The Last Supper! Well Worth The Effort.

It was time to prepare ‘The Last Supper’ at The French House Party and after a morning creating chocolate sensations (in our own minds at least), we were back in our favourite kitchen with Jean-Marc, pen at the ready he showed us on paper what we were going to prepare.

How about Crab Crumble, Avocado, Papaya, Whipped Mustard Cream and Sorrel Shoots for starters, another lesson in flavours, cooking and food construction techniques.

So we made a Mayonnaise, and referred to the plans as we prepared the dish. As usual, nothing went to waste. Once we had prepared each item we then went about the construction, layers of Crab, Mustard Cream and the other items were carefully layered into an oblong ring. Photo 04-06-2019, 18 37 48You will notice a red item on the top of the finished dish in the picture below, this is a ‘tomato crisp’. The Tomatoes we used to dress the side of the crumble were de-skinned in boiling water and the skins placed in a low oven to dry out completely, and they were really delicious, as was the finished dish, the Mustard Cream was unreal, the fruit balancing the taste.Photo 04-06-2019, 18 38 56So on the main event Lightly Salted Cod in Aioli à La Languedocienne! For this we learnt (loose phrase) to turn vegetables, and very fiddly it was too. The Aiolli was problematic as we were running low on Eggs, we had one! A quick search in the fridge and a couple of yolks from the day before were discovered and we were on our way.Photo 04-06-2019, 19 12 15It was an extremely tasty dish, despite all the effort to make the various elements, but the dessert was the ‘piece de resistance’, a Gateaux St. Honoré. I made some Choux Pastry with Gill whilst the others knocked up a Crème Patissière (Creme Pat, as we came to call it by this time)! Then there was the Puff Pastry Base, and the piping, oh, the piping.Photo 04-06-2019, 17 33 33This was very testing indeed, home made Choux Buns dunked into Hot Caramel,  filled with the Creme Pat, constructing Swans using a piping bag, it was baking and construction and everyone contributed to the elegant dessert, which was very very good.

And that was it!

The end of 5 days intensive cooking and baking with Laurent, Remi, Jean-Marc and Chocolates with Marion, interspersed with fine dining in the most amazing restaurants, and the odd tasting of the origins of Champagne at Limoux,  the marathon was unfortunately over too soon.

So, that was my third trip to The French House Party, it won’t be my last, great fun, great people and always lots to learn it’s a home away from home, thank-you Moira and the team for putting on such a fantastic vacation.

 

…………………………..Until Next Time………………L8ers……………..

 

Ah, just one more thing!

Cronuts!

When I was in New York Last year I had great intentions to hunt out the inventor of the Cronut, a mixup of of Croissant and Donut. I ran out of time and did not make it! I was on Instagram the other day and found Dominique Ansel has an outlet in London, so I will be visiting this fine establishment and testing said ‘Cronut’ as soon as I can!!

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Marion Les Chocolats, Création Artisanale, Lets Make Some Chocolates!

The last full on day cooking at The French House Party Gourmet Explorer holiday came much too soon, but it was to be a fantastic time as usual.Photo 04-06-2019, 10 09 49I have done a bit of chocolate work with Mark Tilling, he was 7th in the world in 2009 and won the first ever Bake Off Créme de la Créme in 2016, it was a privilege to be able so to spend a day with him learning all things chocolate, and the morning we spent with Marion in her ‘Chocolate Boutique’ was to be no different, it was brilliant fun and the end results were really very good, a testament to her teaching and her very good English, much better than my hopeless French.IMG_0545.JPGMarion’s ‘Boutique’ is 5.2 miles to the North Of Carcassonne in ‘Pennautier’, in fact 16 rue Pierre Loti 11610 to be precise! It’s very close to the impressive ‘Château de Pennautier’. I have marked the boutique, in the fortified village on the map above, it’s very historic and well worth a walk around if you are in the area.Photo 04-06-2019, 11 22 54Her small ‘chocolate kitchen’ is near the centre of the ‘fortified village’, where sessions like ours are run and she sells some of her fantastic products, her husband shares the premises where great organic wines are also available, what a partnership!

You can also buy the chocolate mail order HEREPhoto 04-06-2019, 09 32 35We started off by making a caramel, to fill some of the chocolates we were going to produce later. It was fascinating (to me), to understand how a professional knows when the sugar has reached the correct stage before adding the other ingredients, you will have to spend a morning with Marion to find out though, she runs regular ‘ Stage d’initiation au chocolat’!photo-04-06-2019-10-43-49.jpgThere was a lot going on as we went through various stages of delicious Chocolate production. Gill, one of our ‘team’ is making ‘Rocher’ in the picture above. You remember the advert, the big pile of circular golden delicacies balancing on the waiters tray, that annoying music playing. These were much better than the mass manufactured version, but then I would say that!

A centre of home made, hand rolled Hazelnut Ganache, a coating of Almond and Caramel ‘shards’, and then a coating of quality Chocolate, we had the choice of White, Milk or Dark.Photo 04-06-2019, 11 13 00We also made ‘Orangettes’, and ‘Lemonettes’ and ‘Gingerettes’, I made up the last two but essentially a firm, sticky fruit stick, dipped in my case, Dark Chocolate. There were filled Chocolates, and yes, we made a box, out of Chocolate, mine White and Milk, with a Cocoa Butter Patterned Transfer, I have some of those at home so must find an excuse to use them one day soon.IMG_0546It was soon time to go, and on the way out some bars of Chocolate were too tempting to not purchase, Caramel, Gianduja and Fleur De Sea, yum.

Thank-you Marion for a fantastic morning and Moira, our host for organising. The next post will cover the final session with Jean-Marc and wow, what another great session it was.

 

…………Until Next Time………………..L8ers………………………………….

 

Lunch done, Let’s Prepare Dinner!

Monday morning’s time in the kitchen with Jean-Marc was really good fun. We had been chopping, mixing, constructing, making sorbets and ice creams,  and to be honest, what we ended up with tasted very good indeed. Dessert was simple (a slight relief), but even simple can take your tastebuds to the moon and back.

