fbpx
French Connections

Find Holiday accommodation in France

  • A delicious potato recipe from the Aveyron

    The Aveyron is part of the Midi-Pyrénées and is an area of great beauty where nature is at the heart of this French department both in its landscapes and its people.

    If you are seeking a holiday where you can relax and get away from it all this is an area to consider. It is a perfect hiking area with thousands of miles of perfect hiking trails to satisfy anyone wanting to set off on this kind of adventure. The Grand Causses Regional Nature Park covers one third of Aveyron and is one of the wildest nature parks in France and is simply wonderful if you enjoy hiking. It is where you will find the ewe – it is the milk from the ewe that makes the most wonderful famous blue Roquefort cheese. Other wild life includes eagles, peregrines, falcons, deer, beavers, owls and many more inhabitants.

    For those of you who love the mountainous regions, the Aveyron contains part of the Cévennes National Park with several mountains and plateaus with Mont Lozère having the highest peak in the area reaching 1,699 metres.

    There are many tourist attractions of which many are centuries old such as the Château de Najac a medieval castle perched high on a hill in Najac but there is also a fairly new attraction - the Millau viaduct which was opened by President Chirac in 2004. The viaduct was designed by the French engineer, Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster and is the tallest bridge in the world. You will find it on the auto route A75 – A71 from Paris to Montpellier.

    There are many other activities in this area, in fact something for everyone such as horse riding, fishing – the river Aveyron is full of the most delicious trout – this is one food you simply must try, either one you have caught yourself or at a local restaurant as it is so much better than a farmed trout we get in the supermarkets.

    There are many skilled crafts people here too and one of the most famous is the Lagioule knife, a high quality pocket knife originating from the town of Laguiole in the Aveyron since 1829. They are recognised by a small forged bee logo.

    Food of course is just simply wonderful from this area and the Aveyronnaise have many foods and recipes they have had handed down over the generations and which they continue to make today with the same patience and love which will tempt your taste buds after a long day of your favourite activity in this beautiful area.

    If you choose to dine in some of the restaurants of the area you will of course have a wonderful choice of foods such as confits de poule et canard, Feuilletés d'escargots à la crème d'ail, galipette de l'Anjou and many more tasty dishes.

    Some of the more traditional dishes from the area are the Aveyronnaise Salade consisting of smoked duck, walnuts and Roquefort cheese which is really lovely and well worth trying. Some also include foi gras but you have to have a taste for it.

    One traditional food which nowadays is made for special occasions and if you were to know how long it took to make and the patience needed to do it, you would truly understand why it is kept for special occasions only. This of course is the Gâteau à la broche, a cake which is centuries old and takes hours of preparation. It is made with a batter similar to that when you make Madeleine’s and the batter is poured on to a cone shape which hangs over a spit on an open fire. This gradually cooks as more and more batter is placed over it until all the batter is used and the result is the Gâteau à la broche. All I can say is that I admire the woman who has the patience to make one of these although when it comes to eating it I will be one of the first, it sounds fascinating.

    As I said earlier, the river Aveyron is full of fresh trout and there are numerous recipes to turn this simple and often overlooked fish into a gourmet feast. Personally I don’t care for anything fancy such as trout with almonds for example, I much prefer it cooked more simply such as pan fried after a dusting of flour and served with a squeeze of lemon and some fresh parsley. Another method which is simple but very tasty is to gently poach the trout in a court
    bouillon as the flavour is so good. So these are some simple and quick ideas if you manage to catch a good trout or two whilst staying in this area.

    The French have many recipes for the humble potato and manage to turn them into the most wonderful dishes using simple ingredients. One of the most traditional recipes from this area is the L’Aligot or cheesy potatoes. It is a very old recipe and they say its origins began with the monks who made the very first dish but used bread until the potato was introduced into France. They made the dish with their homemade bread and the local cheese to satisfy the hungry pilgrims who passed their way.

    Today this beautiful dish which I assure you is so yummy you will want lots of it, is made all over France and I love to watch the techniques used especially as they stretch the ingredients and often cut it when giving you a serving of this cheesy food.

    So for this month’s recipe I thought you may like to try the L’Aligot as it is easy to make it at home using similar ingredients but if you are in the Aveyron then you will find it in most restaurants and market places too. Just to watch them make it is fascinating.

    In France this traditional dish is usually made with a local cheese, the unfermented tome de Cantal. This cheese comes originally from the area around the town of Laguiole in the Aveyron. You can use a good soft mild cheese which melts easily such as Caerphilly or a Lancashire cheese is also good.

    Potatoes should be nice and floury, these days in supermarkets they often tell you what type of potatoes they are but if in a market or greengrocers, they will tell you which are better for mashing.

    Ingredients

    • 2lb potatoes (about 1kg)
    • 10oz cheese
    • 2oz butter
    • 6oz cream or crème fraiche
    • 1 clove garlic, crushed
    • Salt

     

    Method

    You can either peel or cook the potatoes in salted boiling water or my favourite method is to cook them in their skins then peel them. Mash the potatoes well.

    Heat the cream and butter in a pan with the crushed garlic then add the cheese either grated or cut into small pieces and heat until it is all melted.

    Add this creamy, cheesy mixture to the potatoes and mash really well until you have a consistency that is elastic in texture and then serve immediately.

    It is traditionally served with good quality pork sausages but you could serve it with pork chops or even a good steak.

    If you have any over, perhaps not but just in case you do, it makes lovely little potato cakes for a light meal. Simply form the potato mixture into small cakes, dust with flour and gently fry for a few minutes on each side.

    Bon appétit!

  • A Recipe for Croustade au Pommes from the Gers

    Gers in the south west of France, pronounced jairs, is a sleepy, very relaxing and peaceful area where you will find all the simple things of life and where it is said the inhabitants live a longer and healthier life than anywhere else in France. It was part of the area formally  referred to as Gascony but is now split into two new departmental names, Gers and Landes.

