Wednesday 29 December 2010

Cats in Clover

There are fussier cats than our two. I heard of one that ate nothing but freshly steamed chicken! Ours share a sachet of Felix "as good as it looks" per day, plus two scoops of assorted dried cat food, with water ad lib on the side. Bagger is rewarded with three cat treats for every rongeur he brings us, so long as the little squeaker is cleanly despatched. He will also "shake hands" for a treat (RonRon "gives us five" for a treat).

But the biggest treat of all comes out of a tin - Waitrose Special Recipe Chunks in Jelly. This is, according to the label, made in France. On the lid, before the Best Before date, the tin is stamped with a registration number (SITE number) FR6216050. A search on the internet revealed this on a list of "Usines de fabrication d'aliments pour animaux familiers agréées au titre de l'article 18 du règlement (CE) n°1774/2002" - factories for pet food manufacture registered under thus and so European regulation - to represent Continentale Nutrition (SA) Montebello of Boulogne sur Mer. I contacted both Continentale Nutrition and Waitrose, explaining that we were moving to France and asking where could I get a similar product.

Waitrose kindly explained that their product was to their own recipe and not available elsewhere as such.

Continentale Nutrition informed me that they made some pet foods for Auchan and Carrefour - tricky for us because we don't have either anywhere near - there's an Auchan in Chatellerault an hour's drive away. Picture us in Auchan turning over packages of tins and trying to look under all the emballage to find the SITE number. You can't buy a tin of catfood there, only a pack of six. Tough luck if the cats don't like it. Bagger actually eats most things - there's a way to put RonRon on a diet!

Saturday 25 December 2010

Hic Haec Hock

In the McAdam family, Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) was always the day for a simple boiled bacon joint, served with plain boiled potatoes, cabbage and parsley sauce. We've gone one step ahead in the era of the microwave, and cooked the bacon in advance. We got a jarret demi-sel from Intermarché - that to an English cook is a ham hock, or more universally a pig's ankle, preserved in a light brine. Four euros and 80 centimes got us 1.129 kilos of meat, admittedly including a big bone and the skin. We followed the "Good Housekeeping" timing (20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes), and cooked it with a bay leaf and five white peppercorns in a pan of water frémissant. That lovely expression literally means "shivering", but look at a pan of water at a gentle simmer and you will see how appropriate it is.

Most people throw the cooking liquor away. This depends on the brining process, and you really have to know your butcher with this one. If they are heavy handed with the salt, cover the meat with water, bring it to the boil, throw that water away and start again. The demi-sel gave a perfect hammy - but not salty - broth which we loaded with chopped cabbage and other assorted veg that we happened to have to hand, a small tin of flageolet beans, a couple of handfuls of rice and the same of mélange de grains from the biologique stall at Grand Pressigny market. This made about eight servings of a lovely main course soup. Tim minced up the skin and scrappy meat from the cooked hock to add to the soup, which you could omit if you don't fancy it. You could go the whole hog (ho ho) and add boudin blanc, or confit de canard to make a garbure. I particularly love butter beans with bacon - those pois du cap that Ken mentions on his blog look like the exact right thing!

We'll probably get six servings from the bacon meat, fourteen meals in all. Good going for four euros and 80 centimes!

Thursday 23 December 2010

We're only here for the BIÈRE [part1]

....oh, and the wine too, of course! Oh...and cider!! And...

But this entry is about one of our local micro-breweries [brasseries artisinales].
Micro-breweries are growing fast in France - the first one we came across was the Brasserie Sancerroise, located at the bottom of the hill in Sancerre in the original 1920s brewhouse.

The Brewery Building [the range in 2002 is displayed on the little table]

When we made that first visit in 2002, they were using the pre-war equipment. The original brewery on the site was still running with this equipment until the 1960s.

Whilst Northern France still has a strong brewing tradition, people generally think of France as mainly a wine nation. But the tradition of brewing that remains in the North was far more widespread up to and shortly after the Great War. The region immediately around Sancerre had sixty-three breweries prior to this, which fell to less than thirty between the wars, ten after and by the mid-1960s....NONE!

The brewer, M. Dumas, has been trying to collect the bottles that the original sixty-three breweries used. All the bottles were different in either colour, printed ceramic Grolsch-style tops or embossed glass.... sometimes a combination of these. When we spoke with him, he'd managed to get sixty of the sixty-three, including variations from the same brewery; the whole collection being displayed round the clerestory window that runs around the entire brewery.

Just a few of the bottles.... visit the brewery to see the rest.

The hunt for that elusive trio has resulted, apparently, in an increase in the quality of the collection and variations of unrecorded type. He felt that the three missing breweries may have sold only in barrel [fût] in a brewhouse or used plain, unmarked and, therefore, unattractive and unidentifiable bottles. Whilst 'la France' has kept the records of the breweries, there is precious little record of these smaller breweries methods and advertising.