‘Fraises’ or Strawberries as we know them, they were abundant in all the markets and featured heavily in our dessert combining a Puree, a marination in Balsamic Vinegar Basil Ice-Cream, and some ‘Nut Crumble’ we had left over from the previous days efforts to provide some texture, it was very good and you can see the dish in the featured image at the head of this blog post.photo-03-06-2019-15-31-58.jpgLobster is a delicate meat and was to be part of our evenings menu, very nice indeed.

The next few hours were going to be even more testing with ‘Pastilla’ as the main feature for this evening. A Moroccan dish traditionally made with Pigeon, this was an interesting  interpretation and one I was looking forward too as I had made a ‘Yotam Ottolenghi’ version some months back, and posted the exercise on the blog, it took hours to make!photo-03-06-2019-15-49-15.jpg Having cooked the Lobster for a couple of minutes after dispatching it using a knife through the………you don’t want to hear that I guess, but we were using the freshest high quality produce as is always the case at The French House Party.

Jean-Marc, who owns Le Puits du Trésor (The Treasure Well), a 1 Michelin starred restaurant in nearby Lastours (The Towers), brings the most amazing ingredients that are fit for only the best restaurants, but still available in the High Street or online so we could reproduce all that we made.

Nothing is wasted and the Lobster Shells were cooked on a high heat before adding Shallots and Garlic, Water and Tomato Paste to make a rich, tasty lobster sauce which was reduced by over half to make it thick and umptious, yummy!photo-03-06-2019-16-37-47.jpgAnyone for Daiquoise with Apricots? My piping needs a lot of practise, it started well, going from the centre but I was a bit lop sided and you can see what it ended up like. As it was going to be covered in all sorts of yumminess it wasn’t a problem.Photo 03-06-2019, 18 36 00The starter was to be a simple but tasty Spring Vegetable Vol-eu-Vent with a Garlic and Basil Oil, we all had great fun preparing the evening meal and when we had finished we sat down to enjoy all three courses, plating each one in turn learning more culinary skills. Oh, and the usual Cheese course which I really enjoy, I have a thing for Cheese!

So that was Dinner. Spring Vegetable Vol-eu-Vent with Garlic and Basil Oil, Lobster Pastilla with Mild Spices and Honey (and you can see a sprinkling of grated bright orange coral in the picture above),  and Hazelnut Daiquoise with Apricots, oh, and some locally sourced Wine to help it down of course.

Phew, that was a marathon day. At least 6 hours in the kitchen, interspersed with the odd break for tea/coffee in the afternoon, and ‘bubbles’ in the early evening it was well worth the effort.

Jean-Marc Boyer is cooking for the French President, Macron in August, he is pretty good having held his star since 2007 and if you check out his BIO it’s very impressive indeed. We were extremely lucky to have him as our Chef Tutor, he a lovely man and personal friend this being my third time cooking with him over the last few years at Moira’s amazing French House Party.

And then comes…………………………Chocolate 🙂

 

………………………………Until Next Time……………….L8ers………….

Rillettes – French Deliciousness (If you like fatty stuff)! and Tamarind Springs in Kuala Lumpur

Photo 20-12-2017, 12 22 59Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is on, streaming to my iPad as I pen the 1st blog of 2018. River Cottage HQ is about to open and rather than let one of his prize pigs go, the menu will be based on Beef rather than Pork, along with an Asparagus starter, all 40 portions. Fish is also on the menu, trying to find a ‘monster’ Lobster in the locale fails and it’s actually a massive Conger Eeel that ends up on the plate!Photo 20-12-2017, 12 29 12I have very fond memories of past trips to the South of France where my brother lives, the preferred time being late Autumn when the Olive picking season is in full swing. He has some trees in his garden and the process of picking and taking down to the ‘Olive Pressing Co-Operative’ is an annual ritual. It was during one of these trips that I discovered ‘Rillettes’, similar to Pâté it’s rich, fatty and delicious spread on crusty Bread.

You can buy it in a ‘well known higher end super market’ but at over £2.50 for 110g its not cheap, so why not have a go at making it myself! At a recent cookery class at my favourite school ‘Richard Bertinet’s’ we had some Rillette’s and after asking, Richard was more than happy to share the recipe, it’s in one of his books ‘Cook: In a Class of Your Own with Richard Bertinet’ published in 2010 and subsequently I found a second hand copy in excecllent condition, complete with CD, It’s now sitting on the shelf along with Crust, Dough etc. I think I have all of his books!Photo 20-12-2017, 12 39 46Taking 1Kg of cheap pork cuts (shoulder and belly), and some Duck or Goose fat a very slow confit takes place over several hours, the addition of flavours such as Garlic, Thyme and Rosemary add extra interest to the final dish.Photo 20-12-2017, 15 37 20You might find, as I did that the Pork had not broken down completely due to the low and slow process (3 – 3/12 hours give or take), the temperature was not high enough to break down the connective tissues so I turned the heat up a bit and within 30 minutes the job was done.Photo 20-12-2017, 18 24 43At this stage you will need to KEEP the cooking fat AFTER draining it, don’t throw it away, it’s integral to the dish!! The Pork does not look particularly tasty at this point but carefull pulling and tugging to seperate the meat from any unedible bits and we are nearly there.Photo 20-12-2017, 18 43 15Given some time to cool a bit you will have a dish of ‘pulled Pork”, the drained and strained Fat, and Salt and Pepper. I added 60%-70% of the fat into the meat before starting the next process, I did warn it’s fatty stuff but believe me, it’s delicious and you don’t have it that often.

This dish needs LOADS of seasoning, you will need to add, taste, add, taste, add and taste until that magic moment happens and you pallette will say YEEEEEESSSSSS.Photo 20-12-2017, 18 59 28I had some Kilner jars which were sterlised in the oven for about 20 mins at 115 degrees. In Richard’s book there is a section where it talks about various ways of potting the Rillettes but you will have to invest a few pounds to find out like I did, it’s worth it, it’s a very good book with lots of hints and tips.Photo 20-12-2017, 19 06 06Once the Rillettes is packed into the jar, some of the Fat is poured over the top to seal in the goodness before adding the lid and popping into the fridge to cool down, job done.

