Saturday, 10 December 2011

Salon de la Gastronomie: La Rochelle

There's something you should know about me: some people like spending Sunday afternoons going for a brisk walk, snoozing in the sunshine, or catching up on telly. I, on the other hand, am a fan of la salon de la gastronomie, or in stark British terms, the food fair.

Having already visited several salons in smaller towns like Pons and Saintes, I was full of high hopes for the La Rochelle fair, La Rochelle being the capital of Charente-Maritime and all. Chéri and I were not to be disappointed. The impressive marquee boasted over 50 stands, offering a diverse selection of high-quality products ranging from Corsican saucisson (which we had the chance to taste while on holiday last year and which I can say is delicious!) to home-made sweets of all flavours, passing by sumptuous olives and, of course, the obligatory coup de champagne.

After snaking around the marquee no less than three times, making the most of the generous free samples, Chéri tactfully made the remark that we'd have to decide on what to buy as my suggestion of buying a bit of everything had evidently not had the desired effect. So, after careful consideration, we decided on champagne from a local distributor, a jar of cheese-stuffed sweet peppers to accompany the champagne for the apéritif, several saucissons (Chéri's guilty pleasure), and finally (after a brief hesitation over the macaroons) a selection of the home-made cookies.

Purchases made, it was with bellies full and wallets empty that Chéri and I left La Rochelle, promising each other that next time we'd resist temptation.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Miam Paris: Good enough to eat

This clever girl makes some deliciously decadent jewellery, perfect for greedy gourmandes like me. And even better, her sugary creations are not outrageously priced, meaning that the only problem will be deciding which one comes top of my Christmas list?

Will it be the mouth-watering macaron pendant?

Or the undeniably French pain au chocolat ring?

Not to mention the tantalising hot-dog earrings?

Oh no, I hadn't seen the madeleine necklace!

Oh what the hell, at these prices I'm asking Santa for all four!

Coup de coeur: Au coin des Saveurs

There's something anyone thinking of moving to Saintes should know: nowhere is open on a Sunday. Even though I now appreciate the peace and quiet, having previously lived in Manchester where you can buy and do pretty much anything 24/7 means this took me a lot of getting used to.

So when Chéri's birthday fell on a Monday (and not the dreaded Sunday!) I thought we'd have no problems finding somewhere to celebrate in tête à tête over a glass of champagne and a good meal.

Rule number two: nowhere is open on a Monday evening either.

After doing the rounds of all the restaurants we knew, only to be greeted by 'Fermé le lundi soir' we were almost about to give up and go to Macdo when I remembered one of the girls at work telling me about a little restaurant on the quayside: Au Coin des Saveurs. It couldn't hurt to try?

What admittedly started out as a last resort turned out to be a charming restaurant overlooking the River Charente. The waitress, efficient and friendly, showed us to our table in the intimate dining room and brought us two delicious champagne cocktails (Chéri blackcurrent, me raspberry).

We opted for the menu at 26 euros and the meal that followed was gourmand and well presented, exceeding all of our expectations. The crab-based starter was fresh with an interesting mix of flavours, while not too over-powering, thus letting me fully enjoy the main course of duck breast with a raisin and apple chutney, which Chéri and I both found delicious and perfectly cooked. Dessert was equally attractively presented and bursting with flavour: we opted for the strawberries presented three ways, perhaps in an attempt to prolong the last few warm summer evenings.

Our stomachs (and hearts) full, we stepped out of the restaurant only to be greeted by the moonlight dancing over the Charente...Joyeux Anniversaire Chéri!

Address: 36 Quai del'Yser, 17100 SAINTES
Budget: 25-35€
Greedy rating: 4 spoons

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Recette: Honey and Goat's Cheese Pasties

These little veggie triangles are excellent served alongside drinks or on a bed of rocket as a tasty summer starter. The recipe makes between 8-15 pasties depending on the size of the pastry squares. I'd recommend trying to cut the squares fairly accurately as otherwise the pasties won't be evenly cooked.

You will need:
a packet of ready-made puff pastry
150g goats' cheese log
runny honey
dried thyme
beaten egg yolk (for glazing)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6. Unroll the puff pastry and use a floury rolling pin to roll it out to approx 2mm thickness. This will be much easier if you take the pastry out of the fridge half an hour in advance.