From the right in small [33cl] and large [75cl] the beers are Rose Blanche, La Drolesse and La Sans-Gen

Brasserie Sancerroise brews three main beers; nowadays using more state of the art, easy to clean stainless-steel plant [except for the original coppers!!]
These three brews...
Rose Blanche - a bière blanche [5° ABV] - Excellent, refreshing brew between a German 'weizen' beer and a Belgian 'Witt'. Great on a hot day, good with fish or fowl.
La Drolesse - a bière blonde [5.6° ABV] - A blond beer that is meant to resemble a Bavarian lager in style and taste. Good hoppy taste and again a refreshing glassful.
La Sans-Gen - la bière ambrée [6.2° ABV] - A ruby brew following the Austrian brewing style.. but also similar to a Trappist ale. Rich and warming, good for a cold evening.
...form the backbone, but also brewed are...
La Sancerroise: - a bière blonde [6.9° ABV] brewed using the "Lentille Verte du Berry" [Which we discovered at the Saffron Fair at Preuilly-sur-Claise.] I like this brew... complex, rich and different. Pollygarter doesn't... in fact she hates it!
We also had another... La Sanceroise de Mars - a light Spring time beer of 6.2%ABV.
And there is a final La Sancerroise which we haven't tried. La Sanceroise de Gruyt.
Check on their current website for their opening hours. The brewery is a worthwhile stop when visiting the Sancerre region for the wine. [The old 2002 website is here.]

Next time I'll write about the Brasserie Carpe Diem at Tilly in the Brenne.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

To Quince or not to Quince

The French name for the quince is the coing. Tim reckons this is the sound made by a ripe quince hitting the roof of your car. A quince tree is a cognassier. We haven't yet decided whether or not to plant a cognassier. The tree resembles an apple tree, but with larger, scented flowers, and need no pollinator. A ripe quince is a beautiful yellow furry thing like a young rugby ball. But once the tree really gets going, it produces so much fruit you can't give them away (rather like walnuts) so if your neighbour has quinces, they'll be pleased for you to take some off your hands.

An alternative is a chaenomeles or Japanese quince, a decorative shrub happiest leaning against a sunny wall where it will be covered in scarlet blossom and then mini-quinces. If all you want is a few jars of quince jelly every year, Chaenomeles is ideal.

Crimson red poached quinces [we'll try the lemons too!]

On the other hand, quinces make a whole range of delicious puds. Raw, the fruit is inedible! The following recipe by Lucas Hallweg was taken from the Sunday Times of December 16 2007 and recommends an alternative to Christmas Pud - just as rich and luxurious, but not as stodgy. I've halved his quantities so this recipe serves 4.

2 medium or one large quince
Juice of half a lemon
The other lemon half, halved again
300g sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 clove
1 bayleaf

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2.
Put some water into a bowl with the lemon juice.
Peel and quarter the quinces, or cut the large quince into eight. Drop the pieces into the lemon juice as they will go brown almost instantly.
Put the sugar and half a litre of water into a lidded ovenproof dish large enough to take all the quince pieces in one layer. Add the spices, bay leaf and lemon quarters and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Drop in the quince pieces, bring them to the boil, put on the lid and put the dish in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, turning half way through, until the fruit is soft and deep pink. The liquid will be a rich crimson.
Serve cold with crème fraiche and some of the syrup poured over. We served ours with meringue from the local bakery, and crème crue from La Grande Borde. I didn't say it was a low calorie alternative to Christmas pud!

There is lots of luscious syrup left - follow this link to see Lucas Hallweg's suggestions for using it up!
[Update: 30/11/2013... you now have to pay to access the above link... unless you are already a paid subscriber to The Times or The Sunday Times]

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The Kronos factor

We have a lovely new oven (four) courtesy of a Lapeyre sale. It's French. Imagine our surprise when on switching it on for the first time it welcomed us to KRONOS-3 PYRO and offered us a choice between Français and English. Hasty flipping through the manual revealed nothing whatsoever of this option. After a dignified pause the machine started to talk to us in French. As that is what we were expecting it to do, it’s not a problem, but it’s a little frustrating to be offered the choice! We have located tantalising hints on the internet. It's a bit of software that one would expect Electrolux to have used before or since, but apparently not, at least in this version! The Zanussi ZBP 1165 has similar functions, but it's not got the same buttons.

Back in my dear old days in IT, this sort of thing was known as "a feature". There's nothing about it in the manual, it's very useful, but don't rely on it because it might disappear with the next release.


