Doing the daily shop, French-style.
These aubergines are shinier than a militia man’s boots.
The lobster tank was looking a bit empty. I suspect there’d been a rush on lobster for cooling summer seafood platters.
This little piggy went to market, to hang out next to his brothers who are now a pair of delicious dried sausages. Oink oink.
Black-legged chickens with their heads ON, but running about no more.
Counting the chèvres…
Believe it or not, these rolls are called ‘hams’ of duck breast, and are stuffed with foie gras.
A trio of tapenades and other wicked treats to nibble with one’s apéro.
Legs of ham. With hoof or without?
Mimolette cheese (in case you were wondering). ‘Extra old’ says the label. You bet.
Extra old or prehistoric?
And to finish: Charentais melons in the Charente-Maritime.
World over, there are many versions of the Salade Niçoise and much debate over what constitutes the correct serving of this classic dish. Purists insist that no cooked component should be added, apart from the tuna itself, and even then the tuna is either optional or tinned (not in MY kitchen). As you can see from the title of this post, I am not a purist. Here’s my version, with an Oriental twist:
N.B. Ingredients are given per person.
Use any sort of salad leaves (Delia apparently likes rocket, I like spinach, but any sort of mixed leaf will also do. Avoid iceberg – it’s too bland and a bit seventies for my version) – enough to amply cover a dinner plate.
Haricots verts/ green beans - cooked on a rolling boil for just 5 minutes so they retain their crunch and are still bright green. Dunk them in a bowl of cold water to keep their colour bright, then pop them in the oven with a couple of nobs of butter, a shake of salt and pepper and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Leave 10 minutes on 150C or until the butter and cheese have melted. Then cool and add the beans to the salad leaves.
1 boiled egg, just warm and halved or quartered. Don’t add hot eggs to the plate as they will wilt the leaves.
A small handful of cherry tomatoes – either whole or halved, toss over the salad.
2-3 salad onions, chopped and dropped liberally across the salad.
Once all the salad ingredients are on the plate, start with the tuna. It needs watching so as not to overcook and become dry.
1 tuna steak, marinated in teriyaki sauce. Cook just a few minutes on each side, so that the centre of the steak is still pink. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and place on top of the salad. Pour any remaining teriyaki sauce over the top as this will provide an automatic dressing.
Some argue that a proper Niçoise salad should have either tuna or anchovies but not both. I’m easy on this score. The only thing I would suggest is that if you decide to add anchovies, make it the fresh, marinated anchovies as these are less salty than the preserved kind and bring a truly zesty tang to the salad.
So, as you can see, this is far from a traditional Niçoise. I blame my Pacific-rim upbringing and a love of teriyaki sauce.
Recently, I was chatting with @champagnediet on Twitter and mentioned my recent experimentation with a bottle of bubbly in the kitchen. I’d made a truly scrummy dish of scallops and king prawns in a champagne and cream sauce – plenty for two people as a light evening meal, or a decadent starter if you’re hungry. Anyway, I promised @champagnediet I’d send her the recipe for her site, which focusses on how to eat (and live) well without over-indulging. Then I thought it would also be a good idea to share it here.
This dish is ready in a flash. There’s next to no preparation time – just as long as it takes to get everything out of the fridge and chop the onions. Cooking time is max 10 minutes.
200g king prawns, uncooked and 200g fresh scallops, coral removed. In the UK queen scallops are good for this recipe as they’re smaller, but king scallops would work just as well, only you might need a minute or two more to cook through.
**(Please do ensure that the seafood is as fresh as it possibly can be. The champagne component in this recipe is too expensive to waste on close-to-expiry-date produce!)
3 Tablespoons of butter
A dash of light olive oil
1/4 cup of sliced salad onions (aka scallions for our American friends)
2/3 cup of champagne – don’t skimp. This has to be the real deal! I’ve tested with bubbly alternatives and the taste is still nice but not as good.
3/4 cup of reduced fat crème fraîche
Salt and pepper to taste
Take a frying pan and melt 1 Tbsp of butter, adding a dash (literally) of light olive oil to prevent scorching.
