Results tagged “france”

France: blink and you'll miss it

france
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Well, that was quick.  We've spent the last three days speeding south through France, trying to catch up some of the time we lost hanging about in the rain in England.  What with France actually being quite large, this has meant spending most of our days in the car, only coming out at night to appreciate our surroundings.

Smannapineau0001.JPGBut France being France, that hasn't meant any shortage of interesting culinary activity.  High-quality local specialities have crowded in on us at every turn, and we've learnt all about Norman cider and Pineau des Charentes - with the result that our new fancy car-mounted fridge is now full of both of them.  We've also stocked up on essential preserved food (i.e. confit de canard) for the rocky road ahead - let's see how well that survives the Sahara.

The first thing we noticed as we came out of the Channel Tunnel into France was that it wasn't raining - after a month in England in August that seemed somehow wrong.  The second thing was that it's a long way from Calais to Normandy, but we headed that way anyway so that we could stay at Marie and Pascal Brunet's fruit farm, La Prémoudière, where we arrived extra-late just so that we could wake everyone up by setting off our car alarm ...

Taking the slow way home

france
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Smplantatpath0001.JPGBy the time we got back to France, we'd reached the last few weeks of our journey - well, of the first half, anyway - and were feeling the need to slow things down a bit.  Being constantly on the move has been very exciting, but it can get a bit wearing too; fortunately, we now had some opportunities to stay put for a while, and we took them.

This also meant opportunities to get into kitchens and do some home cooking for the first time in a while, and we took them too.  That meant finding good quality ingredients - but this being France, that really wasn't very difficult.  Every small town and village we visited had a good food market at least once a week, and usually more than one butcher, baker and greengrocer.  Not only will the shopkeepers and stallholders sell you excellent produce at reasonable prices (compared to the UK, at least), they'll make sure you know how to cook it.  In fact, we even got the impression they wouldn't sell us their ducks or celeriac if they weren't satisfied that we'd treat them properly ...

Bells de jour

france
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Smabondancecows0001.jpgToday we went to the valley of Abondance, here in the Haute-Savoie, where they make the delicious gruyere-style Abondance cheese.  We walked up to one of the high alpine pastures where farmers graze their cows in summer, to let them eat the lush green grass that gets covered in snow in winter.  Finding a farmhouse, we sat down to tuck into their cheese, just as the cows came home after their day's grass-eating work in the fields, the bells round their necks ringing.

This is what they sounded like.

Click here to listen.

And as a special treat, we even have a couple of video clips of them walking home ringing their bells:

Video 1 (quite big, about 12Mb)

Video 2 (smaller, about 5Mb)

Click here for more audio samples.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy

france
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Smbarnabycitronpresse10001.jpgToday Barnaby spent the morning browsing the market in Samoëns.  The fruit and vegetables were lovely, as was the enormous array of cured sausages, but he spent most of his time admiring the cheese: Beaufort, Abondance, Tomme, and in particular the Reblochon which reminded him of the wonderful time he had all those months ago in Munster.

Anyway, all that cheese can give a bear a thirst, so he stopped for a refreshing drink.  Trying to look like a local, he casually asked for a citron pressé - he'd never tried one before but has picked up enough French to know this means "lemon in a hurry" - or something like that.

Smbarnabycitronpresse20001.jpgImagine his dismay when they brought him a glass of pure, sour lemon juice.  Yuk!

But once we'd explained that you're supposed to add your own sugar and water, he gave it a try - and its zingy fresh taste cheered him up immediately.

Until he asked for the bill and they charged him €3.60, that is.  Cheeky.

Across to Alsace

france
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Smriquewihr0001.JPGWe've spent the last few days driving across northern France from Paris to Alsace, staying in various lovely farmhouses with friendly people on the way. We'll write more about each one when we get a moment, but we've seen (and eaten or drunk) home-made products from black pudding to Munster cheese to eau de vie.

Plus (in the week that the US ordered the largest-ever recall of commercial beef) met some of the happiest small-farm veal calves there can be. And discovered that Alsace makes some of the nicest white wines we've ever had, and one or two truly rank vinegary reds.