    This south west area of France has so much to offer in terms of beauty and gastronomic fares. There is nowhere in France that has such a wide spectrum of ingredients and of gastronomic specialities than the cuisine of this area of the country. Here you will see beautiful rolling hills and valleys, wooded slopes and farms and vineyards in the landscapes all benefiting from the warm sunny summers, long sunny autumns and fairly mild winters.

  • A recipe for Pan Bagnat - the original French fast food

    Summer time in France is a wonderful experience whichever region you choose to visit. It is of course much warmer in the south and south west than the north but wherever you go it is so beautiful and will want you coming back for more.

    June is an excellent time to visit France as the weather is warmer yet not too hot and many visitors and French alike will be heading for the beaches along the French coastline. It is not yet as busy as you will find in the coming months so if you bear this in mind, it may be a better choice to holiday in June than later on. Everywhere it seems people are so relaxed and enjoying the French way of life.

    Of course there are many other activities if France apart from making sand castles and soaking up the sun on the beach. Walking is a favourite pastime for many people and who can blame them when there is such a wonderful country to explore. One of the best ways of seeing France is on foot where you get the ‘feel’ for a place much better than you do from your vehicle as you pass through.

    It seems that these days more and more of us are taking less exercise than we need, so if you want a relaxing holiday with a little exercise this is just one way of getting that much needed exercise whilst enjoying yourselves too.

    Picnics are a great way of enjoying the scenery in France and having a fabulous time too. You will have the best choice in the world when it comes to food for your picnic. French salads with the season’s choice of greens are fabulous along with the best cheeses, ham, olives, fruit and wines. Now I can’t think of an excuse not to have a picnic once you have packed all these food items into your basket, it’s what summer days are all about.

    One of my favourite places for a picnic in Nice in the South of France is at Le Château where there is a public park high up on the hillside overlooking the old town of Nice or Vieux Nice as it is known. It’s a great place to take a stroll and the views are truly stunning, taking in the old town, the port and the sea.

    Le Château was able to withstand a Franco-Turkish siege in 1543; subsequent French assaults in 1691 (Nice was part of Italy in that period) and again in 1705 were more successful. Then in 1706 Louis X1V ordered it to be demolished. It was later used as a burial ground and in 1821 the city council had the idea of making it into a public park which in was laid out as it is now from 1861.

    It really is a beautiful place and if you want to explore this area there are steps leading from the bottom at the end of Rue Rossetti but if you cannot manage them, there is no need to worry, you will find a lift, the ascenseur, near the sea front end.

    Once at the top you will have several kilometres of easy walking pathways which lead to the medieval cathedral, an orientation table, a cooling cascade which is simply beautiful as well as a café and a children’s play area.

    I never tire of visiting Le Chateaux and of course when we do visit, I always take a picnic – having bought our French food from the small shops and markets in Vieux Nice, the old town.

    One form of exercise which is pleasant to watch is the French game of boules. I love watching the locals playing this game; it is for all ages and is a good way of exercise as well as fun. It’s a very social activity and you may want to try it for yourself. It is called pértanque in this region and is most enjoyable to watch or take part in.

    It is said that the game of pértanque originated in Lyon around 1894, called Boule Lyonnais but the game at that time involved some difficult manoeuvres as you had to step out of a drawn circle as far as possible with one foot. This of course was difficult if you had a physical disability which was the case with a man called, Jules Lenoir in the French town of La Ciotat in the South of France. He devised new rules to allow for this problem and laid out the rules for Pétanque in 1910.

    It can be played on any flat piece of land, gravel, dirt, grass or sand and the goal is to throw metal balls about the size of an orange so that they roll as close to another smaller wooden ball called a cochonnet, which translates to ‘piglet’, or jack at the same time you are standing in a starting circle with both feet on the ground.

    You will see people playing this game in most places in the south and southwest and they will usually have some form of fast food with them whilst they play – yes, I did say fast food, but in this case it is usually a tasty healthy snack in the form of a ‘Pan Bagna’.

    This is really the equivalent of taking a Salade Niçoise and making it into a quick and easy French fast food. It consist of a crusty French roll packed with the ingredients you would find in a traditional Salade Niçoise and believe me it is truly wonderful.

    It is one of the most popular fast foods you can buy in this area of France and although I dislike the term fast food as this conjures up ideas of today’s unhealthy fast foods, in this instance it is fast and fantastic in terms of healthy and tasty.

    So for this month’s recipe I thought you may like to have a quick and easy French food that you can make for yourself and family whether on holiday in France or at home wherever you are – it really is a good choice and will make for a great picnic, snack or a light meal at any time you fancy.

    Originally it would have been made with bread that was stale and was just another way of the French housewife being excellent in managing the food she had in her larder. Nothing was ever thrown away but I’m sure you will agree she has a winner with this recipe.

    Usually the ingredients for this recipe will largely consist of whatever is in season at the time but this is a guide for you to follow and you can vary it according to what you have available and what you like or dislike, just as the French housewife would do. An example here is that if you don’t like anchovies, you can simply use tuna, or for a vegetarian choice, simply omit the fish.

    The recipe here is for a guide only, simply vary the salad to what is available but it should contain olives and of course the olive oil.

    Pan Bagnat
    ( For Four People)

    • 4 Bread rolls
    • 2 Firm tomatoes
    • 4 Radishes
    • 1 Green/yellow bell pepper
    • 2 Hard boiled eggs
    • 12 Anchovy filets
    • 16 Black olives
    • 1 Garlic clove
    • 1 Small onion
    • 1 lemon
    • Olive oil
    • Salt

    Method

    • Slice the tomatoes, radish and onions into thin rounds.
    • Shell the hard boiled eggs and cut into rounds.
    • Thinly slice the bell peppers into lengths.
    • Pit the olives and slice into rounds.
    • Dip the anchovies in fresh water to desalt them.
    • Cut the bread rolls in half and remove the soft white middle from the centre of each half.
    • Rub the inside with the garlic clove.
    • Drench the inside with olive oil.
    • Sprinkle lightly with salt.

    Finally, layer the inside of the bread roll with the sliced tomatoes, the pepper, radish, onions, egg, olives and finish with the anchovies.

    Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil.

    You can wrap them in cling film or foil and put in the refrigerator overnight and they will be ready for your picnic. They seem to improve if left this way as the bread becomes soaked with the olive oil which is what is how they should be.

    So whether you are on holiday or at home, I hope you enjoy this tasty treat.

    Bon appétit

  • A recipe for Tapenade

    Bonjour everyone, hope you are having a good time wherever you are.

    First we must congratulate Bradley Wiggins from here in the United Kingdom for his phenomenal win in the Tour de France Cycle race. We are very proud of him as it is an extremely arduous cycle race and he is the first British person to have done this. Bradley and his team apparently trained on a volcano in Tenerife intensively at altitude, in the heat, and on mountain ascents. Maybe we should all take to our bicycles once again and get some exercise – a little more gentle than Bradley’s regime of course!

    There has been a great deal of talk recently in the media about people being overweight - young people particularly. Being overweight puts us at risk of heart disease and diabetes. Sounds very glum I know but it is a fact of life now as we do less physical activities compared to a few decades ago so it stands to reason that we may suffer as a consequence.

    I have noticed that since retiring I have gained weight and am now recognising what is going on with me. I have always been active and as a nurse was on the go up and down the ward all day or all night. Now I spend more and more time sitting at the computer! Yes, the hobby I love is turning me into a sort of couch potato, or maybe an office potato!

    If you have the same amount of food/calories going in and less action or calories going out - result - extra weight. I am now going to go for a walk more often and with a dog have no excuse as he is always ready for action.

    The other thing that must be an issue with me is the amount of calories going in. So as the French say, it is the portion of food on your plate that is important and will make the difference. I understand that and will try and take more notice from now on.

    Did you know that the French tend to go for more walks or 'strolls' than we do. An article in the Times Newspaper recently stated that we Brits really should give ourselves space to learn the art of flâner - aimless strolling. It seems it is part of their philosophy rather than a bout of healthy exercise.

    In 2007 the public bicycle-sharing scheme Vélib began renting bikes throughout Paris. I totally agree that if other countries could do this it would be such a healthier way of life. This is something that could be done at the weekends so that streets could be closed to cars.

    I am all for this idea both for health and happiness but also for the nostalgia element too. Wouldn't it be lovely for our children and grandchildren to have this kind of freedom just once in a while.

    Why not have cycling holiday? This is not to be missed if this is what you would like to do. There are many areas of France where you can cycle for miles and miles and have a fantastic time. So if you are still undecided about what to do for a last minute holiday for your family, take a look at what French Connections have to offer and you will not be disappointed.

    French food is very healthy and they do have some of the best food in the world. However, it is as some would say, all about the portions. You seldom see them overloading their plates and it is usually fresh with very little fast food (although you do see these fast food chains nowadays in the cities).

    Traditionally the only fast food the French consider worth eating is a freshly grilled or pan fried piece of fish or meat. This is usually served with a fresh green salad, or freshly cooked vegetables. Yes they often use butter in their cooking and even fresh cream but the diet is varied and healthy with lots of fruit and vegetables.

    It is usually the simplest of foods that are the tastiest and of course easy to make at home. That’s what I love about French cooking. It does not have to be the cuisine of the famous French restaurants or the best chefs of France. It is the simple everyday cooking of the ordinary housewife that I love. The type of cooking that has been handed down from mother to daughter along the years. Quite often today’s roast of rabbit or chicken, beef or pork will be tomorrow’s peasant soup or something similar. Nothing is wasted and is just as tasty if not better on the second day.

    Meals can be varied with several small courses usually starting with the hors d oeuvres or appetizer which is to whet the appetite or to get your gastric juices flowing. Most main courses will have a side salad and usually there will be lots of fresh fruit and vegetables in the meal. Their cheeses are simply divine and a small amount with freshly baked French bread or crackers if you prefer will satisfy almost everyone.

    This month I have chosen a very simple but tasty hors d oeuvre you can make at home or on holiday and it goes a long way. It can be used just as a snack if you prefer at any time of day and is a healthier option.

    La tapénade (Spiced Olive Spread)

    Tapénade is a very simple olive spread that makes an easy and tasty hors d oeuvre or appetizer.
    It is made with black olives, anchovies, tuna fish and capers and their flavours are blended together with the addition of olive oil and a little cognac. It is usually served with toasted bread or you can use bread crackers as I have done here.

    This recipe makes enough for two of the little pots you see in the picture and it goes a long way so will be enough for at least 12 people.

    Ingredients

    • 225g/8oz black olives, pitted
    • 4oz/100g anchovy fillets (use tinned)
    • 225g/8oz capers
    • 100g/4oz tuna fish (tinned and drained)
    • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon cognac
    • Freshly ground black pepper and NO SALT! (The anchovies provide enough salt)

    Method

    The traditional way to make your tapénade is to pound the olives, the anchovy fillets, capers and tuna fish using a mortar and pestle.

    You can of course do this, however, if you have a processor, just place the ingredients into this and mix on slow for a few seconds then add the mustard, the olive oil and the cognac and process again for a further few seconds or until it has formed a good smooth paste.

    Place your tapenade in a serving bowl or dish and leave to cool in the refrigerator.

    Serve with toasted French bread or with little herb crackers as I have done in the picture above.

    Bon Appétit!

    Until next month, thank you for joining me and have a good time - amusez-vous bien!

  • A Recipe from the French Riviera

    [caption id="attachment_1694" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Summer Vegetable Tian from Provence"]Summer Vegetable Tian from Provence[/caption]

    Summer is on it's way and France is getting busier with tourists from all over the globe.  June is a lovely month for visiting France as it is getting warmer and is not yet heaving with tourists so you will have a more relaxed time wherever your destination.

    The French markets will be full of the most wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables, fine cheeses and delicious local specialities. What better time to stock up with some of these fresh produce if you are self catering or just wanting to make a wonderful picnic lunch.

    One of my absolute favourite destinations is the French Riviera! Well who can blame me - it is so fantastic and the weather glorious at this time of year. It is so splendid with it's history and culture and it is well known as being the destination for the rich and famous. However, it is also a place for the not so rich and famous!

