taught me how to make my own mayonnaise. It is so simple and delicious and nothing like the stuff you buy in jars or tubes.

I would start by experimenting with one egg yolk to begin with. Drizzle in a few drops at a time of vegetable, sunflower or ground nit oil, whisking as you do so. ( You could use fruity olive oil – but it mustn’t be too powerful, or it will dominate the flavour) Continue, very slowly, until you have the consistency you want. As a rough guide 3 egg yolks will probably use up about a half pint of oil. You can then add a little salt and if you so desire, a little dash of white wine vinegar and some Dijon mustard. But it is great without the latter two and you can always experiment adding them when you have got the knack.

Well, whatever you do today – enjoy every moment! I’m off to my local farm’s Spring Market. Will post some photos in the near future. Happy Sunday!

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There’s a lot at steak here, chaps….

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There's a lot at steak here, chaps....

The French cuts of steak are far more imaginative than in England and there is such a wide range. They have chateaubriand, a large cut for several people, tournedos, small compact round steaks cut from the eye of the fillet and closer to the narrow end of the fillet, filet mignon.
Then there is entrecote (literally, ‘between the ribs’). There is also faux filet or contrefilet, the lean eye of meat which runs along the top of the sirloin. What no doubt irks the French is that the steak was introduced to France by the English as the occupying forces after The Battle of Waterloo. Ah well, but at least they have turned them into a real art. Jack, my son, always eats steak frites with a peppercorn sauce when ever we set foot in a French village. From quite an early age he has always loved his steak rather worryingly rare, in fact ‘bleu’. It sometimes was so rare it walked to the plate on its own. Hannah, my daughter always loved jambon frites when she was young, the ham hanging off the side of the plate, and she always had to have mayonnaise with it…oh, and a sirop à la fraise. Odd thing, habits in the young! They always tried other dishes at other restaurants, but stuck to their favourites. I cannot deny that although I do not eat a great deal of red meat these days, a bloody good steak hits the spot. And there in lies the problem. Getting a really good steak is not always easy. A lot of pubs and restaurants in England have become lazy and the steaks they serve are often rather lack lustre or poorly cooked. My faith,however, in chefdom was restored the other day when I had the most magnificent onglet at a Raymond Blanc brasserie in Winchester. This for me is French steak at its very very best. Onglet has a big, fantastic and unique flavour all of its own. Cut from the grass-fed, slow- matured additive-free and carefully aged rib cage, Onglet has an old fashioned real meaty flavour, with a light offaly and gamey tone, which is much prized throughout France and is now getting a foodie following in this country. Seared on a hot griddle – and cut across the grain to shorten the fibres, this is a beautiful delicious and rare cut that just has to be tried. Please, please, please, search it out and buy some! My friends at Parsonage Farm in Hampshire, where I buy a lot of my meat, will certainly cut some for you. Be a devil, and try some.