The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 4) part deux

FHP Day 4 028Today’s cooking was ‘intense’, I mean that in a positive way as we must have been in the kitchen for about 6 hours, priceless when you have a Michelin starred Chef on hand to tutor and guide you through the most delicious (and visually stunning) dishes.

FHP Day 4 011Take one Monkfish, head removed and do your ‘thing’ with a sharp filleting knife, we set to work preparing our next dish, Medallions of Monkfish with Saffron.

Sounds simple from the description but the reality was completely different! Removing skin, discarding scrappy bits and prepping two beautiful fillets, learning more knife skills on the way it was a great experience.

FHP Day 4 001The Monkfish was to be served with seasonal vegetables (Fennel, Spring Onions, Broad Beans, Carrots and Artichokes) and a rich sauce, enhanced with some Garlic, Squid Ink and Olive Oil which you can just see in the top picture, it tasted sublime.

FHP Day 4 020The starter we prepared is well worth a mention as it required the use of ‘whipping’ cream, which you may recall was going to be a challenge. Bavarois de poivrons doux sour coulis de tomates acidulées, impressive to say the least, a dish of Pepper and Tomato which was very light but absolutely packed with flavour and tasted delish.

This was one of those occasions where we had to slightly adjust the menu, the cream we had would not whip so the use of a small amount of Gelatine was required to get the Pepper Bavarois to the right consistency for ‘quenelleing’.

IMG_0238Mille-feuille translated means a thousand leaves, and I’ve always fancied a go but never got round to it, until now!

Puff Pastry layered with ‘Crème Pâtissière’ it was surprisingly straight forward to do, and has got me thinking about how I could use the Jelly making technique we learnt in the Salmon Tartare dish on the 2nd day with Robert, to create a  dessert layered with fruit flavoured Jelly and Crème Pât, watch the blog for my experiments on this.

We settled down for the evening and chatted over cheese and wine, in fact that was the routine most evenings when we were not out and about in nice restaurants. Its true to say we did eat quite a lot of cheese, and very nice it was too.

Another day beckons tomorrow and more fun in the kitchen, along with another tour, this time a Vineyard.


………………Until next time…………L8ers……….

The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 4)

FHP Day 2 and 3 151Here is a little starter I ‘knocked up’! We were now in the realms of Michelin Star’s, Jean-Marc was really serious about his food (I am not saying Robert was not, Jean-Marc was just a little more intense). We started to work on our first starter, simply described as Spring Vegetable Vol au Vents, yeah right!

FHP Day 2 and 3 128We were all inspired by the way simple vegetables and puff pastry were taken to a level beyond very good. This ‘simple’ dish did take a lot of work, carefully preparing the vegetables, slicing the puff pastry we learnt some new tricks and techniques, (go on the course to find out what!).

Something that became very evident as we ploughed through the lovely recipe book we were presented with on arrival, the quality of the ingredients was exceptional, no expense spared, and the Chefs was of the highest calibre. I also noticed on a couple of occasions where we drifted slightly away from the supplied recipes, having to adjust as something was not available or drifting as it felt right.

FHP Day 2 and 3 133Having prepared the starter it was time to make some Pasta dough for Lobster Ravioli.   Mmmmmmmmmmm

I learn’t the ‘by hand’ technique in Puglia a couple of years ago on another cooking course, 00 flour is difficult to get in some parts of France so we just used normal flour, and it worked really well. The Kenwood mixer with dough hook did the ‘grunt’ and the pasta machine finished the job really well.

FHP Day 2 and 3 136The pasta dough was filled with a decent amount of the Lobster meat, which had been boiled for about 3-4 minutes in a pot of boiling water.

We used the carcass of the Lobster to make a rich sauce, that recipe is a secret, the whole dish tasted so delicious but was very light. In this part of France they seem to use Cream more than butter to enrich sauces, which brings me onto another observation, its near on impossible to find whipping Cream, i.e. Cream containing more than 30% butterfat, as we were to find out later in the week.

FHP Day 2 and 3 162Last dish was a ‘simple’ dessert of Chocolate Cups filled with home made Vanilla Ice Cream and served with macerated strawberries.

FHP Day 2 and 3 168We learn’t lots of new skills and techniques as we prepared our first meal with Jean-Marc, he was well humored and we had great fun working out what he was saying (his English is work in progress, but better than my French). A couple of the ladies on the course speak fluent French, but Jean-Marc was always prepared to try English first so the rest of us could understand.