You can see some of our photos from France here.

Getting into the mountain spirit

france
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Smbarnabystill0001.JPGToday Barnaby was so intoxicated by Gaby Demoulin's alambic au feu de bois (wood-fired still) and vast array of eaux de vie and liqueurs (including raspberry, gentian, quince, bay and laurel), that he nearly stayed at Ferme La Fonderie.  The fruits go through a double distillation process, and finally end up in beautiful bottles on sale at the farm shop.

The three wise women of Weinbach

france
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Smweinbach0003.JPGWhen we knocked on the heavy wooden door at Domaine Weinbach we weren't sure we were in the right place.  Having had it recommended to us by our friend Jono at Chez Panisse in Berkeley (who knows a thing or two about wine), we were confident their wines would be good, but only if we could find them... 

Having driven up and down the picturesque little Alsatian valley at least four times, we finally decided to pull into the winery despite the enormous 'Domaine Faller' sign and the distinct lack of inviting 'tastings' signs for tourists like us which are displayed prominently at so many other wineries.  And when Colette Faller peered round her front door at us, she didn't look sure we were in the right place either.

Munster in the mountains

france
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Smbarnabytome0001.JPG Today Barnaby met Dany Roess at his farm in Soultzeren in Alsace and learnt how to make proper Munster cheese. As bears don't eat Munster he ended up buying a whole Tomme des Vosges instead. Yum.

Anna and Matt preferred the Munster, which is the local AOC washed-rind cheese and is fantastic on its own or in lots of local recipes. Tomme isn't as old and traditional around here as Munster (Dany says they started making it 15-20 years ago), and isn't regulated to the same extent (you can put any herbs you want in it, including delicious wild garlic). But Barnaby liked it all the same.


Traditionally cheesy

france
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Smvosges0001.JPGIt's not easy being an Alsatian cheesemaker.  Yes, you get to live in a beautiful valley in the foothills of the Vosges mountains.  And yes, you get to produce the traditional Munster Fermier, one of France's tastiest (and smelliest) cheeses.

But tradition brings rules, regulations and responsibilities as well as tastiness (and smell) - not to mention expense.  And it's not easy to make a living from cheese alone anyway.

We stayed with Chantal and Dany Roess at their farm in Soultzeren, where they make Munster (amongst other things), and they told us all about what they do, how they do it, and how they see their role as upholders of the traditions of cheese.

As happy as a cow in Viviers-sur-Artaut

france
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Smjumelles0001.jpgThis week, while the US government was recalling the largest ever amount of commercial beef (apparently, cows from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co so sick they couldn't walk properly have still been ending up in diners' Happy Meals), we were playing with Farmer Cornet's very happy baby cows on his farm in Viviers-sur-Artaut.  

One of his cows had just given birth to twins, one of whom Michel was bottle-feeding twice a day himself as the mother would only feed one.  (Nature can be cruel too, let's not forget.)  The twins were having some trouble using their legs, but then they were only 5 days old.  All their older relatives were walking around happy as can be, probably because Michel gives care and attention to each and every one.

Boudin for Barnaby

france
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Smbarnabyboudin0001.JPGBarnaby could hardly control his excitement when he saw the delicious pile of boudin noir freshly made by his hosts Michel and Francine Cornet at their farmhouse in Champagne. There was three times this much from one pig! (whose name was Gui-Gui, to give him full credit)

A bistro too far?

france
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Smeiffel0001.JPGWith only seven nights and seven days in Paris, narrowing down our shortlist of 36 restaurants to a feasible dining regime was no easy task. 

In the end we managed six bistros, two fancy restaurants and over a dozen bars, cafes, boulangeries and patisseries, plus five outdoor food markets and two cooking classes, leaving a couple of hours to quickly nip up the Eiffel Tower and round the Louvre.  

Did we go a bistro too far?

Not very impressed

france
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Smbarnabybaguette0001.JPGToday Barnaby bought a so-called 'artisan' baguette from a Paris boulangerie, but thought that although it looked quite nice, it tasted as if it was made from a packet. He should have come with us to Poilâne.