Add the chopped salad onions and stir over medium heat for 1 minute, no longer. We want them to retain their colour if possible.
Slowly pour in the champagne and allow to reduce to approximately one third, stirring occasionally.
Add the seafood and stir until the prawns have turned pink (2-3 minutes).
Add the crème fraîche and stir until the cream has combined with the butter and seafood juices and now coats the seafood easily. Allow the mixture to simmer for a few minutes. Stir regularly during this time, then add the remaining butter and stir through until the sauce thickens slightly.
Season to taste.
Garnish with a sprig of dill or sprinkling of chopped chives. Serve immediately, preferably with a flute of the leftover champers! Et voilà!
It was nearing the end of our ‘vacances’ in the South of France last summer and we spent our last morning visiting the town famed for brocante: L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Walking through the picturesque centre-ville, that day brimming with parading brass bands in competition, their supporters and weekend visitors like ourselves, we’d worked up quite an appetite. Rather than stay in town, which offered a fair number of riverside terrace restaurants with postcard views, Monsieur and I drove back into the surrounding countryside, to visit Restaurant La Villa.
Initially, we thought we might have been lost, because the area in which this restaurant is located is so very residential that garden play-sets are visible from the street. We continued with the directions, until we found a gate and a huge, grassy parking area, more like a massive lawn than a place to leave cars. Beyond the car park was another surprise: a large swimming pool, dangerously inviting on such a blistering day, but had we come to the right place? Was this an eatery or was it someone’s home?
At the swimming pool all became clear; to one side lay bronzed patrons, basking on loungers; to the other were tables in the shade of an awning – there, we would dine. Practically all of the terrace tables were taken. There were more seating areas inside, but no one wants to be overly sheltered on such a halcyon day; the interior was devoid of life. Fortunately, the warm waiter who greeted us only shook his head for the briefest of moments when we admitted we had no reservation. Weekend lunches here in summer are usually fully booked, he explained, yet he found us a table and, unbidden, located a fan to keep us cool.
This dragonfly was mesmerising. She clung to the fan to cool herself before flitting off around the pool, only to return moments later for a refresher.
The menu was far from exhaustive, allowing Monsieur and I to make our choices with some speed. We were ravenous by this stage, in spite of the heat. I decided on the seafood salad, while Monsieur probed our waiter about the cut of pork and which part of the beast it hailed from. Taking Monsieur’s shoulder, the waiter caressed it a little too attentively as he explained exactly which body part Monsieur would be eating. From across the table, my husband flashed me a look of bemusement and I stifled a giggle. Our waiter was absolutely lovely, very gay and, now it appeared, rather tactile when it came to explaining the source of his meats. If only all wait-staff could be like him, we’d be very happy diners indeed!
My seafood salad kept me silent for quite some time. It was much larger than I’d anticipated and consisted of powerfully fresh ingredients which were beautifully presented.
The king prawns were succulent in the extreme, anchovies on a perfectly golden crouton were a contrast to the rest of the salad in both texture and saltiness and the scallops had been seared with skill, retaining a silken consistency which gave them bounce in the mouth. No complaints from me. The dragonfly continued to come and go from the fan. I didn’t blame her; it certainly was hot.
Too hot (in my opinion) for what Monsieur chose to eat: a ‘plume’ of pork, from Mont Ventoux,(a regional mountain of note where the pigs must be happy with their lot, making them taste better) served with aubergines and sautéed potatoes.
Monsieur and I cleared our plates, coughed up the requisite Euros, thanked our charming waiter, left the sun worshippers behind and set off for Avignon and our last night of vacation. We had a wonderful evening planned, replete with ‘last supper’, but for now our appetites were sated and we could travel happy.
**In summary: Restaurant La Villa serves excellent food without pretention or attitude. A wonderfully relaxed setting in which to chill out of a weekend. In case of disappointment, I wouldn’t recommend chancing it like we did; definitely book in advance for weekend brunch in the summer.