    Our destination is usually the city of Nice as it is so convenient for us to fly to Nice airport and within minutes we are in the heart of the city. You can take a taxi from the airport or a bus ride which is what we prefer as it is so inexpensive and takes only ten minutes into Nice.

    There are plenty of self catering apartments or villas to rent whether you want to remain in Nice itself or if you prefer to be in the mountains or quieter villages that surround Nice. You will find some beautiful properties here at www.frenchconnections.co.uk at very reasonable prices for a fantastic holiday.

    This is our preferred way of holidaying here as we like to relax and do much as the locals do - eating in the local cafes and bistros and shopping in the local markets. Of course shopping in the city itself is a  total pleasure especially for women that is! I love to browse the fashion boutiques and shoe shops.  Everywhere is bustling with activity yet is warm and friendly.

    The best place of all in my opinion is the old town of Nice or Vieux Nice as it is known locally. Here the narrow streets are a colourful display of picturesque houses, boutiques, bistro cafes and small restaurants. I never tire of this lovely old town and walk here every day when we are holidaying in Nice.

    Nice was once a part of Italy and this can be seen in the warm yellow tones of the brick work in this area.  The food also has the Italian influence as can be seen with the local pasta dishes and the speciality pissaladière. The aromatic perfume of the Provencal herbs waft through the air as you walk down these narrow streets. The herbs are sold in the small shops along with many different spices and of course the  large juicy black and green Provencal olives. They are fantastic for a light lunch.

    Whilst shopping or browsing you can stop for a cool drink and a snack. There are so many wonderful places to eat but our favourite snack is the local socca (a local speciality which is like a pancake made with corn) washed down with a pastis. Wonderful.

    For a  more substantial meal in the evening the local restaurants here are fantastic. The owners are usually on hand, sometimes they are the cooks! The food is so inexpensive yet the quality fabulous.

    Although many things are now a little more expensive in France than they were a few years ago, you can still buy good quality foods on a budget. You don't have to eat in the most expensive restaurants or hotels. The local produce can be bought here and they have a good butchers, bread shops and an excellent fish market. There are also some small supermarkets where you can buy most things you need. Wine is cheap and you have an excellent choice.

    The Flower market at Cours Saleya is truly amazing and you will find fresh and dried flowers as well as tons of fresh fruit and vegetables  all brought to Nice by the neighbouring flower and gardening marketers. Other produce such as fresh herbs and spices, sweets and candies are all delicious and you can find most things you need for a wonderful picnic.

    This market area changes  on a Monday to brocante market ( bric-a-brac) furniture  and fabulous  linens. This is one market I never miss when in Nice!

    A walk up to the Calline du Chateau is pleasant and you can take a picnic lunch of French baguettes, cheese, pate and wine. This can all be bought in the old town. If you are less energetic (especially when it's a hot day) there is a lift at the bottom which takes you directly to the top. The castle is now a ruin but the views of Nice from here are breathtaking and it is well worth the effort.

    If you do visit Nice in June, you can enjoy seeing the Fete de la Mer. This takes place every year as the fishermen of Nice celebrate St. Peter's Day. The festival begins with Mass in the Gesu Church and is then followed with a procession to Les Ponchettes beach which is in front of the Old Town. Once here the fishermen burn a boat in honour of their patron saint.

    A walk along the famous Promenade des Anglais is a beautiful setting although there is no sandy beach as it is mostly covered in pebbles and not good for sitting! It's name was taken from the wealthy British residents who built it in the early nineteenth century. Of course the British just loved the climate! Queen Victoria came here to holiday and gave it a seal of approval. You may find the promenade  quite noisy with the passing traffic especially the noise from the motor bikes!  However it is the place to see and be seen. There are many restaurants along the way to stop and have a cool drink or a meal. Try to take in at least one night time view of this beautiful promenade as it is so romantic. However, never be tempted to sleep here at night as it is not the safest place to be.

    About midway along the promenade you will find the famous Negresco hotel which is very imposing  and has a large plastic statue standing outside the from door. It's different and in my opinion is beautiful and full of unique character.

    If you enjoy museums there are several in Nice which are well worth visiting including the Musee Chagnall; Musee Matiss; Musee et site archeologiques de Cimiez with ruins of a Roman settlement; Musee d'art Moderne et d'Contemporain; Musee des Beaux - Arts.

    One of the really great things about Nice is that it is ideally situated for visiting nearby towns and villages as the train service runs along the coastline along the French Riviera into Italy. So if you want a change of scenery it will only be a short train's ride away from the city. You can take a day trip to Antibes, Menton, or even to Cannes. This is another reason for visiting this beautiful city - you don't need a car!

    Most self catering places have the basic kitchen equipment and you can easily create a simple and easy meal using fresh local produce.

    The recipe this month is for a colourful and flavourful Summer Vegetable Tian. It is an easy recipe to make if you are self catering and is great for making good use of the local vegetable produce. It is a typical provencal recipe which is usually baked in a red clay baking dish called a tian but nowadays the contents themselves are often called a tian.

    You can of course use any oven proof dish you have to hand as it will taste just as good.

    Summer Vegetable Tian (Tian de Lieùme d'estiéu).Serves Four

    Ingredients

    1 large eggplant (aubergine)
    2 zucchini (corgettes)
    3 medium sized potatoes (no need to peel them!)
    3 ripe tomatoes
    2 onions
    1 teaspoon of provencal mixed herbs
    Olive oil
    Salt and black pepper

    Method

    Wash your vegetables.
    Cut the vegetables into thin slices (use a mandoline if you have one handy as it will slice very thinly).
    Sprinkle a little olive oil into the bottom of your tian (or large oven proof dish)
    Begin layering the vegetables in the tian starting with the onions, potatoes, eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes.
    Sprinkle each layer with a little salt and black pepper and a pinch of provencal herbs.
    Finish the top layer with tomatoes and sprinkle a little  olive oil over the top.

    Place in a hot oven and bake for about forty minutes.