When I studied French as a schoolgirl fortyharrrrumph years ago, I learned the word chair which means "flesh" - as opposed to "viande" which means "meat". There's a squishyness to "flesh", a sort of voluptuousness that isn't in "viande". Our butcher Laurent Poupeau sells what he calls chipolatas and are labelled saucisses maison. These are delicious bangers speckled with pork meat and herbs. He also sells chair - sausage meat. We buy this in bulk and stash it in the freezer in 250g packs. You can make all sorts of things with chair. Here's a couple to be going on with. Both go well with pasta, rice or a baked potato.
Chair meat balls
One pack, defrosted, makes a dozen tasty meatballs, just by splitting it into lumps the size of a walnut and rolling them into balls. Drop the balls into a boiling pan of your favourite sauce, home-made or out of a jar, and cook for about 20 minutes, turning them occasionally to make sure they're done on all sides.
Chilli con chair
This is just an adaptation of my favourite chilli recipe - actually vegetarian! Fry some chopped onions and garlic till soft. Add a tablespoon of ras al hanout* and a teaspoon or less of cayenne. Stir once, add the chair, break it up with the back of a spoon. Add a couple of chopped sticks of celery if you have them, a chopped red or green pepper and a tin of chopped tomatoes. Add a tin of red kidney beans, liquid and all, or the equivalent quantity of home cooked beans with their cooking liquid. Turn down the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for an hour.
* If you don't have the North African spice mix ras al hanout, of which more in a later blog, use two teaspoons ground cumin, a teaspoon of ground coriander and a quarter teaspoon of turmeric. These along with chilli are Madhur Jaffrey's indispensible curry spices and also the main ingredients of yellow ras al hanout! There's a touch of a few other things which make ras al hanout special.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Home made yoghurt.... The Belgian way.

On the subject of the milk from La Borde... we make our own yoghurt using their milk and yoghurt.
When my mother passed on a couple of years back I retrieved, from the back of the cupboard under the sink a Belgian yoghurt maker of the 60's... The Yogomagic. Like the multi-pot ones that are on the market these days, this is basically a milk warmer. The difference is that this is a ONE pot version. It has a footprint the same size as a kettle... and makes a litre of yoghurt at a time.

This is the Yogomagic.
 The method is to put half a pot of La Borde yoghurt in the bottom of the container, followed by a little of the raw milk. Stir like crazy to mix up the yoghurt and milk, then pour on the rest, stirring all the time. Put lid on pot and screw home the retaining ring. Place pot in cyan blue warmer and plug it in. Eat rest of yoghurt in the starter pot.
You do not boil the milk, or use any additional powdered milk as some recipes require [I notice that even the La Borde yoghurt is made with some dried milk], there is no need.

The Container for the yoghurt [I'll take another photo in daylight... no milk is this cream coloured... even Guernsey!]
 After eight to twelve hours [depending on the ambient temperature of the room - longer at the moment] you have a pot of set yoghurt with a layer of Crème Fraiche on top. The Creme Fraiche can be rescued for other uses or served with the early helpings. The remaining yoghurt will keep for up to a fortnight in the fridge, the container fitting nicely in the fridge door.
All you need is some home made plum jam or bottled fruit and a healthy, home-made breakfast or pudding is on the table.

Just the Caramel rice pot, the Confiture de Lait and the Crème Crue from our fridge.

Can't give away walnuts!

Our walnut tree, which teeters on the edge of the millstream, gave us 10 kilos of nuts this year. Not a lot as walnut trees go, but plenty for our own use. We had to say "thanks but no thanks" to all those kind people who wanted to give us more walnuts!
We find a mole wrench works better than any nutcrackers to get at the meat inside. Today I made a Banana Date and Walnut cake to cheer myself up on a dreary drizzly afternoon. A little research told me that levure chimique is baking powder. One sachet contains two level teaspoons - perfect for this recipe.

180g whole dried dates, or 160g stoned dates
75 ml dark rum, or other alcoholic beverage of choice / what you have (I like Stroh rum best!)
175g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt
125g unsalted butter, softened (in the microwave, a blast of 30 seconds, beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon, give it a few more seconds if there are still lumps)
150g sugar
2 large eggs
4 small/2 large etc but about 300g without skin, VERY ripe bananas, mashed
60g walnuts (optional if you really are allergic)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare a 23x13x7cm (2lb) loaf tin, buttered & floured (or it won't come out!) or paper lined.

Stone and chop the dates to what ever size you like, put them in a small pan with the rum, and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and leave for at least 1 hour, until all the liquid has been absorbed (otherwise the mixture curdles).

Set your oven to heat to Gas mark 3, 170C.

In a medium sized bowl or jug, thoroughly mix the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt.

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until blended. Sneaky tip - I microwaved the butter in this bowl, to save washing up / wasted butter! Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the mashed banana.