Cut the goat's cheese log into rounds and place a circle in the middle of each pastry square. Drizzle with the runny honey and sprinkle with the dried thyme.

Close up the squares to make triangle shaped pasties (imagine the shape of an envelope). Don't worry if the finished product isn't very neat; a raggedy edge won't take away from the taste!

Glaze the pastries with a little beaten egg yolk and bake for approx 20 minutes or until golden brown.

My greedy little helpers ate half of them before I could take a blog photo
Serve with a sweet white wine such as a Monbazillac and most importantly, enjoy!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Le Vieux Moulin: Open House

When Chéri asked me to give him a hand on my day off with an open house he was organising at our friend's vineyard at Virollet, I immediately said yes. Not because I'd be getting to spend the day wandering around the vines, learning about asparagus, tasting the grapes and drinking free cognac. Just because I am a kind and considerate copine...
Le Vieux Moulin is one of those places I instantly felt a connection to when arriving in France. The peaceful and idyllic setting of the old windmill and farmhouse buildings nestled into acres of vines and asparagus plants, combined with the generosity and warmth of the proprietors, the Perrochain family, keep me wanting to come back and visit the domain again and again.

Le Vieux Moulin

The aim of the open house was to create an event based on the produce found at Le Vieux Moulin, and notably the pineau and cognac, giving the visitors a chance to see the whole process from the grapes to the bottle. This idea of going directly to the farm to meet the producers and thus promoting local business is something I am passionate about and I think the guests from Chéri's holiday village really enjoyed the afternoon, not least because of the clear and interesting explanations given by the Vieux Moulin staff.

Laetitia showing us how to harvest asparagus.
The visit of the vines and the chai (the place where grapes are turned into wine and eventually into pineau or cognac) left everyone a bit peckish and thirsty. An apéro champêtre prepared by myself comprised of asparagus tart, rillettes, country ham, olives and cheese helped to sustain the troops and luckily the Perrochains were on hand to fill up everyone's glass with a drop of pineau or a cocktail à la pêche. The visitors were then free to stock up on gifts for the family and souvenirs of the rich gastronomy found in the region.

Apéro champêtre

A fun, delicious and enriching experience to be repeated with even more guests the next time!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Wedding Fever

A big congratulations to my brother Stephen and my new sister-in-law Zoe on their wedding day. 

This was one of those days when everything just seems to reunite: good weather (no rain!), a magical setting in the Harrogate countryside, good company, an amazing band, beautiful flowers.

And as not a blog post can go by without mentioning food somewhere I would like to make all who read this jealous with a little menu snippet:

Canapés: French onion tart, honey glazed cocktail sausages, Malaysian chicken brochettes, scallops wrapped in bacon.

Main course (a selection of dishes to share): platter of king prawns, fresh salmon fillets, smoked trout and salmon, platter of rare fillet of beef, smoked chicken, salami and parma ham, green rocket and basil salad, tomatoes with avocado, mozzarella and basil, warm new potatoes.

Cheese: ossau irity, chaorce, tellegio, dolcelatti (Chéri was impressed with the cheese trolley but like a true Français couldn't understand why no French cheeses were on offer!)

Dessert: Trio of Eton mess, Lemon Posset and Chocolate Fondant

All washed down of course with lots of champage, cocktails and wine (from the Languedoc region thus easing Chéri's deception over the non-French cheese!)

A truly magical wedding and a special day spent with family and friends. To Mr and Mrs Gould!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Coup de coeur: Le Clos des Cours

When Dad and Sharon decided to come and visit in January for my birthday I immediately panicked. Not because they were getting a Ryan Air flight and thus would have less baggage allowance for Cadbury's chocolate supplies and copies of Closer magazine, but because I knew this would involve the obligatory 'let's go somewhere nice for dinner' , and being just a shiny new Santaise I had no idea where to go.

But who to ask? The answer was collègue Le Barman of course. That's the great thing about barmen (English and French alike). They always know everything about everyone and everywhere. And mon Barman didn't disappoint.

"If you're looking for good food, try Le Clos des Cours. It's right next door to chez toi."

