Saturday, November 22, 2008

I missed the Market

I'm on a small vacation at the moment and so didn't get to make my usual trip to market.

I find France an amazing country to live in.  The history, the culture, the pace of life are all so very different to that I have known for most of my life, which was spent living in the United Kingdom.

Every Saturday I go to the little village market at Villereal where I buy my fresh produce for the week  I buy a lot of my produce off the same man called Laurent and chat with him about Rugby...I came to France from Wales...and rugby is the national sport of both countries.market_hall

Of course, Laurent and I, are often rivals on the sports field and that friendly rivalry often overflows to the market stall.

This conversation normally takes place in the market square alongside the covered market hall which was built in the 12th Century, during the hundred years war.

This market hall, in the centre of a Bastide Town has survived, mostly intact, from that day to this... Through many wars, the first and second world wars, the hundred years war itself and of course, the French Revolution.  I has seen times of tranquility and times of huge change.  It was created as part of what was probably the first urbanisation of Europe and has quietly sat there as, over the years traders and customers have come and gone.

Even now, those very Bastide towns themselves, created all those years ago, are coming under threat from different forces as the inevitable winds of change blow through rural France...the very farmers on whom this place has relied for hundreds of years, being uprooted in favour of agribusiness.

Sometimes I stand there and remember all this and am held in awe as I think back through 900 years and try to imagine the activity that has gone on in this market hall....this same place where I am now standing and then I wonder what stories it will have to tell, long after I have gone...In fact, what stories it will have to tell 900 years from now..

Thursday, November 20, 2008

lunch at the old porch

I went out to lunch the other day, to a lovely restaurant not far from here called the Old Porch.

I've been there just once before, a couple of months ago,  when a friend and his wife rang me to invite me to join them.

We were welcomed into a lovely dining room of an old hotel with about 20 tables set out.   Only 2 or 3 tables were occupied though, when we arrived at about 12.15.

We took a table near the door to the kitchen and were rewarded with some very pleasant cooking aromas as we started to study the menu.vieux porche

Once we were all seated, our waitress arrived with a basket of lovely bread and a carafe of red wine and I realised that wine must be included in the price.....which the menu quickly confirmed...

As we discussed the menu a few more people drifted in and the room began to take on a convivial atmosphere with the buzz of people enjoying themselves.

The first course was a vegetable soup.  Home made from fresh vegetables and thickened by pureeing the vegetables and adding creme fraiche.   It was delicious and the large tureen that was left on the table for us to help ourselves from meant that those with a mind to, could have a second bowlful.....The assorted breads in the basket went wonderfully well when dipped into the soup and four very clean bowls went back to the kitchen at the end of that course.

Next we were served with a platter of crudités and some cold meats, 2 or three different hams.   The traditional French crudités were freshly prepared and included grated carrot, grated celeriac, cherry tomatoes, grated beetroot and just a little sweetcorn with each vegetable prepared in an appropriate, light dressing. The wealth of tastes was amazing and we all sat and happily chatted and munched our way through it.  During this course I looked around the restaurant and realised that every table was now full and, in fact, the waitresses were just adding an extra table to accommodate two more people waiting.  Again the various breads were nice to eat with the different dressings and the basket needed refilling before we had even got to the main course......

For that course we had been able to choose from a selection of dishes and around the table we selected the whole range.  I had cous-cous and others had confit de canard, roast chicken or steak.  Now I know some of my readers will be astounded that I didn't choose the canard (duck) as it was offered...but I'm only really writing this to show that I do occasionally eat something else!!!!!

Confit de canard is a speciality of the Perigord region and is also one of my favourite dishes.  Duck is preserved in it's own fat and then gently warmed until all the duck fat has dripped away and you are left with the most tender and tasty duck I said, I do love confit de canard....

The cous-cous came as two separate dishes, a bowlful of just cous-cous, beautifully cooked, loose and light and a separate bowl of a broth containing chicken and pork and a some large chunks of vegetables. I didn't finish all the grains but no vegetables or meat went back to the kitchen!!

Next there was a choice of cheese or dessert and I chose cheese....Another marvelous dish with four great regional cheeses served with just a few walnuts.  Walnuts grow around here, I have three trees in my own garden, and they are used a lot as a simple accompaniment....  I'm told the creme brulee was also delicious.

Coffee wasn't included in the set meal price so we paid the extra and enjoyed a cup of rich, thick, dark, espresso to finish off the meal.

We were also the last table to finish... after eating a truly memorable meal which had cost us just €11.50 ($14.50)($AU22.35) with an extra €1.00 for the coffee.

Thank you to the Vieux Porche for making a Wednesday lunchtime so very enjoyable.

I'm on vacation and may not be able to post for a few days...depending on whether I find Internet access or not....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Starting out on Saving Seeds!!