Stir in dates, walnuts, vanilla extract. Add the flour mix, 1/3 at a time, stirring well after each addition. The resulting mixture is quite sloppy.

Pour/scrape the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake in the middle of the oven for 60 - 90 minutes, until a fine skewer or sharp knife comes out "cleanish". Leave the cake in its tin on a wire rack to cool before turning it out.


This also makes a super winter dessert with crème crue and bottled cherries.

Sunday 5 December 2010


Today we awoke to the sort of morning when the mind turns to porridge - a gusting wind whirling out of the southwest, hurling massive raindrops at the windows. At least the snow was starting to melt. The cats took one look and went back to bed - tempting to do the same. And what better breakfast for such a morning than a bowl of hot porridge oats, sweetened in Pauline's case and salty for Tim, but in both cases made with unpasteurised milk (lait cru fermier) from GAEC Lait Grand Cru at La Borde, a farm enterprise in le Grand Pressigny. This milk is the real thing - it comes in plastic pouches (ideal for freezing) which sit in a little plastic jug for pouring, but the cream rises to the top, just as it used to when I was a kid. We separate it into "entier" for coffee - and porridge - and "demi" for tea, and woe betide anyone who doesn't shake before using.

My childhood memory of 'top of the milk' was that largely the cat got it. Our family didn't even have a cat. It was just a neighbour's cat, visiting, and knowing a soft touch when it found one. We now know that cow's milk is bad for cats (sorry guys) so all the more for us!

At La Borde they also prepare crème crue, a natural cream so thick it grabs hold of the spoon, which keeps for ages. And delicious live natural yoghurt. And butter, stamped with designs. And soft cheese with garlic and herbs. And don't get me on to the rice pudding! Oh all right then. This is 1 euro 30 a jar, but the jars are identical with those supplied by Lakeland at 1 euro 20 each, and are ideal for home-made preserves - fruit jellies, lemon curd etc. One jar makes a rich dessert for two people or one gannet. You can buy La Borde products from the farm, or from the stall at Le Grand Pressigny market every thursday. The Spar in GP sells an increasing volume of La Borde milk at 80 cents a litre, and you can also find it in local supermarkets. The only way we could drink milk with a smaller burden of food miles is to have our own cow!

These are some of the La Borde products in our fridge.
The jug was bought from Waitrose in Swaffham.
Easy microwave porridge for one
Weigh out 30g porridge oats in a polythene rice pudding pot. This is transparent, so you can mark the 30g level on the side, for next time. Put in a cereal bowl with 180ml milk. If you are Tim, add a pinch of salt. If you are a Scot, I apologise now. I set the microwave to medium (450 watts), cook the porridge for 2 minutes, stir it, then another 2 minutes at medium. Serve sprinkled with your sweetener of choice, or not as the case may be, and maybe a bit more milk if you like.

Friday 26 November 2010

All those lovely shallots

At the moment, there seems to be a good supply of onions and shallots at the various marchés gourmands in the neighbourhood. Particularly fine and sleek are the shallots called either échalions or cuisses de poulet (chicken thighs). I'm going to make Shallot Confiture, adapted from Hilaire Walden's Sensational Preserves. It makes just over a kilo of preserve. It's a four-day job, but very simple. As with all pickles involving vinegar, you need a stainless steel pan to cook it, and a non-metallic bowl to start with.

You will need:
675g/1.5lb shallots
100g/3.5oz sea salt
1 litre/1.75 pints cider vinegar
450g/1lb sugar
1.5 teaspoons cloves
2 cardamom pods, crushed
1.5 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 long strip of lemon zest
1 cinammon stick
2-4 dried red chillies, crushed
a good pinch of ground chilli or cayenne

Day 1
Peel the shallots, leaving the root end intact. Put the shallots in a glass, plastic or ceramic bowl, sprinkle over the sea salt and add enough cold water to cover (they float!), stirring carefully to dissolve the salt. Put a plate on the shallots to submerge them, then leave for a day in a cool place.

Day 2
Drain and rinse the shallots thoroughly and dry on paper towels. Pour the vinegar into a pan and stir in the sugar. Place the spices, except the ground chilli, on a square of muslin and tie into a bag. Add to the pan with the ground chilli and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and boil fairly hard for 10 minutes. Remove any surface scum with a slotted spoon. Add the shallots and simmer very gently for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and leave overnight.

Day 3
The next day, slowly bring the shallots to the boil, then simmer gently for another 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and leave overnight.

Day 4
The next day, slowly bring the shallots to the boil once more then simmer gently until they are golden brown and translucent. Pack into warm, clean, dry jars, pour on the syrupy liquid to cover and shake to remove any air pockets. Cover with vinegar-proof lids and seal. Store in a cool, dark, dry place for at least 2 months before eating.