Next time we step into the world of Bavarois.

……………………Until then……………..L8ers….


The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 3) Part Deux

FHP Day 2 and 3 078I was thinking about popping out to ‘le boulangerie’ for a Pain d’Epi but that isn’t going to happen, I am back in the UK but at least the sun has briefly shown itself, the next best thing (and its very good), is a Richard Bertinet loaf which is available from some Waitrose stores, if you live in the South West (ish).

Continuing on with the ‘adventure’ in Gastronomy, we headed off to Bize-Minervois to visit a very special place, ‘LOulibo‘. 

L’Oulibo is an Olive producing co-operative and whilst France only produces a very small quantity of Olive’s and Oil,  L’Oulibo produces the VERY best.

FHP Day 2 and 3 052We were treated to a really interesting tour by an extremely knowledgeable young lady who explained how the co-operative worked, the history of the Olive and the end to end process. The best Olives to eat are known as Lucques, which are a green variety and quite sweet.

I will be honest at this point, I LOVE Olive oil but cannot get my taste buds to appreciate Olive’s, I did bring a jar back though as we did use them in one of the recipes during the course!!

FHP Day 2 and 3 054We ended the tour with a really interesting video, and then a visit to the shop to purchase some produce. Along with the Lucques Olives I did get a jar of Olive and Tomato Tapenade, we had eaten some as an ‘Hors d’oeuvre‘ spread on crispy bread, the previous day.

The menu at the top of the post is for La Marquière, which was our final destination after a stroll around ‘Carcassonne‘, the famous medieval city.

FHP Day 2 and 3 060Carcassonne reminded me of Tallin in Estonia, conical turrets a’top long cylinders of stone, hewn by simple tools and medieval grunt!

Sorry about that, had a bit of a moment as Carcassonne is such a magical place, as are the many restaurants spread around the city walls, and inside the protective shroud of stone.

So, what can I say about La Marquière, EAT THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

FHP Day 2 and 3 107First one of the ‘Amuse- bouche‘, Foie Gras, with Gingerbread and and a thin layer of jelly, it was AMAZING………

FHP Day 2 and 3 108Next was local bread, with home made ‘Charcuterie and a lovely spread with plenty of garlic and a soft goats cheese, it was bl@@dy delicious.

FHP Day 2 and 3 110Next was the Foie Gras, sorry, I do love the stuff and when its done well, it’s very good (if you like this sort of thing), it was VERY good and had been prepared with a local Muscat wine an served with two ‘chutneys’, Fig and Onion and Brioche bread.

FHP Day 2 and 3 112For my ‘Plat’, main course in French I went for the Médaillons de Lotte en cocotte, coulis de Crustacés, petits Légumes et pommes vapeur.  Monkfish, Shellfish sauce and Veg!! its was beautifully, subtle, rich and really tasty.

FHP Day 2 and 3 109It would be rude not to have a glass of wine or two when n France, our treat was a 2010 Château du Donjon. Very deep crimson in color, with some toasty aromas from oak ageing, it delivers ripe fruit, vanilla and chocolate aromas, It is full and generous on the palate with a long, powerful finish supported by soft tannin’s. Yeah, it was Awesome……….

IMG_0225I had to order my dessert when I selected my starter and main, I was going for something a bit theatrical a Sphère de chocolat noir de Valrhona, mousse Mascarpone et Girottes. Warm Chocolate Sauce was poured by the waitress and…………. it slowly melts the top of the sphere. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

FHP Day 2 and 3 111Service was spot on, as was the food. This is a family run restaurant, and was lovely and cosy, un-fussy with impeccable food. If ever you are in Carcassonne and looking for somewhere to eat this place comes HIGHLY recommended.

FHP Day 2 and 3 128We had an amazing time learning from Robert Abraham, our first ‘chef d’excellence’ and Midi-Pyrenees Chef of the year as one of his many accolades.

Our next Chef (above) was to be Jean-Marc Boyer, a Paris trained Michelin star Chef, and named as one of the worlds up and coming chefs ‘to look out for’ by world renowned chef, writer and restaurateur Daniel Boulud who runs Le Cirque in New York, considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world…… No pressure then!!!