We tried some a couple of days later, my in-house taster agreeing that it was amazing and took us both back to fond times in southern France. The cost worked out out just over £1 per 100g and I had just over 1Kg worth sealed in the fridge for the future.

So, back to Malaysia and a trip to Tamarind Springs, a lovely restaurant about 20 minutes outside the city. We arrived on the Harley-Davidson motorbikes we had spent the morning on, touring the sites with the Police escort which I still keep thinking about.Photo 24-11-2017, 10 32 00The dishes were varied and delicious taking in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam tastes dancing over the pallette. During lunch we had a tropical downpour which was a welcome release from the heat, it poured it down.

The restaurant was very good, friendly service and awesome food, another experience that will not be forgotten.Photo 26-11-2017, 06 52 47The following day we were on the island of Langkawi and had some free time to wander around. A group of us hired a taxi for the most of the day and toured around the island a bit which was great fun, especially finding the hawker stalls selling home made fresh food to passsers-by.

That’s it for now, I hope you have a go at the Rillettes recipe, it’s very tasy and really quite easy to make.

………………………Until next time………………L8ers…………………

 

 

 

It’s Tough, Really Very Tough – A Night of 2 Michelin Starred Gastronomie in Carcassonne!

2017-05-23 17.09.35I’ve been to Carcassonne before, a couple of years ago when I was last a guest at The French House Party. It’s a magical place Carcassonne, having a similar feel to Tallin in Estonia (highly recommended too, had a day trip there on a cruise a few years back). Narrow cobbled streets, Coffee shops to sit outside and watch the world go by, we arrived late in the afternoon when the majority of the crowds had gone home, it gets very busy here!Photo 23-05-2017, 19 50 30How can I describe La Table De Franck Putelat…………Bloody Brilliant!  The whole experience is just so different.

I have had the pleasure of eating here before, a restaurant with 2 Michelin Stars you expect it to be good, but it’s the theatre as well as the food that takes it to the next level. From the Flame in the Glass Cabinet, that warms the Bread Basket placed on top it’s an amazing experience that, given the chance I would recommend to anyone.Photo 23-05-2017, 19 56 17Hmmmm,  a little Appetizer was passed to each of us the waiter then described what was in our hands…………..Duck Foie Gras Lollipops with a Grapefruit Emulsion….. Gulp! How they made the Emulsion stick in such a uniform way was mind-blowing, it tasted pretty damn good too!Photo 23-05-2017, 19 58 41Ah, I am sure I didn’t have these the other day!…… Tapioca Crisps perfumed with Aioli, Tapenade and Mushroom Cream, crispy and very very tasty, my mouth was already salivating after the previous tastes and textures. The others in our group were also amazed at these little tasty delights.photo-23-05-2017-20-02-29.jpg‘What’s this’ we all declared as a bowl of ‘Smoking Something’ was placed before us! Dry Ice used to great effect, the delights were Cromesquis of Pig Feet (errkk)! Crispy Morsels that had a lovely light crunchy coating they are like a Croquette, and a soft melting pork centre with some lemon jelly they were so so good, and this was just another appetiser!Photo 23-05-2017, 20 25 51Bread is the life blood of France, just ask my occasional Tutor and owner of Bertinet’s Cookery School in Bath Richard Bertinet, I am sure he will agree. There was a great choice of Bread, all homemade and displayed on the ‘Fire Cabinet’, with the waiter cutting on demand as we all tried to decide what to pick!photo-23-05-2017-20-27-45.jpgMy Choice was the Spelt Bread which had a great crust, and the Thyme Bread which was like a Croissant but shaped like a traditional Beehive they were both really delicious. There are little ‘nods’ to the surroundings and very obvious was the ‘chain mail’ place mat, and wooden butter knife being linked to the Knights that used to occupy the City.Photo 23-05-2017, 20 28 44The ‘Theatre’ carried on, not a dish with a block of butter, or the usual ‘curls’ they have a paddle like wooden butter dish, with ordinary and one laced with Seaweed to provide the salt component, very tasty on the home-made bread.photo-23-05-2017-20-29-53.jpgThe last delight before the 1st course was ready, came in a beautifully designed porcelain Chicken Foot,  a perfectly cooked Egg, covered in a rich and decadent Mushroom Cream with a bit of Truffle for added decadence! Boy it was so tasty, and we had only completed the appetisers, that set the bar high for the remainder of the meal.Photo 23-05-2017, 20 39 57So onto the starter, let’s see if the food was as good as last time. Duck Foie Gras Rougié, Palourdes Cranquettes de Méditerranée, Pistils de Safran à Gégé. It was a full (and I mean FULL) flavoured broth with seared Foie Gras, beautiful Clams and an assortment of vegetable brunois (chopped really small)!

The comments around the table sort of went like, ‘this is amazing’, ‘this is sooo delicious’, ‘oh my god, how do they get so much flavour into this’, ‘Jeez this is really very good’……. We sort of knew ho they got so much flavour into things as the 1st two days of our cooking course had been just that, spending hours frying, boiling, reducing, adding more flavours, reducing etc… The starter was a hit with everyone. Photo 23-05-2017, 21 04 51The main course soon arrived and was equally as tasty. I don’t think I have EVER had a fillet of Cod so perfectly cooked! It fell apart, melted in the mouth, was so light and flaky, no rough or slighty stringy edges it was PERFECT. The flavour of the vegetables and broth were perfect with subtle flavours and did not overpower the fish, it was just fab, and all of us had come to pretty much the same conclusion (until the next day, more of that later)!photo-23-05-2017-21-49-25.jpgIt maybe a personal thing but the thing most people rememeber about a restaurant is the dessert, it’s the last thing they eat before departing and will have (In good restaurants), a significant visual impact as we knew from our own efforts over the last couple of days. Our dessert had visual impact, lots of it! Pavlova ananas, infusé aux bais sancho, sorbet céleri branche. It was a Pineapple Pavola (deconstructed), infused with Sancho Berries (Japanese pepper) and Celery Sorbet (and some White Chocolate).

