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Chasing Pineapples

an English girl tasting her way around the world

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Franche Comté: Local Hearty Produce and POTATOES!

Franche Comté is the region where Britain’s most famous French chef, Raymond Blanc, was born. Here, the focus is on hearty mountain food and Raymond’s saying that you ‘don’t have to be rich to dine like kings’ is certainly true in the local area, with most dishes we came across consisting of the same regional products:

Champcomtoise Potatoes
During our exploration of Besancon and the Franche Comté countryside, our duo became a trio thanks to our American friend Zoe. She kindly showed us around the local area and took us to a cosy little café and in return we took her to a very glamorous, very luxurious… potato farm. Afraid that someone outside of our little foodie bubble would consider us completely bizarre, we were pleasantly surprised that Zoe embraced the farm experience! We drove off the beaten track to a warehouse full of crates and crates of potatoes. The farmer, used to selling large quantities wholesale, thought it was rather charming that three young girls had come all this way to buy one sack of potatoes and thus stopped his heavy chores to have a chat. We then went exploring the potato maze and hopped back into the car in search of the rest of our ingredients.

Chatting to the Potato Man
Chatting to the Potato Man
Getting Lost Amongst the Potatoes
Getting Lost Amongst the Potatoes

Comté Cheese
This delicious mild and slightly sweet cheese first produced in 12th century forms the heart of the region’s cuisine. The Montbéliarde cows from which it is produced have a minimum space of one hectare to graze in and they are fed fresh and natural food- very happy cows! However, this AOC product is taken very seriously with an affineur (a cheese man!) regularly ‘ringing’ the cheese to understand the texture and each one is graded according to appearance, rind quality, texture and taste. Those with a bell symbol are the most sought after in all the land! We were guided to a cheese shop in the city centre to choose our slice from a huge round wheel… rather exciting!

Morteau sausage
This is a sausage that is smoked for 48 hours using wood fires in Tuyé chimneys. These smoking houses of the region contain a large wood fire beneath hundreds of hanging sausages. Due to this process, each authentic Morteau sausage has a tiny piece of wood and a ring attached. We went to fetch our fat sausages from a local specialist boutique called Doubs Direct. We even met a cow!

Meeting a Cow on our Produce Hunt
Meeting a Cow on our Produce Hunt

Cancoillotte
Cancoillotte is a liquidy cheese that is a key part of the local culture. Traditionally the cheese of the poor mountain folk, this concoction has made its way into the restaurants of Besancon and can be found in a variety of flavours including garlic- delicious poured over potatoes to slightly warm and melt!

Vin Jaune
The nearby Joura countryside is a wine growing area, with its most renowned product being their unique Vin Jaune which uses a process similar to that of Sherry production with the formation of yeast. This is a very rich wine which is paired with Comté cheeses (try mixing them to create a regional take on the traditional fondue!).

We added all of these ingredients together to create a warm version of a Comtoise salad recipe. It was very easy, using the ‘shove it all in’ method and it was everything a dish from the region should be… warming, hearty and FILLING!

Here is another regional recipe to try for Crispy Franche Comté Potatoes

Ingredients (serves 4):
– 1 kg Champcomtoise potatoes
– 250g Tomme cheese
– 50g butter
– 1 chicken stock cube
– Mixed pepper (3g Sichaun, 2 cloves cardamom, 2g green pepper, 1g coriander)

Recipe:
– Peel the potatoes and slice
– Preheat the oven to 180°C
– Butter a dish and arrange a layer of potatoes, 80g Tomme goats cheese in fine slices, 15g thinly sliced butter, season and repeat twice.
– Baste from a bowl of chicken stock and bake for 45 minutes until golden and tender.

(They should look similiar to Dauphinoise potatoes!)

 

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Pinching Tasters and Recipes at Dijon Gastro Fair!