Restaurant La Villa,A750 Avenue Jean Monnet, 84800 L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France
I am a full-time working woman with a full and demanding life. I know perfectly well how to cook pancakes from scratch, be they crêpe, American-style, potato or blini, but I’d rather get the fillings right than muck about with batter after a long day at work. As Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day/ Mardi Gras falls invariably on a weekday, that dictates the need to cheat if Monsieur and I are to do the traditional thing and dine on pancakes. This is how I blitzed it for us this week:
Pop a knob of butter in a frying pan and, once melted, place a galette darker side down in the pan. Immediately start to place your filling ingredients on one half of the galette, wait for the edges to brown a little and flip the other half across the fillings so that you have a perfect half-moon oozing with deliciousness. Make sure both sides have been adequately heated (this involves a bit of flipping for the culinary gymnasts among us) then place on a plate and set aside.
In the meantime, heat the oven to about 150 Celsius. If, like me, you have an audience who will eat the galettes as fast as you can make them, and if you prefer to eat at the same time as those you’re cooking for, this is a useful trick – wait until about a short while before you want to serve the already-filled galettes, slip them into the oven for 10 minutes and they will be piping hot, as if they came straight from the pan, when they arrive at the table.
I have an entire book filled with recipes for galette fillings and the options are endless. Here are three surefire favourites that Monsieur and I enjoy, not just on Shrove Tuesday:
- The Classic Complète. Place thin slices of ham (honey roast is delicious if available) to cover half of the galette. Crack an egg on top and allow it to start to heat through, but don’t leave it so long that the galette burns. It can always continue to cook a little once in the oven. Sprinkle with grated cheese, and/or a little parmesan. Grind black pepper over the whole and close. When in half-moon shape, i.e. the fillings are covered by pancake, flip to ensure the egg gets heat from both sides. If you’d like to be a little more ambitious with the presentation, place all the ingredients at the centre of the galette, leaving about 5 centimetres uncovered around the circumference. make sure the egg is situated as close to the centre of the galette as possible. Fold in 4 edges, leaving the egg exposed but creating a roughly square shape. Serve.
- The Neptune. Arrange slices of quality smoked salmon to cover half of the galette. Dollop three tablespoons of creme fraiche on top of the salmon and spread. Sprinkle chopped chives (dill also works beautifully here) and a little parmesan cheese over all. Close as the salmon’s colour starts to turn pale but before the galette edges start to curl.
- The Vegetarian Italian. Put thin slices of mozzarella around half of the galette, dot with 5 or 6 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half. Sprinkle with parmesan and chopped or torn fresh basil leaves. You have to keep an eye on this one because if you leave it in the pan for too long the tomato juice will make it soggy and difficult to flip. One solution, if you have time, is to use regular slicing tomatoes and remove the juicy flesh and seeds beforehand.
Sweet pancakes are usually called crêpes in France, to distinguish them from the savoury galettes. To cheat for this type I used the following pre-made version, also from Ocado, although most supermarkets in the UK offer something similar:
Once again, they come in packs of 6. I am a complete traditionalist when it comes to sweet pancakes. If at all possible, Monsieur will do the French thing and fill his with Nutella, but I prefer to keep it simple:
As for the galettes, heat a knob of butter in the pan and place the crêpe darker side down in the pan. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of sugar across one half of the crêpe, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the sugar, add a dash or two of cinnamon, fold in half and serve. An optional extra might be a squirt of chantilly or a scoop of proper vanilla ice cream. If I weren’t so convinced I’d set my head alight, I might attempt Crêpes Suzettes, but for the moment I leave that to the experts in restaurants like Les Halles, where they’re so practised that I couldn’t hope to compete.
The Blind-in-one-eye Bum is an interesting name for a food establishment, and that’s the rough English translation for a Saint Malo restaurant named Borgnefesse. Borgne means blind in one eye (how efficient of the French to have one word for this affliction instead of four in English) and fesse means bum, buttock or bottom, whichever you prefer.