This dish divided the group, it was the Celery Sorbet that was the bone of contention. The thing was, if you had a bit of each element the Sorbet worked a treat, cleaning the palate especially with the sweet White Chocolate. The textures were great too, soft, crunchy, smooth melting I personally loved it, a lot. So that was it, multiple courses all great and we had a fantastic time, and experience. But there was a bit more to come yet!!photo-23-05-2017-22-10-51.jpgThe service had been exemplary all night, each dish being described as it was delivered to the table, the final little teaser being little crisp tarts with a fresh Raspberry filling, and some light jelly delights, I cannot remember what they were but I think coconut from memory, we had eaten so many tasty flavours it was still delicious.photo-23-05-2017-22-13-04-e1495818627716.jpgAll of a sudden, our waiter came to the table, picked up the flower pot which the delights were resting and threw it onto the table, more theatre the pot was made of Chocolate smashed into pieces and threw more hand made delights all over the table, we all burst into laughter not having experienced such fun as the Chocolate cracked, and various delights were exposed…….!!

That’s it for now, I landed back in the U.K. last night and only have one more post to write, the final day and another restaurant review, that of 1 Michelin starred Chef (and our tutor for 2 days), Jean-Marc Boyer.

…………………………Until next time………………L8ers……………..

 

 

 

Cooking &… more Cooking, Damn it’s so Good!

Photo 20-05-2017, 18 14 22It’s late and I have been having some great interaction with my new ‘buddie’ Marc. Today has been full on as usual, with a significant amount of cooking, processes, prepping food and spending a lot of time reducing sauces! The ‘international’ group is getting on really well, joking laughing and generally making fun at every opportunity!

Today’s menu(s) are quite (read very), comprehensive (read complicated) and included Haddock ‘Burger’ with Lime, Filet of Sea Bream au four, sautéed Squid with Vegetables and Squid Ink Sauce, Duckling with Honey Spiced Sauce, Cream Chiboust with Lemon, Strawberry Salad with Garriguette Basil.  Jeez my stomach is stretching already.Photo 21-05-2017, 10 23 03I am starting with what was probably the least squeamish (and easiest) thing to do, prepping the Squid. Removing the membrane that covers the white ‘flesh’. Getting rid of the ‘beak’,  the hard bony mouth that is inedible, sorting out the tentacles and then dealing with the body, it only takes a short while and all is done.Photo 21-05-2017, 11 53 24The Brioche style buns for the Haddock Burgers needed a couple of proving stages, they were buttery and rich, with a pillowy light texture, well worth the effort. Topped with sesame and poppy-seed to add both texture and flavour.Photo 21-05-2017, 16 29 10The duck was interesting, but in a really positive way coooking wise. I am not sure what happened but I just got on with it, maybe I have learnt enough but it came natural seperating the various components and in seconds the Breast, Thigh Wings etc. were done in the right way and lay before me, job done! Sorry Duck……Photo 21-05-2017, 17 56 31Oh, we had Bream to sort out too, another moment of hmmm, I think I know how to deal with this. It seems the past investment in cookery courses has finally payed off and confidence is growing and growing all the time.Photo 21-05-2017, 12 45 38The Haddock Burger (we had Haddock Fillets so no preparation needed), had a Onion relish to provide acidity, dressed leaves, baked Tomato and Lime cream, it was very tasty and very well-balanced. we all munched away commenting on our own personal tastes, all positive. The gang of seven is working like a well oiled engine, despite the language challenges which make translating ‘work orders’ from Robert even more interesting, he has the patience of a French Saint!photo-21-05-2017-16-42-27.jpgWe made some extremely complex sauces during the day. Hard frying the Duck carcass, adding Onion, Carrot and Celery followed by White Wine and Water and reducing by over 50% to provide a really full flavoured base, full of all the richness that the remaining Duck scraps could release. Photo 21-05-2017, 17 36 19These stocks, if done properly do take time but the investment is well worth while in both depth and layers of flavour, it’s what the professionals do. When at home I usually have days where i make a bulk load, and make up 1 pint freezer bags full, ready for when I need them.photo-21-05-2017-17-35-18.jpgWhilst the stock was doing its stuff in a separate pan we were getting a ‘spice base’ ready, Acacia Honey was cooked until a light to medium brown, then adding Sherry Vinegar, Orange and Grapefruit pieces, Fresh Ginger, Five Spice, Cinnamon,  White Pepper and the Coriander and finally topped up with the reduced Duck Stock, then reduce even further.photo-21-05-2017-10-00-15.jpgThe Squid did not escape either, Shallots, Fish Stock (from the Bream carcasses), Noilly-Prat and Lemon juice were reduced. Then Tomato skins and seeds etc. were added from Tomatoes we had turned into a concasse, then some crushed Garlic, Tomato Concentrate and Ground Almonds were added as the reducing continued, with Squid Ink being the final ingredient, Phewwwww!Photo 21-05-2017, 13 25 29The Squid dish was very complicated, but seriously tasty.  Lots of processes the end result was well worth the effort. We determined that about 70% of the time in preparation was in the stock’s and sauces, which were rich and umptious.photo-21-05-2017-09-52-26.jpgLittle goes to waste on these classes, making the most of all the ingredients is quite an important ethos to get into, stretching as far as using the some of the skins we removed from the Tomatoes to make an EXTREMELY tasty edible garnish, crispy Tomato Skins!