Queuing for vegetables

france
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Smbarnabyqueue0001.jpgToday Barnaby has been chatting with the locals while waiting his turn to buy vegetables in the Place d'Anvers market. The best stall with the nicest-looking most local produce has the biggest queue, but it's worth the wait.

Sur le carrousel gourmand

france
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Smcarrousel0001.jpgHello from Paris, where we are caught up in a merry-go-round of sightseeing, bistro-sampling and market shopping.

From now on we'll be trying to keep this site updated with recipes, other culinary notes from our travels and the odd journal entry to let you know where we've got to and what we've managed to write up.

Next stop Alsace...

You can see some of our photos from France here.

Sunbathing in Paris

france
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Today Barnaby has mostly been sunbathing by the Seine.

Smbarnabyseine.jpg

Rhubarb and custard

france, uk
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No, not the scrawled 1970s cartoon or the tooth-wrenching sweet of my childhood, or even the early '90s hardcore rave anthem of my (very brief) clubbing days, but instead some delicious vanilla petits pots de crème (very French) with some bright pink rhubarb scented with orange zest (very English). 

Smrhubarbcustard0013.JPGI was inspired to make this by a vanilla panna cotta with rhubarb which I enjoyed at Cotto, by far the best restaurant in Cambridge at the moment.  Rhubarb has just hit Cambridge market, so I wasn't surprised to find it on the menu at Cotto, which makes a point of using local, organic and seasonal produce.  Not wanting to get involved with gelatin this particular afternoon, I changed it to pots de crème.  They were easy, beautiful and delicious.

Bouillabaisse-marinated prawns with saffron aïoli

france
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Apologies for the two week interval.  It turns out a) restaurant work takes up almost all one's waking hours, and b) there are a load of cool (some might say nerdy) saffron facts.   So, finally, here's a tasty and delicious party snack, complete with absolutely fascinating saffron information with which to impress your guests.  I developed this recipe while dreaming up hors d’oeuvres for my father-in-law’s 70th birthday party last month.  I like bouillabaisse and I like prawns.  It was as simple as that.

Smbouillabaisseprawns0001.jpgAll is still going well at Chez Panisse.  Having not ruined any dishes yet, they are bravely letting me stay on a while longer, which is fantastic.  In the last two weeks I have cut up a few more animals and there are still some lambs and pigs hanging in the 'walk-in' waiting to be butchered.  I've also been filmed slicing potatoes on a mandolin for 'Good Morning America', whatever that is.  (Never have I concentrated so hard on not cutting off a finger.)  And I've made a selection of soups, one of which was described as 'very nice' by the chef, which made my week, if not my whole month. 

Chez Panisse always uses what's in season, so we're mainly cooking with tomatoes, beans, sweet corn, aubergines, peppers, figs, chanterelles, courgettes and beautiful fresh cannellini, cranberry, butter beans and the like.  I'm learning loads of new dishes, some of which I hope to write up for you one day when I'm not either sleeping or peeling onions.

Pommes Anna

france
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Well, the exams are all over and I have officially graduated from the Tante Marie Cooking School professional culinary programme.  (Judging by the quantity of champagne I drank on Friday night and the certificate I came home clutching, I'm pretty sure that's what happened, but it's a little blurry.)   I did pretty well in all the exams, with the exception of the wine test, which I got 100% wrong.  This may come as a surprise to some, although I can admit to you that I purposefully sacrificed a few points in exchange for a lifetime's excuse that I need more practice.

To celebrate the completion of my course, I egotistically decided to send you the recipe for the very delicious Pommes Anna - crispy on the outside and tender inside, like me.  It's not my recipe though, rather the creation of a well known 19th century French chef and named after the most loved and respected whore in Paris.  If it could seduce her, then it must be worth a try.
 
Smpommesanna0003.JPGBy the way, this dish is really easy to make but you do need a heavy, oven-proof, non-stick frying pan.  There are even special copper 'Pommes Anna pans' available at phenomenal expense from posh cookware shops.  (I got a cheap little pan from Ikea that works a treat, but now have my eye on the real deal, currently going on eBay for just $10... )
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