    This is usually eaten hot and served with beef or lamb but can also be served cold.

    Try it sprinkled with parmesan and serve with pasta. Delicious.

  • Alsace Kuglehopf cake

    If you have ever visited France in December you will know what I mean when I say it is one of the most romantic times of year to visit this beautiful country.

    France starts celebrating Christmas from the very beginning of December in some regions. It is a very big country and Metropolitan France is divided into twenty two regions. Some regions have different traditions of their own and this can be seen with the Christmas traditions in many areas.

    In some parts of France Christmas starts on December 6th with Father Christmas, who is known as le Père Noël, bringing gifts for all the children whereas in other regions, children leave their shoes near the fire on Christmas Eve for Father Christmas, le Père Noël, to leave them small gifts and nuts and sweets.

    Most homes will have a Nativity scene known as a crèche or crib, with figures of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus, wise men and animals etc.

    This is more traditional than the Christmas tree although this is found in many homes nowadays.

    It appears that the origins of the Christmas tree date back to 1521 when it appeared for the very first time in the town of Sélestat which is in the Alsace region of France between Colmar and Strasbourg. It is mentioned in the records of the city of Sélestat in the Humanist Library or the Bibliothèque Humaniste which is one of the oldest public libraries in the world.

    It is remarkable how a custom started in this French region continued through the years and across the globe. Of course, the Alsace region in the fifteenth century was part of the Germanic world (having been part of the Roman Empire prior to this) and although the tradition continued through the 17th and 18th centuries it did not really catch on in France until much later. In its history during the 19th and 20th centuries Germany and France contested it's possession of the region four times in seventy five years.  This is probably why the tradition did not catch on with the French people as In France the nativity scene and the Yule log was much more popular and traditional.

    The Alsace is a region of France which you will truly enjoy for your Christmas experience in France. The food is plentiful and you will find there is plenty of wine, beer and of course the fragrant eaux-d-vie.

    The Christmas markets of Kaysersberg, Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Colmar are a joy to behold. In Strasbourg the Christmas market or Christkindelsmärik has been held around the cathedral since 1570 so a visit to this Christmas market will be a great treat for all the family. The cathedral or the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg is beautiful and well worth a visit as are the half timbered houses in the Bain aux Plantes of the old quarter which are so very pretty.

    It is very cold in the Alsace at this time of year in contrast to the hot summers but I feel that this is definitely a wonderful place to visit for everything magical it has to offer.

    The Alsace is famous of course for its wines, mostly of a Germanic origin. When shopping you will find the charcuteries offer the most wonderful sausages and all kinds of pork and goose products as well as their famous pickled cabbage - choucroute or sauerkraut.

    For those of you who have a sweet tooth the bakeries will astonish you with their displays of breads, the sweet and salted bretzels, cinnamon cakes, marzipan buns and the huge kugelhopfs.

    I love the kugelhopfs and if you have never seen or heard of them, they are a cross between bread and cake, in fact much like a brioche but not as sweet. I love them with dried fruit in them but they can be seen with a savoury flavour with pieces of bacon in them too.

    This cake is what I like to make at Christmas as it is great with a cup of coffee when you get tired of the rich Christmas foods. It also lasts for days so is good to have in for a quick treat. You don't see many of them here in the United Kingdom whereas there are plenty of other cakes around at this time of year such as the German stollen or the Italian Panettone.

    If you do visit this lovely region of France for Christmas, do try and buy one of these cakes, they are in my opinion a real Alsatian treat. You will find some great properties at French Connections for this fairy-tale region.

    For some help with your Christmas recipes, there are some lovely ideas at French Recipes to love. So whether you are at home with your families or on holiday you will have some great ideas for a lovely French Christmas.

    For this month's recipe I thought you may like the traditional cake from the Alsace which I assure you is very easy to make and to make it even easier I have given you two methods to choose from.

    Have a wonderful Christmas wherever you are, Joyeux Noël and Bonne année.

    Kuglehopf

    You will need an 8 inch traditional kougloff cake tin to make this cake which is a fluted tube tin or you can use a savarin tin. If you don't have either, a good pudding basin will do the trick but it will not give you the lovely traditional pattern with the hollow centre - however it will still taste good.

    Ingredients

    • 4oz raisins
    • 4 tablespoons rum
    • 1oz fresh yeast or 1 teaspoon fast action yeast such as Allinsons
    • 8fl oz milk
    • 9oz plain flour
    • 3oz butter cut into small pieces
    • 1oz chopped slivered almonds
    • 2oz sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 egg
    • Icing sugar for sprinkling

    Method

    I will give you two different methods here, one for the traditional way and one if you wish to make it in a bread tin to start it off.

    Prepare your tin by lightly buttering it and sprinkle the almonds into the sides and bottom.

    Traditional Method

    • Sprinkle the raisins with the rum and soak them for a few hours until well soaked.
    • Mix the yeast in a bowl with about 6 fl oz of warm milk (not hot).
    • Stir in 2oz of the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon.
    • Sprinkle the remaining flour over it and do not knead; cover with a tea cloth or cling film and leave in a warm place until the mixture rises and lifts the flour.
    • Mix in the flour, the sugar, salt, butter, egg and remaining milk.
    • Knead for a few minutes.
    • Place the dough into the tin or basin to about half way up the tin and leave to rise in a warm place until it doubles in size.
    • Place in the pre heated oven at 190C/375F/Gas5 for about 35 minutes until golden brown. Test if it is cooked through by piercing with a skewer in the centre - if it comes out clean it is cooked if not give it a few more minutes.

    Note:

    If you are using dry yeast, mix it in with the other ingredients and it only needs one rising in the tin before baking.

    Bread Machine Method

    Follow the instructions for your bread machine for the order that the ingredients go in but here is what I do with mine. The yeast must not come in contact with the salt as it will kill the yeast.

    Place the dried yeast in bottom of bread tin then the flour and follow with all the other ingredients. Depending on your bread machine model, you just need to knead the bread and I use the Pizza mode.