………………Until next time……………….L8ers……




The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 3)

FHP Day 2 and 3 037This post is being authored as I have to depart back to England, goodbyes have been said to all the other guests, the course is finished and as you can tell, I am a few days behind with updates on how things are going. My flight does not depart till later this afternoon so  I have some time free to ‘chillax’, and reflect on what has been a truly amazing experience, and much needed break from daily life back at home.

One of the reasons for booking this course, apart from learning from 2 awesome chefs and meeting some lovely people, was the chance for a brief visit to the medieval city of Carcassonne, a recce for a future trip planned with the family. More about that later.

FHP Day 2 and 3 049Today we have definitely stepped it up a couple of gears as you can see by the pictures above. These two dishes we created on Sunday morning, along with a ‘stonking’ Chocolate Fondant, believe me, it was spot on……

I’ve never used Agar Agar before, but the thought of making an Orange Jelly from scratch, topped with a Salmon Tartare, and then being able to present it, in a way that was going to be appealing seemed an impossible task!

FHP Day 2 and 3 025All the longer cookery vacations I  have been on follow a similar pattern, discuss the menu first, you are then given a task to complete by the Chef, if you finish you can help one of your colleagues with another task, then come together at the end to learn plating  techniques to make everything look pretty.

As usual, if you want to know how we accomplished the dish above (which was bl@@dy good), book the course and come yourself, although you will probably have to wait until next year, these courses are VERY popular.

FHP Day 2 and 3 014The main course was a Dourade (Black Bream from memory), served with a Spinach and Basil puree, and delicious Artichokes. You guessed it, prepping the fish from scratch and trying to create beautiful looking fillets was the order of the day.

It was the same with the Artichokes, I’ve only eaten them a couple of times, stuffed hearts in Egypt many years ago, and steamed with a Dijon mustard dressing on the cookery course last year. Now we were going to learn another technique and the end result was well worth it. I now feel very confident in ‘le’s art d’artichoke’ !!!!

FHP Day 2 and 3 097Two other highlights of our trip were the chance to eat out at a couple of very good restaurants. Both were in Carcassonne, the first was Restaurant La Marquière a beautiful place to taste amazing food overlooking La Cité de Carcassonne, the second was the two Michelin starred ‘la table de Franck Putelat’

Franck used to work at another famous Carcassonne restaurant la barbacane, which is within the city walls and has one Michelin star, so his pedigree is VERY good.

Talking of Carcassonne, the picture above is in the City at the side of the la barbacane, the chefs taking a quick break before service.

Have to dash for the airport now, watch out for next post.

Until next time………..L8ers……………………..


The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 2) Part Deux!

FHP Day 2 035It’s getting a bit late after another days inspirational cooking, but wanted to continue the theme of wonderment at the fantastic time we are all having at the French House Party Gourmet Experience.

I always consider, when booking these trips who else will be attending, it can be a nervous and challenging time but so far to date, I have to say its been an absolute delight.

FHP Day 2 036The new friends I have made on this trip have been really  lovely people from varied backgrounds, but all sharing a willingness to join in, learn, and share life experiences from all over the globe, which makes the trip so much more enjoyable.

Our host Moira, and her team of committed support staff are on hand to chauffeur, clean, teach, make tea, join in the banter and make the whole experience a really relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable break, from the challenges of daily life we are all trying to escape from.

FHP Day 2 030We did do some significant cooking today, reminiscent of Rick Stein who passed through this area on the Canal du Midi, on the 130 ft 8 berth barge Rosa, whilst filming ‘Rock Stein’s French Odyssey’.

What was on the menu, how’s about Velouté of Carrots and Roasted Langoustine with Caraway, and Thigh of Guinea Fowl, de-boned (by us students), and stuffed with Mozzarella and Lime, served with Green Asparagus.

Robert Abraham, our lovely tutor for the first few days is an inspirational and patient tutor (he needs to be with us lot!), and took us steadily through the stages of making these amazing dishes.

FHP Day 2 012The location of the French House Party couldn’t be better (in my humble opinion). Just up the road is Castelnaudry which was built around a castle in the 12th century, in the heart of the Pays Lauragais.

The nearby Canal du Midi was inaugurated in 1681, some 240km long an amazing constructional feat in its own right.

The 4th Foreign regiment of the French Foreign Legion has had a Garison here since 1976, and the town is the home to ‘Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary‘, the Brotherhood of Castelnaudary’s Cassoulet.