The original Borgnefesse was a certain buccaneer named Louis le Golif, who reputedly had had one buttock shot off by a cannon ball, hence the sobriquet which may also translate as ‘half-arse’ or ‘but one buttock’. No one can be sure whether or not the memoirs for which le Golif gained renown are fact or fiction, but apparently it’s quite an entertaining read if you’re a pirate nut who celebrates International Talk Like a Pirate Day each September. Thankfully, when Monsieur and I found Borgnefesse, the ‘half-arsed’ restaurant, there were no pirates (nor parrots) in sight.
We’d just arrived in Saint Malo after a long day which had involved much driving, battling of crowds at Mont Saint Michel, and a couple of fluffed-up €28.00 omelettes which were more like air bags than proper food and therefore barely sustained us through the afternoon. So tonight, we were hungry and boy, did we ever want to eat a fairly priced meal. Saint Malo boasted loads of eateries, but would we find one to suit our rather demanding palates?
A sunset walk about the ramparts of the old walled city had contributed to our appetites, so we set about finding somewhere to eat. One recommendation had closed and was now boarded up. The next on the list had changed in both name and cuisine. Some were closed because it was Tuesday. Some were closed for the summer holidays. We weren’t having much luck so we tried the strip of bustling restaurants along the wall between two of the town’s Portes but most of them served the same fare in similar prix-fixe formulae. Yawn. So we wandered away from the summer crowds and copycat menus in search of something a bit different.
The next restaurant we tried had taken its last orders at 9.30pm, even though its dining room was only half full. A handful of others we found to be too pricey and we’d had enough of feeling ripped off for one day, so we returned to a place we’d spotted earlier. The menu was compact but interesting and a pirate sign hung outside – now that’s different. Thus Monsieur and I entered Borgnefesse.
It was already close to 10pm but the waitress was smiling as she gave us a table. She single-handedly managed the entire room without even the hint of a grimace and all the patrons seemed happy. The decor had a subtle nautical theme, but all the table dressing was up-to-the-minute, with mushroom-coloured napkins and cloths. A stack of old books on a shelf between tables added a homely touch. In summary, the atmosphere was understated and warm.
There were no printed menus because this was a market restaurant, that is, they cook and serve whatever they find fresh at market each day. On a blackboard, across the room, were listed three different ‘formule’ or set menu options with different price points depending on the ingredients. Monsieur and I chose the middle-of-the-road €19.80 formule, which included a seafood starter, choice of main and cheese or dessert.
We both enjoyed our plates of fresh seafood, including succulent bulots (sea snails) which we twiddled out of their shells with a bulot pin, prawns and half a crab, complete with four long and spindly legs each. All the requisite shell cracking and crab-extracting tools were supplied so Monsieur and I could get our hands messy with produce so lipsmacking that it must have been that afternoon’s catch.
Monsieur was in need of a red-meat fix, so ordered the entrecote as a main. When it arrived it was smothered in a rich, peppery sauce and when my own main was set before me, I could see that the chef here must also be an excellent saucier because my stuffed squid was swimming in a little pond of aromatic sauce tinted a rich butter-cream colour with just a touch of saffron. Mon Dieu, how that squid was delicious – filled with a blend of minced calamari and tomatoes, and softened by the delicately spiced-up sauce. Served with a modest helping of wild rice and diced veg, the overall effect tickled all of the senses. The opposing textures jumped about on my tongue yet didn’t fight; rather they complemented one another. The squid was delightfully soft, having been cooked to perfection. The flavours blended into an overall impression of somewhere exotic and hot with a breeze from the sea. Oh yes, I did enjoy this dish very much indeed, and across the table from me, my husband had inhaled his entrecote so quickly that he’d been bored for a while now – a sure sign that everything on his plate had met with his hard-won approval.