    Place the dough into the kuglehopf tin and place in a warm place to rise to double its size then bake in pre heated oven for about 35 minutes as above method.

  • An Easter dish - Navarin of Lamb

    April is a beautiful month of the year, it heralds in the spring with a promise of all things new. It is my favourite time of year and I enjoy pottering in the garden and planning our French holidays!

    The garden is beginning to come to life as the spring bulbs begin to show through and very soon our laburnum tree will have a wonderful display of yellow flowers as the month progresses. The lavender is also beginning to show a new green growth and will in due course give us a beautiful display of fragrant lavender flowers down the garden path. I will use it for cooking as well as for lavender bags later on in the year.

    In France spring is a glorious time of year as the winter months give way to a warmer climate and beautiful countryside throughout the various regions..

    Easter this year begins Thursday 5th April with Maundy Thursday and there will be many celebrations in most of France for this period until Monday 9th April. It is the most important time of year for the Christian religion.

    So if you are considering a Spring break, April is an ideal time to take a holiday in France and enjoy the culture and cuisine. You will find many wonderful breaks with French Connections in most regions of France to suit all pockets.

    When I am on holiday (or just thinking of recipes in general) I enjoy making the most of what is available and in season at the time. Spring lamb is usually on the menu in most places and is traditional both in France and here in Wales in the United Kingdom.

    Lamb is of course the meat associated with Welsh cooking and is often served with a mint sauce. We are very proud of our Welsh lamb and its reputation for quality is well known.

    The lamb from France, particularly from the Normandy region is a truly delicious meat and is one of the meats usually chosen by most families at Easter or spring time for celebrations. Normandy lamb is from the lambs grazing on the shores of the English Channel and it has an unusual and delicate salty flavour.

    The lambing season usually coincides with the new growth of grass so this is probably why we associate it with spring so much. Of course lamb is readily available throughout the year nowadays and people don't seem to use mutton as much as in years gone by.

    Young lamb is firm and pinkish and the fat a creamy white and crisp. As it matures the flesh becomes redder and the fat more richly coloured.

    The leg of lamb or gigot as it is called in France (and Scotland) is the prime cut for roasting; the shoulder is sweeter and fattier. The chump has the juiciest chops - the part between the leg and the loin. The whole best end of the neck is called a rack and two of these, curved fat side in make a crown roast. Of course if these are stood face to face, fat side out, they make a guard of honour.

    Along with the spring lamb you will find an abundance of spring vegetables in France. Every local market will have the most wonderful displays of fruits and vegetables on offer so you will have a tremendous choice for whatever recipes you are planning to cook.

    For this month's recipe I have chosen a delicious lamb recipe which is a casserole of lamb with spring vegetables. It is best prepared the day before you are to serve it. The reason I say this is because lamb is often fatty and for this reason you can discard the fat from the casserole before the final cooking period by leaving it overnight in the refrigerator where it will surface and make it easy to dispose of it.

    Navarin of Lamb

    Ingredients

    • 3 lbs (1 1/2 kg) stewing lamb such as shoulder
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 3 tablespoons flour
    • 4 cups (about 3 pints or enough to just cover) beef or chicken stock
    • 1 large bouquet garni
    • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
    • 1 1/2 lbs small potatoes (peeled)
    • 10 baby carrots
    • 1/4 lb (120gms) green beans cut in small pieces
    • 12 pearl onions, peeled
    • 6 medium turnips
    • 1 1/2 (about 6ozs or 225gms) cups peas
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
    • Salt and black pepper to taste
    • Fresh parsley to garnish

    Method

    Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pan over medium heat.
    Add small amount of lamb and cook until brown on all sides.
    Sprinkle the lamb with a little sugar and cook until it has caramelised.
    Transfer the lamb to a large flameproof casserole dish.
    Cook the remainder of the lamb as above and transfer to casserole dish.
    Sprinkle the flour over the meat and cook for about 3 minutes until browned.
    Pour in the stock, the garlic, tomatoes, bouquet garni and salt and pepper.
    Raise the heat and bring the contents to the boil.
    Skim off the foam that rises and reduce heat to simmer.
    Place lid on casserole and cook for about an hour.
    Allow to cool.
    Chill the casserole in a cool place overnight.

    About 2 hours before serving, remove the fat from the surface with a spoon and dispose of it.
    Wipe the surface with paper towels to remove all fat.
    Prepare the vegetables, cutting the potatoes into quarters, the carrots and turnips into small chunks.
    Place the vegetables into the pan with the meat and stock.
    Bring to the boil then simmer for about 45 minutes.
    In the meantime, cook the peas and beans in a little boiling salted water for a few minutes until almost cooked. Drain in a colander and run them immediately under cold water to stop the cooking and to keep the colour.
    About 10 minutes before serving, add the green beans and peas to the casserole and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir gently to mix the contents.
    Stir in about 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley.

    Serve with crusty bread and a green salad.

    I hope you enjoy this recipe, it really is delicious and if you need a light refreshing dessert to finish your meal a choice of desserts can be found on my website but I recommend a light crumbly lemon citron tart which you can find here

    Bon Appétit

  • Breton Prune Pudding

    We are now in March and the daffodils are already growing in our garden. It is my favourite time of year as there is a promise of spring around the corner!

    The lady who delivers our fresh eggs each week tells me she is also busy with the lambing season and the birds are beginning to build their nests in the garden - much to the annoyance of our Jack Russell dog who barks at every bird who flies in and out of the garden. He actually sits under the bushes waiting for them - but of course the birds have the last laugh as they fly up to the safety of the higher branches.

    Yet when it comes to food I still feel the need to cook something substantial as it remains chilly and the evenings are still quite cold.

    It is chilly in most of France too especially in the evenings yet there is plenty to do and much to see. So if you choose to travel to France in March it is a very good time of year and it is the last time for the cheaper fares and accommodation until next autumn as they will soon begin to rise as the warmer weather creeps in.