Yep, you heard it, spread some Olive Oil on a tray, lay the skins shiny side down and season, bake in the oven for about an hour on a low heat. Believe me, they were a revelation, you can see them strategically placed on the final squid dish above, along with some Filo diamond ‘crisps’, that added an additional pleasant texture.Photo 21-05-2017, 20 04 15We made what was a simple pepper suace to go with the Bream, accompaniement was lightly fried Courgette Julienne, it was a lovely plate of food. As we sit down to each meal, after several hours tuition and cooking there is always wine on the table, Red, White and Rosé to wash things down. Fresh bread of numerous types is also plentiful, useful for mopping up those sauces that required so much effort to make!Photo 21-05-2017, 20 43 01About 70% of an Artichoke is thown away during preparation, removing the leaves, cutting off the top and getting rid of the furry center they are an aquired taste, one that seems really enjoyable to me, probably in part due to the number of times I have visited France now. They are a bit fiddly and have to be left in acidulated water until needed as they dis-colour very quickly.

We had then with the Duck, along with some thickly sliced Mushrooms that had been fried in oil and butter.

Our first tutor Robert Abraham leaves us first thing, he is such a great cook and will be missed, but will be replaced by Jean-Marc Boyer who will bring a new dimension to the course (and some deserts, which should be interesting)!

……………………..Until next time……………L8ers…………………………….

 

 

 

To revel in ‘Revel’ – Continuing International Adventures at The French House Party

Photo 20-05-2017, 10 23 26I woke up this morning feeling really good, the sun was shining and despite a late(ish) night there was a sense of excitement in my bones. The itinerary at The French House Party is full on, lots to pack in over a few days so the time is used wisely.

Breakfast was lovely, a selection of fresh fruits, yoghurt, Cheese and Ham of various sorts, Croissants, Baguette (the proper stuff) the choice was endless.

We were heading to Revel today, a quaint town with a 14th Century central Square and covered roof, Saturday is market day the reason for our trip.  I have been to Revel before but it is a place you find difficult to not be attracted to, if you are an adventurous foodie like me.

Locals mingling and bustling around the many stalls, buying and selling mostly food of the highest quality with some very unusual options as will become clear shortly.

I am becoming to believe you can tell the pulse and passion of a nation by its cuisine, more importantly how it un-ashamedly sticks to tradition which some may find challenging, Cuy (Guinea Pig in Peru), Cazu Marzu (Maggot Cheese) in Sardinia and France has a few favourites the most notable being (in my own mind) Escargots (Snails) and cuisses de grenouille (Frogs Legs)!2017-05-20 08.52.20Wandering around the many food stands was a delight, fresh artisan Goats cheese, stunning proper Bread that had come fresh out of the oven that morning, Aligote, a smooth blend of cheese and potato and………Ducks Hearts!!2017-05-20 09.14.03There was also a marinated variety, dowsed in Olive Oil and Piment d’Espelette a special variety of pepper from the Basque region of France, I so love the passion this country shows for regional specialities!

The market was buzzing, locals embacing the french tradition of kissing either cheek locally known as ‘faire la bise”, friends greeting as if they had not seen each other for months, live music rolling from the coffee shops entertaining the Gitaines smoking regulars downing coffee, strong enough to sink a battleship.

As an aside, I am writing this blog sampling a very good Domaine Samarel Red Wine listening to the French radio. I have a ‘Zippo’ size FM Stero Radio and doing a quick tune I can pick up over 30 (yes THIRTY) ANALOGUE STEREO radio stations 45 minutes from Toulouse, all rocking and good quality!!!!2017-05-20 09.31.07The market is considerably ‘savoury’ but also caters for the sweet tooth, which is a bit of a challenge for me but one of my new American serious foodie buddies (he is a chef and food traveller/journalist) said the Nougat was really good (that’s not quite accurate but you get my drift). #awesomePhoto 20-05-2017, 15 28 15Back in the mini bus we headed back to foodie ‘HQ’ to start the next cooking session, our ‘light lunch’. As we got ready the kitchen was prepared for us. This lunch was interesting, Sliced Potato, Herb Pesto (Rocket and Spinach), Roasted Tomato (only lightly) Salmon and White Cheese, followed by an Apricot Tart. By the way, our tutor Robert Abraham is an absolutely bl@@dy awesome cook with a lifetime of experience. He is VERY patient and open to ‘suggestions’ if they make sense. He puts a LOT of effort into the menus to ensure students learn as many techniques as possible.Photo 20-05-2017, 12 58 04The starter was extremely tasty, the Pesto had lost a little bit of its freshness (and vibrant colour) but that happpens sometimes, it was still so tasty though, quite rich and took about an hour to prepare. The white Cheese might be difficut to get in the U.K., it’s a bit like a Cream Cheese but a bit more runny. Drops of Sesame Oil on the Asparagus added another dimension.photo-20-05-2017-12-13-36.jpgSome of the tastiest food can be quite simplistic as in the case of the dessert, until I wanted to add a minor addition! A Simple flaky pastry, loaded with pitted fresh Apricots purchased earlier that day and sprinkled with Demerara Sugar. Nope, I wanted to try an experiment and add a savoury note, some Lemon Thyme. So we went 50/50 to compare the difference. (I obviously liked the addition of the Thyme but could had done with some more as the Apricots were very good and had a strong flavour).Photo 20-05-2017, 13 32 18After a break we were back in the kitchen, I said this course was full on! So here we go, Tandoori Style Roast Langoustines with baby Leeks.Photo 20-05-2017, 19 16 55Looks simple huh, hell no! There are a load of processes that go into making this dish, book the course to find out as I am not going to tell you, only that the result had everyone going oh, and ah. It was damn good. Yes, damn good.

The main was Young Lauragai Pigeon with Sweet Clover, Confit of Shallots, Carrots and Honey. You think the starter looked easy the main was full of even more processes. Our ‘group’ of guests is working really well together, old and relatively young we are having great fun, joking and laughing and putting the world to right at the same time which makes the whole experience so great.