For dessert, Monsieur polished off refreshing mango and strawberries with ‘their’ sorbets, as they say in France, while I had the most sensible cheese course ever: a simple slice of creamy camembert served with a couple of leaves of lettuce and some bread. It was tout simple but couldn’t have been more appreciated. Yes, I crave a taste of cheese at the end of a meal in France, but no, I didn’t always have the capacity for an entire cheeseboard. Long have I mourned the fact that I wasn’t born with more stomachs, like a cow, but it’s a fact I’ve learned to live with and the people at Borgnefesse make this hardship a little easier to bear by getting their portions right.
So, the food was superb, but at €26.00 our Pouilly Fumé tasted young and, strangely for a Pouilly, lacked in both character and bite, but in this instance even a duff bottle of wine remained perfectly quaffable. As we paid the bill and wandered back down towards the Grande Porte, Monsieur and I were comfortably (as opposed to belt-poppingly) sated.
“Do you want to know how much the bill was?” Monsieur asked,
“Sure,” I replied,
“Well, it was significantly less than those stupid omelettes at La Mère Poulard.” he announced,
“Hmmm. Doesn’t surprise me.” I said, “those were some seriously overpriced eggs.”
It wouldn’t take a mindreader to work out which of the two establishments, Borgnefesse or La Mère Poulard, is assured of our future custom, especially if the menu du jour shows the chef’s famous fish of the day stuffed with fresh Breton lobster or the Lotte (monkfish), which one former patron has described as ‘inoubliable’ (unforgettable). For now, Monsieur and I were simply relieved to have enjoyed a fine meal at a fair price. Even with a name like The One-Eyed Buttock, we will be back.
Everyone has one: a snack of shame. This is a food item or concoction that no one but you understands as delicious. It could be something you bite into every day or a comfort food in which you indulge on sick days or Bridget Jones Nights In with a box of tissues and the DVD of Steel Magnolias. It may be a nostalgia trip from childhood or a recent acquisition of taste. Whatever it is, you cringe whenever someone catches you in the act of eating your snack of shame. Only rarely might you come across someone who gets it.
So what’s the Epicurienne Snack of Shame? you ask. You’ll have to read the rest of this post to find out. For the moment, I’m thrilled to list some Snacks of Shame that friends have allowed me to share.
- Little Miss Denmark writes: “People think I’m a bit freaky ’cause I like everything LIQUORICE flavoured! I also really love dipping celery sticks into chunky peanut butter. And cheese sandwiches with JAM! Not toasted, though. But I’m not embarrassed – I’m PROUD of my weird food habits.”
- Mr Positivity tells me: “My favourite comfort food is 2-3 fresh crepes with a nice, yummy ball of vanilla ice-cream on each of them. Then I squash the ice-cream and spread it length wise and roll it up.”
- American Pie says: “I know it sounds gross but I like ketchup sandwiches. Or frozen peaches dug out of the iced juice and dipped in sugar.”
- She Who Shall Remain Nameless admits she drinks the juice from jars of pickles. Forget eating the pickles, she just likes the liquid they’re preserved in.
- But wait! There’s more from Mr Positivity: “Nothing beats a good old Walkers crisp sandwich.” Ah, but what flavour of Walkers potato crisp is best? Mr P likes prawn cocktail because it adds a ‘zing’ to the sandwich. “At boarding school we also got McCoy’s, Hula Hoops, Monster Munch, Nik Naks…and they all fit nicely between two slices of bread.”
Then the other day I was visiting Tammy’s blog, where in her Almost Twenty Things she ‘fesses up that banana and mayo sandwiches are something she really enjoys. Up in Scotland they invented the deep-fried Mars Bar, which is popular with some. In France they dip bread into their morning coffee (something I still find a bit odd). As for me? When I’m sick it has to be cheese and onion toasted sandwiches – nothing too unusual about that. But when I was a child I loved cold spaghetti (has to be from a tin) sandwiches. That’s what I call a snack of shame, although I can be proud of the fact that I have yet to build giant versions of my favourite naughty foods, like they do on Pimp That Snack. Now, how about sharing your wickedest concoctions with me? Leave a comment below and tell me what you snack on when no one’s watching. One rule applies: it can’t be healthy.