    One of the foods popular in France and also very nutritious are prunes. In France prunes or pruneaux as they are known are often used in much of their cooking both in savoury recipes as well as in sweet desserts. They are often overlooked at home in the United Kingdom, perhaps because of childhood memories of school dinners where one had prunes in custard or when you were told to eat them up as they are good for your bowels. I'm sure that put many people off the fruit completely.

    I used to be a nurse before retirement and I can remember years ago prunes were on the menu on a regular basis - meaning the patients were regular too!

    Not anymore. They very rarely see a prune these days - much easier to prescribe the usual aperients instead. What stupidity, but that's the way it has gone unfortunately.

    Whilst it is of course entirely true that prunes have good effects on our constitutions, we don't want to be reminded of such things but would rather be reminded of their other qualities such as being rich in powerful antioxidants - and they are, in abundance.

    In France prunes are so much more respected and they are indeed the most delicious and tastiest of foods.

    Of course prunes are in fact plums and the process of drying them means that they will keep for a long time. It is very easy to reconstitute them by soaking them in rum or brandy before using in your favourite recipes.

    The most famous of all prunes in France are the Agen prunes. Argen is a town on the Gar and if you have ever travelled between Toulouse and Bordeaux you may have passed this area and may have tasted some of their wonderful fare. It is also an important canal town and you can experience this part of France on a barge holiday especially if you enjoy a slower more relaxed method of travel.

    One of my favourite French dishes is Rabbit with Prunes. This is such a warming and tasty dish of rabbit cooked in red wine with juicy fat plums. It makes a great winter dish.

    However, especially when on holiday, if you would like to make a quick but classic prune recipe then a prune pudding is a really excellent choice and is very easy to make.

    So for this month's recipe I have chosen a Breton Prune Pudding or Far as it is called and if you buy the very best prunes you can afford it should taste equally as good as the French recipes!

    It is also a very good recipe for a religious holiday such as Easter, (next month April 8th) so you can make it for your Easter weekend too!

    Far Breton (Brittany Prune Pudding)

    [caption id="attachment_2426" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Prune Tart"]Prune Tart[/caption]

    This pudding is very much like the famous Clafoutis but contains fat juicy prunes instead of cherries

    • Ingredients
    • 250g/9oz prunes
    • 4 tablespoons rum (or brandy)
    • 5 tablespoons plain flour
    • A good pinch of salt
    • 3 tablespoons sugar
    • 3 fresh eggs
    • 500mls/17floz of warm milk

    Method

    • Prepare the prunes by removing the stones and then placing the prunes in a bowl with rum or brandy drizzled over them. Let them stand for at least
    • 3 hours, stirring them at intervals.
    • Preheat the oven to 160C/ 325F/Gas3
    • Butter a baking dish 2ins deep (or a flan tin).
    • Prepare the batter by placing the flour, salt, sugar and eggs into a bowl and mix together, then gradually mix in the milk using an electric whisk until the batter is smooth.
    • Once you have made the batter, stir in the prunes and the juices.
    • Pour this mixture into your buttered dish and place the dish on a baking tray and place in the preheated oven.
    • Bake for about an hour or until the pudding is firm to the touch and golden brown.

    It is best left for a short time once it has been taken from the oven and served warm rather than hot. Usually it is served with a local thick cream but any cream you like will be just as good.

    Bon Appétit

  • Brittany Mussel Soup

    In this blog, a trip to Dinard in Brittany and a delicious recipe for Mussel soup.

    A short break to France is welcome at any time of year and November is no exception as there is much to do and see in many regions. We had a refreshing break in Brittany recently which was very much needed and I would say has revitalised me completely. Yes, just a short break in France is enough to charge my batteries for a while.  The coastal scenery in Brittany along with the heritage of castles, churches and historic towns and villages is what makes it such a wonderful place to visit. Along with the splendid sea food it is perfect heaven for me.

    We stayed near Dinard which is a former fishing village in the north east coast of Brittany. It is so pretty there and is a great place for a holiday. It has a mild climate and it is said by many to be very much like the Côte d’Azur. In fact it is often called the ‘Nice of the North’ as it is compared to the beautiful city of Nice in the South of France.

    We were very happy spending our time simply strolling around and taking in the ambience. This is my idea of a relaxing break. Doing what you want when you want and not having any restrictions. I did miss our little Jack Russell though and he is the reason for the break being short!

    Dinard has several beaches, Plage de L’Ecluse being the most famous. It is ideal for family holidays as the kids will love the beaches and there are some lovely walks along the bays which we enjoy, taking in the sea air and brushing off the cob-webs.

    I love the markets wherever we go in France and Dinard is no exception as they have a market each Thursday and Sunday which are popular with tourists as well as the local people.  They have such a wealth of fresh foods and specialities and if you are self catering you will have good food for your family for the week.

    Some of the specialities of Brittany are of course are crepes or little pancakes which you will find everywhere. They are delicious with either sweet or savoury fillings so the choice is yours to enjoy.

    Brittany is also famous for its fresh fish and shell fish and is France’s most productive fishing region. One of my favourite shell fish are mussels and from October to March they are at their best. They are often cooked in traditional ways in Brittany, usually in wine or cream and they may be cooked in cider too.

    We had a trip over to St Mont Michel’s bay where they are famous for their mussels. When the tide goes out in the bay you can see the ‘stakes’ as far as the eyes can see where they grow the mussels. These are called bouchots and there are over thirty two thousand of them – so I was told.

    They are extremely high quality mussels and they are very proud of the fact that this year they were awarded protected origin status by the EU and so supporting producers and protecting the reputations of their local foods.

    They were awarded an  Appellation d'origine Controlee (AOC) in 2006. The AOC is usually bestowed upon a food, usually a wine or a cheese, however, the St Michel Bay mussels are the first seafood to be awarded the French “appellation” label. This award only applies to the mussels from St Michel’s Bay.

    Mussels are a very healthy sea food, slightly salty in flavour and full of iron and calcium. They also contain vitamin b12 and omega3 fish oils which we hear a great deal about these days as they are so good for us.