I've decided to try and save some seeds this year and then to grow them on next year.  I really don't know what I'm doing so I thought if I posted this piece here, describing what I have done, along with what I am intending to do, then it is likely that someone will read my piece, throw their hands up in horror and say...."OH  NOOOOO!!!  Don't do that whatever you do!!!"  and if it really is my lucky day, that person will then leave a comment saying what it is I shouldn't do and exactly why!!!!

So to start...


Ok, I have got some seeds from my tomatoes.  I chose just one variety of tomato, a simple red cherry tomato and kept about a dozen fruits from the six plants.    I then cut open the fruits and separated out the seeds and the pulp in a bowl of water.   Next, I collected the seeds together and discarded the pulp, and placed all the seeds in a paper coffee filter to dry.   Once they had completely dried, I transferred them to another coffee filter and sealed it.

Next I did lettuce......this time I let a couple of plants bolt and produce seeds, then I picked them and separated out the seeds from the chaff before putting them into coffee filter papers and sealing.

I was given some green sweet peppers by a friend who I know grows only open pollinated seeds so this time, I just harvested the seeds when I used the peppers.  I was also given some Charentais melons which again, I know, the farmer concerned only grows from kept seed, is completely organic and, in fact, grows them on my land.....So again, I just harvested the seeds when I prepared the melons....again drying them in a paper coffee filter before sealing the packs.

My intention is to grow on all of these seeds next year.   If I am successful, then I shall do the same again in the autumn 2009 and then, maybe I could offer some of the seeds to exchange....  It would be a start.......

Thursday, November 13, 2008

beans and garlic are through

About a month ago I sowed some broad beans as my contribution for 2009 to The Growing Challenge.

I'm pleased to say that they have all started to grow, pushing out of the ground and today they are standing about 75mm (3") high.

A few days after sowing the beans I planted out some garlic and covered it with about 100mm (4") of dead leaves as a mulch.  The garlic has also started to grow and is now poking it's heads above the mulch.


I've had some guests staying here with us for the past couple of weeks and that, coupled with the weather, which I have commented on elsewhere, has limited my time in the garden.  It was good, when today, I managed to take a walk around the periphery of our land and observe what was happening.  Our land is only a couple of hectares, (about 4 acres) and taking only about 10 minutes, this walk is not hugely significant as a route march.  However, it did hold some special significance for me and I enjoyed to make the effort. I don't very often go to the periphery of our land....


Elsewhere in the garden today I have been clearing up, moving herbs and other things into my workshops for overwintering and where it will be easier to keep an eye on things over the coming months.

Plans for next year are still fluid but the few winter crops I have are doing ok.  The red cabbage has been very successful and I'm hoping to have some nice bits and pieces to bring into the kitchen in the early spring.   One firm plan I have for next year is to get a lot more out of the garden and I am looking for crops that will mean I can harvest something every day of the year....  I don't know if I will achieve it, and maybe it's a tall order for my second year...but the help and support I am receiving is making me very ambitious....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boeuf Cherhomme

boeuf cherhomme We have had a couple of family guests staying with us here in the south west of France over the past two weeks and whilst they were here we decided to throw a small party to allow our friends and neighbours to meet them.

As the weather had turned cool I decided to serve a hot dish amongst our party fare and after much discussion in the kitchen I was designated the task of making a dish I particularly like.

In our household we refer to this dish as Instant Moussaka..... but I have to admit, I decided that I really couldn't call it that now I am writing it up on the blog.....

boeuf cherhomme1

You see, Moussaka is traditionally made with minced (ground) lamb but I make this dish with beef..... and traditionally, Moussaka has aubergine as a constituent part but I omit the aubergine...and of course, traditionally, Moussaka has a Béchamel sauce topping.... I use potato....  So, as you can see it's not really Moussaka....

We had quite a long discussion about this and eventually agreed that we would adopt a name which obliquely referred to it's origins... so in the future it will be known as:

boeuf cherhomme2

Boeuf Cherhomme

I took1kg (2lbs) minced (ground) beef and sauteed it in olive oil with a large onion and a couple of cloves of garlic, adding into the mix, some herbs de Provence, Italian herbs and of course, a glass or two of red wine.    Once the mix had cooked well I added tomatoes.   I used a tin of tomatoes as, at the moment, I don't have any of my own.
Once this had all cooked down nicely, I covered the bottom of  a large dish with a layer of pre-boiled potato and then spooned half the mixture over them.  I then added further layers of potato, meat and a top layer of potato and cooked the whole dish in the oven for about 20 minutes.

After sprinkling cheese over the top I grilled the beef and then served immediately....

marinated carrots

We also made a marinated sweet and sour carrots dish that I love and which was enjoyed by our guests.


All this cooking activity for the whole day meant we didn't really have time to prepare our own meals so about mid afternoon, we all stopped for afternoon tea in the British tradition.....  I had a French pastry - a "Religeuse" or Coffee Nun, a very tempting piece of choux pastry stuffed full with coffee cream and then topped with coffee icing.  It certainly made the cup of tea taste better..........