For me, one of the highlights of this short break will be a visit to Carcassonne, a medieval city and some great expectations as we visit a local restaurant.

FHP Day 2 and 3 115

Another busy day tomorrow so until next time…. L8ers……………..





The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 2)

FHP Day 1 and 2 067I thought that it was about time to show you some food as this is a food blog! After arrival on Friday we met Robert Abraham and talked through our activities for the first session of the Gourmet Explorer Course, and was presented with a lovely recipe pack with basic instructions.

Dishes would include Carrot Veloute, Roasted Langoustine, Guinea-Fowl, Tartare of Salmon and Chocolate Fondant, all these would introduce the guests to a number of cooking techniques.

Before all of this was to start, we needed to visit the local market in the town of Revel, so we set of first thing in the morning to search out our ingredients.

FHP Day 1 and 2 017I LOVE cheese and the merry chappy above invited us to have a go at using a traditional cheese wire and when we returned, have a go at mixing the Aligot with a ‘raft paddle’, it seemed like one at least.

FHP Day 1 and 2 018Our first chef tutor Robert is no spring chicken but boy, can he cook. He has over 50 years of cooking experience, his sauces were AMAZING as were his skills and techniques which we were going to learn over several days.

FHP Day 1 and 2 022As expected, the market was an abundance of fabulous produce including beautifully presented fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese and stalls cooking local specialities such a Aligot (Potatoes, Cheese & Garlic, creamed with a large paddle).

After our trip round the market we headed back to start cooking for real.

FHP Day 1 and 2 061Each day we typically have 2 x three course meals to prepare, one for lunch and one for the evening, except when we are visiting a local restaurant to take a break. There is always cheese to finish so there is absolutely no chance of going hungry!!

The meal is always accompanied by wine, each course has a perfect match for the 1st three days selected by Robert, and excellent choices they were too.

FHP Day 1 and 2 056The first cooking session was ‘relatively’ simple but the food was delicious, we started to learn plating techniques and how to build on flavours in sauces. I am not going to let you into the secrets, as this is a ‘window’ into what is an amazing experience if you want to enhance your cookery skills.

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


Toulouse is Smokin’ – My take on a Italian, Rick Stein Sausage Dish! (Oh, and a short review of Michael Neaves Kitchen and Whiskey Bar)

WP_20150402_18_54_58_ProI was originally planning to cook a Moroccan dish, the centre stage being Merguez Sausages but when I arrived at the Ginger Pig in Marylebone they didn’t have any!

The Ginger Pig is an acclaimed butcher, they began over 20 years ago, with a near-derelict farmhouse and three Tamworth pigs, and now farm over 3,000 acres of their own pasture and North Yorkshire moorland, and work with a small network of like-minded farmers to supply their seven London butchers’ shops.

At the heart of everything they do is good animal husbandry and welfare; livestock that is looked after well in the field will simply taste better on the plate.

So looking at the options available to me and searching deep in the grey matter for a taste tingling sensation I tried to conjure up a fitting recipe for another sausage, the Toulouse, which they did have in stock. I picked a hearty smoked variety.


I’m going to go of on a tangent here for a few moments (it IS relevant). I recently discovered that someone I worked with had a sister in the world of artisan food.

Della, the owner of Fox Gourmet Foods make an amazing range of Jelly’s, Jams, Sauces and Chutneys, being artisan you won’t find them in the larger supermarkets, only in smaller Deli’s and specialist food outlets.

When I was out getting my hair cut recently, I popped into our local deli (had not ventured in there for many months), and discovered they stocked some of Della’s products, so bought a jar of Green Grape, Apple and Lemon Thyme Jelly, with a plan to try it in a recipe.

Eureka moment,  Rick Stein had published a nice looking dish in his Mediterranean Escapes Book, using Luganega Sausages from Italy that are fennel based, and braised with Potatoes and Lemon, I could do a twist on this and use the Toulouse variety and incorporate the Jelly from Fox’s to add to the flavour profile.

