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Are you ready to shake off the winter blues and add a little romance to your life? Then why not plan a trip to France where you will find everything you need for a romantic break. Valentine’s Day is upon us and Paris of course has to be one of the most romantic of cities to visit. But, if you want to go one step further, there is a little village called St. Valentin in Indre, in the Val de Loire region which is known as the ‘village of love.’ You can even get your letters stamped with the name of the village on them from the village post office. You will find heart shaped chocolate gifts and of course lots of wonderful French food and wine to make any French holiday romantic.

It is the time of year when a holiday break is most welcome and you will find that prices are lower for travel and accommodation too, so it is a good time to treat yourself to a holiday in France.

One of my favourite places to visit in France is Nice in the south and it so happens that February is the month when they hold the Nice Carnival. This is one of the oldest carnivals in the world; it is said to have pagan beginnings in the thirteenth century. If I were to describe it very briefly I would say it is like a twelve day party! The streets come alive with parades of brightly coloured floats, street events and at the end of the carnival on the last day they hold the Mardi gras.

It is said that the word ‘carnival’ comes from carne levare or away with meat. This was the last chance to enjoy all the rich food before Lent when people would fast for forty days. The masks worn at the carnival offered the chance for people to disguise themselves from the forbidden pleasures by the Catholic Church.

There are many places to stay from expensive hotels such as the famous Negresco Hotel, bed and breakfast establishments and of course, my favourite – self catering! We enjoy this for the freedom it gives as there are so many wonderful eating places to choose from whether it is for your breakfast, lunch, snacks or evening dinners. Cooking your own meals using fresh produce from the local markets is also a winner, even if you only do this a few times during your stay, the fresh local produce really is excellent.

This month I have chosen a warming winter dish of venison. February is the last hunting month and if you have never tasted venison, I urge you to try it. Some say that it is has a strong game-like taste; I would describe it as being a little stronger in taste than beef and it is so delicious with less fat and cholesterol so ideal for anyone wanting to cut down on fatty foods. For this reason when cooking venison you need to add a little fat to the pan when frying or it will stick.

A venison steak is delicious served with either frites or sautéed potatoes or seasonal vegetables. However, I have chosen a warming venison stew or daube which once prepared is simply placed in the oven and will cook away gently whilst you relax and do something else. I have also made some little forcemeat dumplings which compliment the dish so well. You can of course omit these but they are very tasty!

Venison Daube

Ingredients

  • 2lbs venison cubed
  • 2 tablespoons oil, vegetable or olive oil
  • 4 celery sticks, roughly sliced
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups red wine
  • ½ pint chicken or vegetable stock
  • Salt and black pepper

Additional Forcemeat Dumplings – optional but so tasty!

  • 1oz butter
  • 4oz lardons
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 4oz fresh white breadcrumbs
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 egg slightly beaten
  • Salt and black pepper

Method

Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed casserole pan and fry the venison until browned. Do this in small batches otherwise it will not brown easily. Remove from the pan.

Add the sliced celery, carrots and onions and fry until lightly browned.

Stir in the flour and mix well.

Add the red wine, stock and salt and black pepper.

Bring the contents to the boil.

Place the venison back into the pan and cover with a tight fitting lid.

Place in a pre-heated oven for about 2 – 3 hours or until the meat is tender.

To make the forcemeat dumplings:

Grill or fry the lardons until crisp, remove the rinds and chop lardons into small pieces.

Melt 1oz butter in a pan and fry the chopped onion until soft.

Stir in the breadcrumbs along with the bacon, thyme, salt and black pepper.

Add the beaten egg and mix until it forms a ball.

Divide into 4 – 6 balls.

Place these in the casserole for the last 30 minutes of cooking time and cover with the lid.

Serve with mashed potatoes and your favourite seasonal vegetables.

This is a fabulous dish for entertaining as well as a good hearty family meal.

 Bon Appétit