One of the guests is Vasily, a Russian living in Switzerland. He is a genuinely lovely guy and we have all been having some great conversation whilst preparing mise en place and eating, drinking and sharing stories and life experiences.Photo 20-05-2017, 19 48 57We all agreed this dish was ‘bl@@dy rich’  but also ‘Bl@@dy Tasty’, it was awesome. This is my interpretation of the plating with a ‘Ying and Yang’ Carrot puree, the three Carrot Tronçon were cooked under a cartouche in Carrot juice, Orange Juice and another ‘secret’ ingredient! There is Pigeon Breast on Foie Gras, Pigeon Leg on Shallot Confit and the two sauces are Carrot and reduced Pigeon jus with some ‘special’ ingredients.Photo 20-05-2017, 20 34 25Anyone can cook a Chocolate Soufflé if they know the process. We used a Crème ‘Pat’ and Meringue mixture to great effect and the results were light, fluffy, silky and delicious.Photo 20-05-2017, 11 52 38So another adventerous day at The French House Party. It’s only day 2 and much has been learnt, the world has been put to rights multiple times, new cooking techniques  have been learnt, we have all probably gained at least an ounce in weight!

It’s an enlightening experience and really takes you way from the hustle and bustle of work which is the main reason I am attracted to these kinds of ‘holidays’. It’s hard work but VERY rewarding.

Breakfast at 8:00 and starting in the kitchen at 9:00 so time to call it a day.

………………………….Until next time…………….L8ers…………….

 

 

 

Fish & Crustaceans – Another Amazing Week in Gramont

File 25-06-2016, 09 47 18The stunning Lot-et-Garonne region sits in the South West of France and is home to the Gascony Cookery School based in Gramont, run by David and Vikki Chance, and Bernard Corbière. The school runs from ‘Le Petit Feuillant’ chambre d’hote, the French equivalent of a Bed and Breakfast and ‘Le Petit Feuillant’ Auberge, the excellent traditional restaurant run by Bernard.

I had received an email in November 2015, “we are happy to announce that the Gascony Cookery School’s new Fish and Crustacean Course……..”, with only 8 places and two filled I booked straight away. The school is very familiar to me, having attended a course in 2014 and remembering a fantastic time, It was difficult to count down the months until the day came to depart.20160621_111855There is a SERIOUS amount of cooking on this course and it is excellent value for money, preparing and eating local French traditional cuisine, three courses, with local cheese and copious quantities of wine to wash things down twice a day, and don’t forget the breakfast, you don’t go hungry.

A trip to a local market to buy produce for the meals cooked is part of the experience, armed with a shopping list, basket and some euro’s you wander to select the various fresh vegetables and herbs which you use later in the week. A surprise trip to a fantastic vineyard, with an impromptu picnic with stunning scenery finishes off the week, so the experience envelops and immerses you in French country life.20160621_152005There were 8 of us on the course, here we have left to right Julia (From Tasmania!), Elena and her mum Judith, David (the chef/host) and John, in the kitchen were two friends from St. Petersburg (Russia), the attendees come from all over the world, in this case everyone but Elena had attended at least one previous course, some more than one which demonstrates how good the Gascony Cookery School really is. This was a session on gutting, de-scaling and filleting fish, we were all very comfortable and confident by the end of the week.20160622_123937We had a comprehensive agenda starting most days with breakfast at 8:30, and cooking starting at 9:00. The times are really important, there was a lot to get through and we could not afford to get behind as we would not have anything to eat.

Everyone mucks in and helps with clearing down as each dish is finished and the next started. Examples on the menu included Mussell Soup with infused Saffron, Lobster a l’americaine, Scallop Quenelles in Chicken Consommé (yes, we made a Consommé from scratch), Rillettes Of Trout, Bouillabaisse………etc. For desserts our efforts included Millefeuille aux Pommes, Pièce Montée (aka Croquembouche), Almond & Orange Cake (which was so so good) we made about 18 different dishes in total, so you learn ‘A LOT’ of techniques and processes!20160620_131400-1 (1)So would I recommend this school, hell yeah it’s awesome. My second visit was just like the 1st which is difficult to describe as you HAVE to experience it for yourself. Just to be clear, I paid full price and have received no incentives for this review, it’s me, what I think and as good as a description of the experience I can give.20160622_081928The scenery is stunning, the weather was good enough to eat outside several times peaking at 41 deg on one day. It’s a trip for people who want to learn, definitely not one for lazing around so it takes your mind away from the thought of work and within a day, I could not tell you what day it was. The hosts David, Vikki and Bernard make you so welcome it really is like being part of an extended family!20160620_162012A course like this needs excellent ingredients, seafood HAS to be fresh and ours was no exception. The planning that goes into ensuring the right products are available is not easy, especially when the school location is in the middle of nowhere!

We had the most amazing Lobster (alive) and Crab (also alive), the rest of the fish was the same (but not alive!!) with bright eyes and beautiful red gills so the resultant dishes were just sublime. There was no ‘sharing’ of ingredients, it was a Lobster each, a Sea Bass each, a Red Mullet each so we all got the chance to learn and practise the gutting, de-scaling, and filleting several times gaining more and more confidence each time.20160622_125022-1It was not just about preparing Fish and Crustaceans, the stunning Crab Tart required a very delicate ‘Pâte Brisée’, a REALLY short pastry which had to be chilled for a couple of days and was an absolute challenge to get into the tart tin, it was well worth it, the results were outstanding. 20160621_215945Just as difficult, I think even more so was the ‘Pâte Sablée’, a sweet version for the Walnut and Honey tart we made, it was very crumbly and needed a lot of work to line the tart tin properly but the the end result made it well worth it. Add to that making proper multi layered stocks and prepping veg it’s full on at the Gascony Cookery School but really good fun.

If you like cooking and fancy doing something a bit different point you browser at http://www.gasconcook.co.uk as I did, I will be returning in the future as they also do an advanced week which I have not done yet, and a shorter charcuterie course too.

It’s a fantastic experience, you will learn loads and make new friends with a common interest so give it a go, you will not be disappointed with amazing hosts David, Vikki and Bernard.

 

………………………..Until next time, L8ers……………………………………

 

 

 

Flour, Yeast, Water, Salt & Some Asparagus!

File 24-04-2016, 10 42 32It was finally here! The date of a ‘Bread Baking’ course I had booked many months ago, getting in a class with Richard Bertinet seems to require at least 6 months planning, which in many ways says that this guy is in demand, and he could be very good!