I could claim that our one day in Dijon magically coincided with its International Gastronomic Fair, but this would be a lie. When getting an itinerary together back in July, I had planned for us to travel France clockwise from Paris with our first destination as Burgundy and ending up in the Loire. However, when I discovered that this unmissable foodie gathering was happening for this particular week only, I completely turned the route on its head to end up in Burgundy and thus Dijon on this date. A bit drastic you may say, but it was definitely worth it! This renowned event attracts a quarter of a million foodie fanatics of all kinds… chefs, artisans, entrepreneurs, and those who just love to eat! Its presence completely dominates the city, with posters and road layout changes managing the flock that turns this already gastronomic city into a flurry of food!

The event takes place in a huge warehouse, with 3 exhibition halls. Safe to say that as we entered this gastronomic oblivion, we were overwhelmed by the maze of stalls before us, chefs calling out their recipes, producers promoting their goods and individuals indulging on the offerings… a sheer wonder for the senses!

Getting Involved with Choccie Mousse Samples
Getting Involved with Choccie Mousse Samples

We were lucky enough to see two demonstrations (and consequently sample the delicious results!) for one of which I have translated the recipe for Anglophones to try out. We saw the dishes being created in front of our very eyes (ever the keen beans with a front row close up) therefore I have included some tips that are not included in the recipe but are essential to replicate the true dish!

Suprême de Volaille à l’Époisses (Chicken Supreme with Époisses Sauce)

Ingredients (serves 6):
– 6 supremes (boneless and skinless chicken breasts)
– 250g Époisses cheese
– 250 ml crème fraiche (this doesn’t need translating!)
– 400 ml brown stock
– Salt, pepper, olive oil and butter

Recipe:
– Whip the cream until thick and store in the fridge.
– In a saucepan, fry the chicken with olive oil and a knob of butter on a low heat until  golden. Pour away any fat.
– Break the époisses into pieces (not too small!) and add to the chicken with the stock, allow to simmer and reduce.
– When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan.
– Add the whipped cream to the sauce, gently fold and then gently whisk until consistent.
– Pour the sauce over the chicken, and dress with a sprig of rosemary.

Happy Chefs!
Happy Chefs!

The result was absolutely divine and not the heavy cheese sauce you would expect with so many rich components! We wanted a whole portion, but high demand of the mini tasters meant we had to wander elsewhere to satisfy our appetites. We did pretty well, pinching samples of duck with blackcurrant coulis, caramelised waffles, macaroons, chocolate mousse and a big bow of Gaulois soup from a huge brewing cauldron. The icing on the cake was a tasting of an array of exotic varieties of Dijon mustard along with the classics (being in its birthplace it would be rude not to really!). We were also delighted to find that this particular producer supplies “bahhh do you know zee English shop Sainsbury’s?” so we can stock up back in England!

Mustards of Dijon stand to Attention! (Get Involved at Sainsbury's)
Mustards of Dijon stand to Attention! (Get Involved at Sainsbury’s)

We left extremely satisfied with our morning of tasting, all for £3 entrance! I think a trip to the 2013 fair may be necessary…

Dedicated Mussel Chefs lost in France: Mouclade à la Alex and Gala!

On arriving in La Rochelle a few evenings ago, we got extremely excited about our following day’s plans. The sun would be shining, we would go to the market to buy our ingredients and then we would cook up a local dish somewhere on route to the Dordogne. Fabulous! So, when we opened the ‘curtains’ of our den (the car) to find that it was raining, we were a touch disheartened to say the least.

We headed to the market ‘quand même‘ (a French phrase whose translation of ‘all the same’ isn’t quite good enough!) and we bought a pain au chocolat to accompany our café crème at a bar called Le Gerbe du Blé that was attached to the market. This has been without a doubt my favourite breakfast, if not overall experience, of the trip thus far. With a motto of “Le travail c’est que du plaisir Seul l’orange et le citron sont pressés” (work is nothing but pleasure, only the oranges and lemons are squeezed (stressed… A French pun!)), the ambiance was captivating. We sat and kept ourselves to ourselves amongst the bustling world of the morning market… Clients inside reading the paper, groups of friends outside enjoying an early lunch with wine, old ladies pottering past with their purchases and then a broad man entered very astutely with a huge tray of oysters, plonked himself down on the table à côté (beside us) and with a glint in his eye asked ‘ je vous donne envie‘ (if were we jealous!)… and we were not!