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunshine at last

After a period of two weeks which feels more like two months, the sunshine has finally returned to south west France today.

closlecastellau This morning we got up to a pleasant, clear day and by lunchtime the sun was shining bright in the late autumn sky.  Sadly, it didn't have enough strength to chase away the cold which has enveloped us here for the past couple of weeks but temperatures rose to almost 20C (68F) although they never quite reached that peak remaining stubbornly a couple of degrees below.

It will be good news for my friend Bernard though, who I saw on Friday when I called in with some guests to bnoblerotuy a bottle of his sweet white dessert wine, Monbazillac, and who was telling me that this year's vendange was being quite problematic because of the poor weather.

When making Monbazillac wine, the grapes are left on the vine until they get attacked by the fungus, botrytis.    Moist conditions are required for an infestation of botrytis on the ripe grapes but then the grapes need to be exposed to drier conditions which concentrate the sugars.   This process is known as noble rot and is the essence of production of sweet white wines such as Monbazillac, which will keep for upwards of 60 years after a particularly good vintage.

However, if the botrytis infestation occurs and the weather then remains wet, the rot quickly turns to grey rot which can destroy the whole harvest.

Because of this requirement to select fruit which are at exactly the right state of infestation, the grapes are picked by hand and several passes through the vineyard need to be made.   Monbazillac is a sweet dessert wine made from 80% Sauvignon, 15% Muscadelle and 5% Sémillon grapes.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Making Marmalade


The weather this week has continued to be poor and I have, pretty much, been unable to get outside and do any of those jobs that are getting increasingly pressing as winter descends on us here in South West France.

The result of this has been a move to sorting out some of those pressing jobs inside the house that need doing...

One job I tackled earlier this week was to clear out a kitchen cupboard which had some odds and ends in it's deeper, darker recesses....where, waiting to be rediscovered, was a can of Seville

orange fruit purée, just perfect for making a batch of orange marmalade.

The can was not particularly old but I had completely forgotten it was there.

It had got put in the cupboard after I received it as a gift about a year ago and , I remember, at the time, I thought I would make a batch of marmalade with it.

Making jam also gives me another opportunity to use the rather beautiful copper preserving/jam


pan which I was given a couple of years ago.   This

is a French style confiture pan which has low sides and a wide mouth.

It is great for making jam but I have to admit, I am still learning how to use it as I tend to fail to remember just how fast the mixture reaches setting point and also how fast the evaporation of water occurs, when using this pan.

The recipe for the marmalade was pretty standard, simply adding just water and sugar to the purée.

I brought it to the boil fairly slowly and then added a knob of butter to reduce the froth.

After the mixture had boiled for only a few minutes, I carried out a setting test and found it had already reached setting point

I bottled the marmalade in the jam jars I love which are, originally, used by a French jam maker who produces some of their jams in this part of France.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

From Garden to Kitchen

I have not managed much in the garden this week.  It has been raining a lot....quite a, I guess it's an awful lot...  Every Sunday morning I check my rainwater gauge and log the rainfall for the preceding week...  It was actually raining, but only very lightly, when I checked it this morning and recorded 125mm (5inches) of rain since last Sunday......  Like I said a lot of rain.

"From Garden to Kitchen" really refers to me rather than any of my produce...although I did harvest the ends of a few things.

I also managed to sow a pot of batavia lettuce which I'm hoping to persuade to grow even though winter seems to be arriving early this year with temperatures already having dropped to 2C (35F) overnight.

salmon and roasted vegetables

"From Garden to Kitchen" really refers to me rather than any of my produce...although I did harvest the ends of a few things.

We had some guests come to stay so I bought a small whole salmon from the fishmonger and on Friday evening prepared a very simple Baked Salmon with Roasted Vegetables....I think baking the salmon, just wrapped in a little foil and adding only a few herbs allows all the natural flavours to be retained.  The vegetables were drizzled with olive oil and then roasted to make a delicious meal, served with some of my homemade multigrain bread.

This morning we took the guests to the weekly market at Issigeac. As I said, it was raining, so the market was virtually empty

strawberries We were able to park easily and buy all that we wanted without queuing.   There were some beautiful local strawberries, still available, which we completely failed to resist and which we shall be eating a little a later for supper.

As the cold weather is drawing in now I pulled all the tomato plants out during the week and saved the last few tomatoes.  Mainly they were green with just about a dozen or so tiny red cherry ones which went into the salad bowl.

I used the green tomatoes to make my own version of Green Tomato Chutney. 

green tomato chutney

I love Green Tomato Chutney, and bottled chutneyusually manage to make a few jars of it at the end of every tomato season.  This chutney is traditionally made with green tomatoes, apples and onions but for my version I also add figs, sultanas, banana, courgette and garlic.

I simply fill the slow cooker crock with as much of the mixed  vegetables as I can manage, add some sugar and vinegar and then cook for about 12 hours.  I find that the slow cooker allows the chutney to develop a beautiful ,rich, deep, colour.  We have just a couple of jars of last years chutney left so by the time this batch is ready, in a month to six weeks, we'll have completely run out....