Some people might call me a bit of a food snob, but I don’t think I am. I just want to eat food that does not contain anything I don’t recognise as food. When you look on the labels of sandwiches in shops, it’s like a list from a chemistry set, yuch!  This was one of the reasons for booking this course, I like bread but whenever I eat it I generally feel cr@p afterwards, so wanted to see If I could start to find a method to make my own using 4 basic ingredients.

The course was full, ladies and gents as far as Cambridge had traveled to Bath to learn from a French Master Baker, author of several books including Dough his 1st book, which is now available in 9 languages and has sold over 200,000 copies (200,001 if you include my autographed copy)!

The day was awesome, learning the history of bread making and baking, handcrafting a variety of different breads from a single starting mix.

File 24-04-2016, 10 40 56This is not a course for the fainthearted, it’s hard work but we were continually refreshed by his team of excellent helpers, on hand to make Tea/Coffee and provide nibbles during the break, which was were well received.

This is the 3rd course I have taken at Richards’ cookery school, it met all expectations and the knowledge and skills that everyone gained surpassed the cost in bounds, like the previous courses what you learn with experts in their craft does NOT appear in books, it has to been seen, heard, felt and smelt!

File 24-04-2016, 10 43 32If you want to learn the techniques of a master and fancy bread then book this course, it’s a must do for anyone keen on understanding and practising how to produce awesome loaves, time after time. I am looking forward to my next time at Richards’ cookery school, with my nine year old at a class for youngsters.

AND Now!!!!!! (Drum Roll) Asparagus Done Differently!!20160423_200050-1I wasn’t going to blog this dish, I was battling with it, as maybe it was too simple. After the taste test it had to be done, it was delicious and involves a few techniques and VERY good timing.

This weeks organic veg box delivery included a bunch of Asparagus, I’ve had this vegetable before, but the missus and junior opp had not so maybe a chance to introduce a new taste into the repertoire. Also in the box was Purple Sprouting Broccoli which I also wanted to incorporate into the dish.

20160423_193413The ingredients are for two hungry adults (and a spare spear or two for junior opp to try!). Thinking of presentation, having a triangular pattern on the plate seemed a nice idea, so 3 bundles of 3 asparagus spears, tightly wrapped in Pancetta started this feast off.

Previously I had roasted 6 (organic) tomatoes, quartered and seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground pepper at 100 deg for about 2 hours, and left to cool. These would get 10-15 minutes with the Asparagus seasoned with pepper only.

Researching Hollandaise both in the cookery books on the shelf, and on the internet, produced lots of options. I thought I would gamble and try an ‘all in one’ method, 2 egg yolks, 125grm butter 1/4 lemon juice is needed for 2 people along with 2 tbs of water, just chuck it all into a saucepan and get your whisk ready.

So TIMING…..  The Hollandaise will take 12-15 minutes from scratch, the Asparagus about the same at 180 deg (fan oven) depending on thickness, the Broccoli about 2 mins in a pot of boiling lightly salted water.

To add some texture and another flavour punch you can also pre-prepare some crispy crumb. Take a couple of handfuls of PANKO breadcrumbs, in a frying pan with butter and Oil. Grate in a clove of garlic and keep stirring until the crumb is brown and crispy.

Add some picked fresh Thyme leaves (about 2 tsp) leaving the woody stalks behind. Put into a bowl to cool and grate in (small Microban works well) some Parmesan cheese, about 50 grms in my case. This is the seasoning for the crumb texture.

20160423_201834_001-1Earlier in the afternoon I had made some Dough with my son, and although it had not worked out quite as planned, we got it into the oven and baked some bread, this was to go with the Asparagus, it’s a French passion, bread is part of the meal not a course to start things off!! (it was delicious ;-))

If you have a Split oven, put your plates in to warm, along with the crumb mixture. Put your main oven onto 180 deg (fan). Bring a pan of water to the boil, add some salt and keep ready for the Broccoli.

Here we go…. Oven is hot at 180 Deg, in goes the Asparagus, Hollandaise ingredients on a low heat to melt the butter, whisk, whisk and keep whisking. When the butter has melted, turn the heat up a bit (not too hot, I never went above 3.5 on a scale of 1-9 on my hob) and keep whisking. After 10 minutes (quickly) check Asparagus, keep whisking the Hollandaise. If you see steam coming off the Hollandaise mixture at any time, turn down slightly, keep whisking.

When the Hollandaise starts to thicken, turn the water up to boil and add the Purple Sprouting Broccoli, keep whisking the Hollandaise.

You get the message I hope. The Hollandaise turned out perfectly, but you have to focus, and KEEP whisking all the time, I did almost solid for about 12 minutes.  When the lovely silky sauce starts to thicken you can start to taste and season. Its needs some salt, keep tasting and adding small amounts until it seems right (and keep whisking!). The consistency was in between single and double cream.

20160423_200050-1

I put the Asparagus Spears in a triangle, the Purple Sprouting Broccoli was drizzled with Olive Oil, mixed through and placed in the centre and the roast tomatoes around the outside. Add the Hollandaise liberally and then sprinkle the punchy crumb on top.

It was superb, the crumb adds a real punch, the tomatoes are sweet and acidic which cut through the rich Hollandaise sauce.

Have a go at this one, you won’t be disappointed.

…………………..Until next time, L8ers…………………

The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 5)

FHP Days last few days 043I made this; yep really did, honest, it’s really not too difficult, well it’s not easy either but with a decent Chef guiding you along the way its something anyone can do, with a bit of practice……Oh, and my new good foodie friends Caroline, Sue and Hai Lin, we were having so much fun, cooking, joking and laughing together like a bunch of naught school children. I was the only ‘bloke’ on the cooking course, Carolines’ husband Gerrard was staying in the house with us and took time out to visit some of the local highlights whilst we were cooking, joining us for meals and some of the outings.

It’s a shame that the saying, ‘all good things come to an end’ was true in the case of my Gourmet Explorer Experience, at the amazing French House Party.

In case any of you are wondering, I paid the full price, and the single supplement, the only discount was a few quid I got of the BA flight as I had some Avios points to cash in, so my opinion is based on a considerable financial investment out of my very hard earned money.