Morning Market Coffee

We could have sat there all day watching the world go by, however eventually we moved on to the market and visited some very dishy young mussel merchants from whom we bought lots of mussels and also picked up a recipe for Mouclade, a regional dish! We visited various other vendors to pick up other ingredients and met a lovely couple with a basket of goodies!

Mussels ready to go!

With our ingredients all bought we headed off on the road again and decided, despite the rain, to stop off in Cognac to cook roadside style. We prepared the boot of the car to create a make-shift kitchen and began to cook away. Our previous presumptions about the rain “oh it will pass” were not quite fulfilled. It began to rain more and more until it was torrential. After losing a mussel to the river and the camping stove conking out on us, we decided to abort mission and reloaded the car absolutely soaked and with a bucket of half-cooked mussels playing passengers on my lap.

Rainy Roadside Cooking in Cognac

We turned up at our hotel in Perigueux an hour late and after recounting our story to the owner, he very kindly allowed us to finish in the hotel kitchen. Lucky ladies! So we finished off and it turned out rather well if I say so myself! He even gave us a glass of wine which we enjoyed as an accompaniment in the deserted bar. True dedication certainly paid off!

Muscadet and Mouclade, bien joué!

Recipe and a video of the days events to follow…

 

Octopus and Oysters… A Lunchtime Intoxication in Galicia!

A free day in Vigo took us to a seafood restaurant right next to the port… So close that it would actually be feasible for the creatures of the sea to jump up on to your plate…in other words as fresh as can be!

Never having tried oysters before, we decided that there’s no time like the here and now, particularly as it is a typical thing to do here. However we only ordered one each so as not to throw ourselves in at the deep end… Just a dip this time! We got all excited (and a bit squeamish) when they arrived, and picked them up ready to take the plunge, when we realised that we didn’t actually know how we were supposed to eat them. Gala’s words were “do we chew?”, to my informed guess and eloquent response of “no, we slurp!” So one, two, three… And it wasn’t so bad after all. It tasted pretty much like the sea but with the specific slimy texture that I think everybody can imagine, oyster virgins and all!

To accompany this activity we had delicious melt-in-the-mouth Pulpo Gallego (Galician style Octopus, cooked in paprika), to tentacles, suckers and all; and a very complimentary white wine Rías Baixas that uses the local Albarino grape.

Glistening Pulpo Gallego

This classy lunch out turned in to a lunch time piss up, as the waiters decided we could have extra large glasses of the wine and finish the bottle, apparently just because we spoke Spanish… To add a kick to the menu, we finished with a large shot of cazuelo, a local mixture of strong spirits, sugar and coffee grains, producing a cauldron full of a liquid I will describe as sweet fire water… Again, you can probably guess…

The result was two tipsy English girls wandering the streets of a town that rarely sees tourists at midday… it must have been quite a picture. To add to the hilarity of the situation, where we were wandering to was in fact a children’s birthday party that we had kindly been invited to! Needless to say we accidentally caught the bus in the wrong direction, meaning the birthday entourage had to pick us up on route, thus the party girl turned up late… Oops!

A simple recipe for Pulpo Gallego:

Ingredients: 1large octopus. Paprika. 1Teaspoon of Peppercorns. 1 Bay Leaf. 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Rock salt.

Instructions:Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the octopus, peppercorns, bay leaf and a teaspoon of salt. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until the octopus is tender. After ten minutes, cut up the octopus into slices and sprinkle over the paprika and rock salt. Finish off with a generous drizzle of olive oil to glisten!

Sevilla: Experimenting with chocolate, orange and liquid gold!

Considering the nature of this tour as eating what the locals eat and going further afield from the flocks of tourists, I have leaned towards word of mouth recommendations. However, on our first day in Sevilla, the guide book lead us on a trail quite literally to a pot of gold… the golden-green extra virgin olive oil at Extraverde. This boutique shop and tapas bar sells Andalucian goods, olive oil being its star product, which they also use creatively in their cooking. For example, I tried fideau (a Spanish thick spaghetti-like rice substitute for paella) with garlic oil and also chicharrón (pork crackling) with lemon hojiblanco olive oil. So two everyday Spanish dishes zested up and given a twist with the simple liquid that is oil.