So, for this take on Sausages with Potatoes and Lemon you will need the following (as per the picture at the head of this post, adjust the vegetable volumes by eye/sense);

  • 3 Sausages per person (get REALLY strong flavoured ones like Toulouse if you can, it makes a big difference)
  • Waxy Potatoes such as Charlotte
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1 Lemon
  • 4 – 5 Shallots
  • 2 1/2 Tbls Green Grape, Apple and Lemon Thyme Jelly
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • Bunch Wild Garlic (In season at the moment)
  • Optional – 1 Bulb of Fennel, shaved on a Mandolin. (I forgot to use mine, hence optional!)
  • 1 Tsp Piment d’Espelette (available HERE)
  • 1 Bunch Fresh Parsley
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Glass White Wine (Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc are good)
  • Salt and Pepper to Season

WP_20150402_19_13_47_ProStart of by quickly browning your Sausages in some Olive Oil and set aside, you can just see them in the white bowl in the upper left of the picture. Remove from the pan and add the Shallots, (thinly sliced), and then the Garlic clove, (sliced), and soften for a few minutes.

Then add the Glass of Wine and cook vigorously to evaporate the alcohol, add the potatoes which have been sliced into approx. 1 1/2 inch chunks and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in 2 1/2 Tbls of the Fox’s jelly until melted, you can see the flavoursome Jelly just as I had added it, in the picture above.

WP_20150402_19_15_27_ProNext, sprinkle the Piment d’Espelette over the top. Piment d’Espelette literally means “pepper of Espelette” in French. It is a food product produced around the town of Espelette in Southern France, in the region known as Basque Country. This pepper is so famous that it has been given a protected designation by the European Union, ensuring that only peppers grown in the Espelette region may be labeled as “piment d’Espelette.” There are only 7 villages in the area that are permitted to produce it.

WP_20150402_19_19_47_ProFinally, add the Sausages back into the pan, along with 2 Bay Leaves. Take your Lemon and Pare (remove the outer skin), with a Peeler, leaving the white bitter pith behind and add to the pan, then cut the Lemon in half and add the Juice, squeezing through your hands to catch the pips, (or use a sieve!!).

Cover, turn the heat down, and Braise for 45 Minutes, check occasional as you don’t want the potatoes overcooked.

WP_20150402_20_05_19_ProA couple of minutes before your ready to serve, if you have managed to get some Wild Garlic Leaves, cut them in 2 c.m. lengths and add them to the pan, and finally chop the Parsley, add, and your finished.

WP_20150402_20_17_14_ProVoila, thats it —- I was obviously tired when preparing this dish as I had purchased a Fennel Bulb to slice and add some crunchy texture, but forgot it altogether. I will be doing this dish again and adjusting some of the ingredients, including adding the Fennel, Doh!

My acid test when cooking is whether the Mrs! likes it. She is honest and critical, so if she does not like something, I will know very quickly.

The verdict, bl@@dy delicious, punchy Sausages, Lemony sauce, subtle Garlic and Thyme, the jelly added both consistency and flavour so I was really chuffed, as was the Mrs who polished her whole plate with nothing left.

Please look out for the Fox Gourmet Range, they are available online from specialist Deli’s google will assist you find your local supplier.


Review – Michael Neaves Kitchen and Whiskey Bar, Edinburgh

A recent trip to Edinburgh on business and I was looking for somewhere decent to eat. Many (not all) Hotels these days have tedious menu’s using words such as ‘classic’ that really don’t inspire confidence in me wanting to even try their food.

My research found Michael Neaves Kitchen and Whiskey Bar, a restaurant that has only been open for a couple of years, but with a head chef who is only 23, yes TWENTY THREE.

The menu had an excellent, but controlled mix of Seafood, Meat and Vegetarian dishes that really made your mouth water.

File 03-04-2015 08 02 20The starter I picked was Pigeon Carpaccio, with Candied Walnuts and Beetroot Dressing, it was just AMAZING, the flavour and texture combination worked brilliantly.

File 03-04-2015 08 03 57The main course of John Dory on Bisque, with Kale was absolutely stunning, the Fish was spot on, crispy Skin, but not overcooked, the bisque, subtle and not too overpowering. I have to say it’s probably the BEST fish dish I have ever eaten (and this guy is only 23!!).

File 03-04-2015 08 03 26As for dessert, the Blueberry parfait with Pistachio crumb and Meringue was just beautiful, flavour packed, lovely textures, and went down a treat.

This was one of the best meals I have ever had (The other 2 being both in Edinburgh, Tom Kitchen and Martin Wishart, both much much older, and with a Michelin star each).

So Michael, thanks for lovely food, your staff are fantastic, service being spot on, highly recommended and if I am back in the lovely city of Edinburgh, your restaurant is on my must re-visit list.


Till next time……….L8ers