Was it a worthwhile investment, HELL YEAH……………

FHP Days last few days 003We were back in the kitchen with Jean-Marc on the last day of cooking and as ever, the level of learning was intense. First job was to make the ‘Choux’ pastry, something I had never done before and it was very hard work indeed, breaking into a small sweat as the Flour and Eggs had the life beaten out of them!!

IMG_0241We started the prep for the Choux Swans first, good job as the various stages involved took some time. Make Choux, find piping bag, can’t find nozzle, improvise, pipe wings (profiterole above, cut in half), pipe bodies, bit like a snail, then make a small piping bag out of grease proof paper and do the necks, then cook until golden and crispy.

IMG_0234Please excuse me whilst I go off on a tangent briefly. Earlier in the week you make recall the Lobster Ravioli we made, the garnish for this was a Lobster Claw and some of the meat chopped finely which had been baked in the oven. We had forgotten it during the excitement of plating up and discovered the tray in the oven when it was too late. So to improvise, we ‘knocked up an amuse bouche’ using the remainder of the creamy lobster sauce and filling some small shot glasses adding some shaved Romanesco for texture and some herb for colour contrast and fresh flavour.

IMG_0244That Jean-Marc fellow is a clever chap and thoroughly decent bloke (as was Robert Abraham in fact), taking Cream of Broccoli Soup to a planet way beyond our solar system.

I tolerate Broccoli, it’s not one of my favourite vegetables but the Creme froide de Broccoli aux moules croustillantes’ was simply outstanding. Whats that I hear you ask, Broccoli Soup with Crispy Mussels. Whats happens at FHP (French House Party) stays at FHP and we learnt a couple of Chef’s tricks to make this dish seriously amazing, so to learn what, you will have to go for yourself.

IMG_0245If, like me, after seeing all this food you are starting to feel a bit full believe me, you should be in my shoes 😉 I’ve never eaten so much SERIOUSLY GOOD FOOD, day after day…….Stuffed is an understatement, with a considerable sense of achievement and I have learnt so much, my cooking confidence has taken a serious shift upwards which makes me feel really good inside.FHP Days last few days 012Today’s main course was really interesting, you can see it in the place setting above before it was devoured by ‘moi’, Gambas roties a l’estragon.

You need some 6/9 calibre Gambas, seriously you do, I believe it maybe a size thing so go for some decent sized Tiger Prawns and that’s about the size we were using.

The potatoes in the pan above were ‘turned’ and stuffed with………..Rhubarb. Yes you read correctly they were quite delicious and a massive surprise, we all thought they would just not work, they did. A rich sauce accompanied the Gambas, with a good glug of Ricard to provide a further hint of Aniseed, (I bought a Litre at Toulouse airport, purely for cooking purposes you understand)!

FHP Days last few days 013I have decided that I will let you into a minor secret tip, its not too secret so I am hopeful my friends and those at FHP will forgive me this one indulgence. Caroline did not get her fingers burnt above whilst cooking this dish, there was more risk from the Mandolin we had to use in order to get very thin potatoes, which sandwiched a couple of Tarragon leaves before being fried in Oil (Or clarified butter for a more golden, and richer flavour). Oops, that’s it, the crispy Tarragon potatoes which were also served with the prawns.

FHP Days last few days 044After lunch we were whisked off to Domaine Gayda, situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees it’s a relatively young winery built in 2004. Dedicated to organic farming methods, Gayda has achieved certification for its ‘Figure Libre’ range and uses traditional hand-picking methods ensuring the highest quality product through focused care, and considerable attention to detail.

IMG_0247The place was spotlessly clean, evening after we had walked through the above area and to the left, where the barrels were ‘sleeping’ the floor was hosed to ensure no ‘nasties’ had crept in on our feet. It would have been rude not to taste some of the wines, we worked our way through 4 or 5 different varieties (I suspect it might have been more).

I decided to invest (it was a quick decision) in a couple of bottles, one being a VERY special late harvest dessert wine, made from three separate grape pickings. Only 3000 bottles have been produced, it was bottled in Jan 2014, from grapes picked on one date in September 2011, and two dates in October 2011, its very special indeed (and delicious).

IMG_0258This year is a BIG year for me, that magical age of 50 is racing towards me and to celebrate, a table at Raymond Blancs’ Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons has already been booked, enticed by the experience of 2 Michelin stars, something I have yet to explore…that is until FHP!

OMG, the itinerary had stated that we were to visit a couple of local eateries whilst on the Gourmet Explorer, but the 2 Michelin Starred La table Franck Putelat in Carcassonne was COMPLETELY unexpected.

IMG_0262The first amuse bouche came out on the ceramic log above, delightful macaroons, filled with a Foie Gras cream, blindingly delicious, little delicate fish balls, with a paper thin crispy coating and intense seafood jellies, on a crisp wafer it was definitely fine dinning. Followed by a beautiful Asparagus Soup, with an Aspic foam and Hazlenut Oil.  AWESOME…….

IMG_0264The first course was a mixture of White and Green Asparagus, with an amazing sauce and poached egg, with textures from local ham.

IMG_0269The main was OUTSTANDING, Pyrenees Lamb head to heart, with Boudin Noir (black pudding), peas and sauce……..and the dessert.

IMG_0271Rhubard, Bergamont leaves, Semolina Cake and Kumquat Sorbet……….Stuffed 😉

FHP Day 1 and 2 005So there we have it, the Gourmet Explorer care of the Award Winning French House Party, a massive thanks to Moira, Robert, Jean-Marc, Regine and Emma for such an amazing time, it should be on your list of top things to do, but be quick as its very popular.

……….Until next time……………………..L8ers

(Oops, in my haste I forgot to mention Andy. Part of the all-inclusive nature of FHP here there is a chauffeur service incuded to collect you from either Toulouse Airport or Carcassonne.  Andy is another member of the team who might collect you, an also take you to one of the restaurants and get you safely back to base, MANY thanks Andy)