Once Dad and Sharon were back at l'appart we wandered down to the restaurant to check out the menu. Pan-fried foie gras, fish fresh from the market, raspberry millefeuille...Table for four it was then!

Apart from Dad's (loud) attempts to speak French, everything was perfect about the evening. From the personal and friendly reception by the salle, to the varied and interesting menu options and the exquisitely prepared and presented dishes, we were unable to find a fault. Despite the complexity of the menu, the wait between courses seemed relatively short and everyone was left with a feeling of being satisfied but not stuffed.

We were so impressed with Le Clos des Cours that when Taté and Tonton came to visit we didn't even hesitate before booking a table. This time due to abnormally hot May weather we got to experience dining on the extensive terrace (even bigger than the whole inside) and due to the seasonal changes in the menu I tasted pigeon for the first time in my life...Verdict: delicious!

Our third visit with the family, the evening of Steve and Zoe's one-nighter on the way up to Nantes, was as sublime as the others. The waiter was extremely attentive and charming, and the food was once again cooked to perfection: steak with forgotten vegetables, scallops in a citrus dressing, asian tuna fritters. The assiette gourmande Chéri and I shared for dessert had literally Zoe drooling.

The ultimate compliment, however, came from Steve: "It's not bad, really, this French food."
No, not bad at all.

Address: 2, Place du Théâtre, 17100 Saintes
Budget: 25-30£ (with wine)
Greedy rating: 5 spoons

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Pass the snails / Fais passer les escargots

Having dinner as a family is one of the main things I thought I’d miss when crossing to the other side of La Manche. Not just for the meals themselves (though they play a big part I won't lie) but for the time spent talking and laughing together. 

So when Chéri asked me if I'd like to experience a traditional family Sunday dinner à la française, I jumped at the chance. was everything I’d been missing: roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, mashed potatoes drizzled with Bisto gravy, all topped off with a massive helping of homemade trifle. I could hardly wait.  "Mais, Chouchou", Chéri reminded me, "I said à la français. »  Oh yeah...

Sunday morning found Belle-Maman and Taté  busy chopping and mixing like women possessed. Despite Chéri's advice to leave them to it, being a curious cuisinière it didn't take me long to pop my head around the kitchen door to see what was on the menu. 

Snails with garlic butter / Escargots au beurre aillé
The first thing I saw were the snails. It was hard to miss them, piled high in pride of place on the kitchen bench. Now I like to pride myself on giving most things a try, but the thought of eating something that leaves slime trails behind when it moves just seemed a step too far even for me. 

It was with a certain reticence that I took my place beside Chéri at the table, knowing I’d have to face the slippery gastropod sooner or later. And sooner it was, for starter to be exact, smothered with garlic butter and roasted. Keeping my eyes fixed on anything but the fellas themselves, I took the mini skewer held out by Taté and impaled my snail.

A delicious aroma of sweet roasted garlic rushed up my nostrils, combining with the pleasant crispiness of the snail flesh cooked in the herb-infused butter. I swallowed the second one to make sure this wasn’t just a mistake. But no, this was in fact another one of those moments when I had to admit that the French may just be right about all things food.



“Pass the snails.”

Snails in Garlic Butter Recipe

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Let the eating begin

I first knew I was a greedy guts when I realised I enjoyed the weekly food shop more than shopping for clothes or CDs...Food, eating it, creating it, tasting it, buying it, has grown ever since from a basic need for fuel into a real passion, inspired no doubt by the generous meals made for me by my Mam and Nanna (generous both in the emotions put into them and the dishes themselves).

Life has taken its twists and turns since high school, and as fate would have it, I washed up on the Atlantic coast of France in 2009 in the Charente Maritime region. What started out as a summer job (accompanied by a summer romance) has turned into a permanent change of country, a change of language, a change of lifestyle, but most of all a change of cuisine!

Well, speaking thruthfully, not really a change, more of an evolution, a fusion, a mixture of all that makes me miss my mother's British cooking and all that excites me about France and it's opportunities to let my tastebuds roam: new restaurants, undiscovered ingredients, balades gourmandes, enormous markets, delicious wine.

Let the eating begin...