Chicharrones with a zesty twist

After appreciating the finished product, we headed inside for a tasting of the varieties of golden liquid that makes these dishes that bit more special. The highest quality, which the friendly owner brought out especially for us to try, was the Melgarejo delicatessen variety which comes from Sierra Magina near Jaén. It is very elegant with a sweet base, slightly bitter and a delicate hint of spice, therefore very full, with lots of character!We also has a sample ofthe award-winning Basilippo aroma olive oil with, in true Sevillian style, orange. This was, as you can imagine, sweet and zesty and apparently putting it with chocolate forms a great combination. On my return to England I am going to experiment with the chocolate mousse I made before parting on the tour… Chocolate orange delight anyone?!

*Recipe idea*: orange salad with tangerines, Basilippo aroma olive oil with orange, dark chocolate shavings, almonds and mint leaves! Get experimenting and let me know how it goes!

Jessica enjoying the olive oil creations on her first day in Sevilla
My friend Jessica’s arrival coincided withhour stay in Sevilla. As we moved on to Granada we were extremely jealous that she got to stay on for nine months in this beautiful city full of charm! Buena suerte Jess!

A madrileño pot of love!

English: Cocido madrileño, a spanish dish. Por...
English: Cocido madrileño, a spanish dish. Português: Cozido madrileno, um prato espanhol. Español: Cocido madrileño. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every morning I teach English to three extremely cute Spanish children and I was privileged to be invited over for lunch yesterday by the two families. When asked what I would like, my response was ‘algo muy español‘ (something very Spanish). Their response was a cocido (hot pot) which Spanish women everywhere brew up, but is a speciality from Madrid.

There is a Spanish song called Cocidito Madrileño (little stew from Madrid) which goes ‘all the charm and the spice, that a woman’s love puts right, into the cocidito madrileño.’ This song is very fitting as each mother, wife or grandma has their own twist and charm on the classic dish. Even the two mothers who cooked for me yesterday had very different variations, one being from Madrid and one from Seville. Therefore I was lucky enough to have both a madrileño and an Andalucian version of the pot (the more the merrier!)

Every version varies with basic ingredients of chickpeas, carrots and cabbage and a choice of meats. This family chose huge chunks of jamón, pork belly, torcino (veal shin) and chorizo all cooked up in a cocido (big pot). Having been brewed for several hours in the pot, the meat fell apart (except for the chorizo which was cooked separately so as to not over power the flavour). The difference was that the madrileño variation was brewed with the jamón bone whilst the Andalucian version used a white bone from the cow knee. All of this makes a salty and very tasty caldo (broth). The dish was absolutely superb: salty, diverse and very hearty! I had two helpings: one of each variety and I only refrained from having more because I didn’t want to appear like a greedy little English girl!

The cocido is very charming and fun as every individual has their own way of consuming it in different stages. I ate with two couples and each person had their own special ritual. Nuria separated the chickpeas, the veg and the meats from the caldo in various dishes. Her husband ate the soup first with chickpeas in, then took a bit of the other meats and ate this separately with bread. On the other hand Raquel had the caldo with bits of meat and potatoes followed by a plate of chickpeas topped with olive oil and vinegar. Nuria took a bit of everything and put it all in to the caldo together to make a broth. Being madrileña herself, I decided to copy her way.

I left feeling very full of food, charm and love, just as the song suggests, and consequently passed out for two hours! (Adapting to Spanish siesta culture!)

Pollo a la Libertad (Libertad’s yummy Chicken)

Gala’s Spanish Mama is staying with us at the moment which, amongst other episodes such as flamenco outbursts on the beach, has provided opportunity to experience authentic Spanish cooking en casa (at home). Last night Libertad (translated as freedom, which perfectly captures her free spirit) cooked us her pollo en salsa (chicken in sauce) with ginger and carrots. She recounted that as far as she is concerned, this is the only way to cook chicken, learnt from her abuelos (Spanish grandparents) so it is really one of those recipes passed down through the generations, therefore you are privileged to have it to try.

Recipe (recounted verbally in Spanish free style, hence lack of strict measurements, but hey that’s what cooking should really be about, a bit of experimenting) :

Lots of garlic (a whole bulb) and lots of ginger (as I said, not very precise amounts!) crush the ginger, smash the garlic and mash all together. (crush, smash and mash, how eloquent!) Add paprika and salt to the mixture and then add to chicken generously and in the words of Libertad ‘caress it’. After adding a bit of olive oil, marinade over night. Take out of the fridge half an hour before sealing the chicken on the stove on a low heat. then add loosely chopped onions and carrots and sauté. Once the onions are white and the chicken is mostly cooked, add a few cups of water and a splash of white wine. Bring to the boil then turn heat down low to simmer for half hour or until the chicken begins to fall off the bone. Y ya esta (there we go), ready to serve with crispy potatoes or rice.

Chicken Brewing

 

It was extremely rico (tasty), the ginger being subtle but still giving the dish a bit of a kick, and the secret being the whole crushed garlic thrown in. I will definitely pass it on to my grandma and my family to put their own twist on…

A Brief (yet insightful) Encounter!

Dulce de leche in a plate
Dulce de leche in a plate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the early hours of this morning I found myself in the most bizarre situation imaginable to be given cookery advice. I was walking back from a club in Tarifa at 7am with my friend’s Spanish Mama, and we came across a wandering Argentinian who just so happened to be a cook at one of the local chiringuitos (beach bar). Mama Polanco took this opportunity to ask how to make real Dulce de Leche the Argentinian way. From his strong Argentinian accent (very different from Spanish) what I understood was the following:

1 kilo of sugar, 4 litres of milk, a table-spoon of baking soda

Bring the milk to the boil, add the other ingredients and whisk until sugar dissolves, then put on low heat and cook for 4/5 hours, constantly stirring!! Obviously this is quite impossible unless you have this length of time to stand over a pan, but stirring every half an hour for a few minutes will suffice I would say.

The mixture will eventually turn in to a yummy caramelised sticky sauce, thick enough so it does not run off the spoon. And there we go: it may be time-consuming, but it is very easy!

Once your batch is prepared, store to bring out for pancake fillings, a delicious ice cream topping (Haagen Daz do an extremely  good one!) or just to dip into occasionally with a spoon (the best way!)

So, there we go, post night out cookery advice from an authentic Argentinian!

Crispy Lavender Chicken: C’est Simple!

On hearing that I was cooking lavender chicken for dinner, apparently my friends conjured up images of chicken in potpourri, or something just as awful: Nice to hear that they have faith in my culinary skills!

This dish was in fact a light and crispy-yet-sticky chicken marinated in lavender, lemon, thyme and honey; and it was just delightful! I followed the recipe from Rachel Khoo’s ‘My Little Paris Kitchen’ (an English girl living and cooking in Paris with a restaurant for two in her tiny home: so quaint!). The recipe is definitely worth a try as it is so easy to prepare yet so tasty (and you can impress your friends with its unusual nature). Cooking with wild fragrant flowers is all the rage at the moment so go gather some lavender and get involved! (from a lavender farm such is this one below, or from your own garden!)

The recipe can be found following the link below, however a few extra hints from me are:

–          Don’t overdo it on the lavender: when she says a little goes a long way, she means it! I used lavender from my garden and it worked perfectly well.

–          Lavender honey was unsurprisingly difficult to come across, so I used wild flower honey as a substitute.

–          When cooking do make sure you keep an eye on the chicken as it browns very quickly- ensure to turn to get crispiness on all sides.

Ensure to season the jus well as it really alters the flavour and makes it much less sickly sweet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrARUXnyYRk

Despite initial doubts from the critics (my friends), it went down very well indeed! Parfait!

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