    I can remember my grandmother telling us to eat our fish as it was good for our brains! It seems she was quite right as now it has been researched and they say that the omega 3 fish oils are so good for the health of our brains as well as our teeth and bones etc.  Research now indicates that they help with mood levels so if you suffer from depression eating oily fish may well help with this. They say we are not getting enough of the omega3 fish oils nowadays as we once did.

    Apart from the research, I just love sea food so have no problem when it comes to any recipes with the fruits of the sea. Many people are afraid to cook mussels and are not sure if they are going to end up with food poisoning. Well, this is very rare and if you only buy them in the winter months, or from October to March you should be ok.

    You will need to buy about 1 pint of mussels for each person for a first course which may seem a lot but when shelled the mussels are very small. When you buy them, make sure they are tightly closed. Any that are open do not buy. If you do find any are open when you get them home – throw them away.

    Wash them well in a bowl full of cold water. If any of them float to the top throw them away. Rinse several times, scrape of any bits of barnacles and trim off the little hairy beards. Leave them in a bowl of clean water until you are ready to cook them. After cooking it is important to throw away those that have not opened.

    If you do manage to get away to France this month I hope you enjoy your stay and get to eat some of these wonderful shell fish. I have an easy recipe for cooking mussels which should please all the family and it makes a great starter if you are entertaining. If you are still worried about cooking mussels you can cheat and buy ready cooked mussels in many good supermarkets. Either way you will have a lovely warming winter soup.

    Mussel Soup
    Serves 4 for a starter

    Ingredients

    • 3 pints (about 7 cups) small mussels
    • 2oz, (4 level tablespoons) butter
    • 4oz, (115gm) onions chopped finely
    • 8oz, (230gm) ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped
    • 8 tablespoons dry white wine
    • Black pepper
    • Parsley, chopped for garnish.

    Method

    • Clean the mussels well by scrubbing and scraping them in several changes of cold water. (Throw away any that do not shut tightly!)
    • Fry the chopped onion in a heavy bottomed pan, in the melted butter, until soft and golden.
    • Pour the wine into the onions
    • Add the chopped tomatoes
    • Boil for one minute
    • Add the mussels, cover the pan and cook quickly for about five minutes, shaking the pan until the mussels open
    • Remove the shells as they open
    • Place the mussels in a serving bowl immediately with the liquid strained over them.
    • Season with freshly ground black pepper and garnish with chopped parsley.

    This is a fabulous soup with a wonderful flavour of the sea. It is delicious served with crusty French bread spread with creamy French butter.

  • Carbonade Flamande

    It is at this time of year when I need my French 'fix'. That is to say, even a short visit to France is more than welcome to shake off the cobwebs, or, rather, the winter blues. Having had our fare share of snow and cold winter winds, it is time to recharge the batteries and pop over the channel for some change of scenery.

    Nowadays it is so much easier to get to France especially with Eurotunnel as you are in Calais in no time at all. Once in Calais you are in the Nord de pas Calais region of France where most of the time you simply pass through on your way to other regions of France. However, it is easy to get to Paris and other areas by road from the region, so for me that has to be a definite plus.

    The region has many attractions including the city of Lille. This is only about eighty minutes from London St Pancras if you travel by Eurostar, so can be the perfect day trip too if you feel like a shopping trip abroad.

    Lille has many tourist attractions such as the Fine Arts Museum, The Grand Place and the Town Hall with its belfry. If you wish you can take the one hour’s city tour where you will travel by minibus to see all the historical sights the town has to offer.

    For me, the best part is simply strolling the cobbled streets of the old part of the town and browsing the street markets and stalls with the paintings, antiques, furniture and of course, lots of junk - but you never know what you may find useful amongst this either. I find this sheer heaven!

    Whilst strolling and browsing you will no doubt smell the wonderful food stuff wafting from the cafes and stalls with dishes such as “moules-frites” being served as a favourite in the area. This is a meal of mussels and chips and is very, very good.

    Another dish in the area which to me is my favourite comfort food at this time of year has to be Carbonade Flamande. This is simply a dish of stewed beef in beer but on a cold winter's day it is a really heart-warming nourishing meal to behold. Sometimes served with boiled potatoes or chips, I have even had it with pasta and noodles, so it does vary from restaurant to cafe.

    Carbonade Flamande is traditionally a Belgium dish, probably a farmer’s dish, using good Belgium beer to make it. It is very popular in northern France and in the Alsace region and Germany too. This is probably because these areas of France and Germany are so close to Belgium.

    So, at this time of year, whether strolling the streets of northern France or keeping warm indoors at home in Wales, this is one dish we have quite often during this time of year. I have to add that it goes down very well with a glass of Belgium or French beer of course!

    This month my recipe is for this tasty beef stew in beer, so whether you are able to take a trip to France and taste the real thing or simply enjoy the tastes of France in your own home, it will still be a pleasure.

    There are many variations of this recipe but I think you will find this one quite easy. If you cannot find French or Belgium beer, just use a good dark beer at your local supermarket. Some recipes suggest serving it with croutons smeared with French mustard, it is up to you, whatever you enjoy, but a glass of beer served with it is exceptionally good.

    Carbonade Flamande

    To Serve 4 - 6 people

    • 2 1/2 lbs (1.3kg) chuck beef steak, shin beef or thick skirt
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil or pork dripping or pure lard
    • 8oz onions, roughly chopped
    • 1 bouquet garni
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon flour
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1/2 pint beer

    Method

    • Cut the beef into thick strips about 2ins long.
    • Heat the oil or fat in a heavy bottomed pan and seal the beef strips for a few minutes on each side.
    • When all are sealed, place on a warm plate.
    • Soften the onions in the pan for a few minutes without browning them.
    • Put the meat back in the pan.
    • Add the beer and if needed, add some water to cover the meat.
    • Season with salt and black pepper and add the bouquet garni.
    • Cover with a lid and bring to boiling point; at this stage you can either reduce the heat or simmer for an hour on top of the cooker or place in a moderate oven for an hour until cooked.
    • When the meat is cooked, remove and place in a warm dish.
       

    To make the sauce:

    • Heat the vinegar with the sugar in a small saucepan until it bubbles and forms a dark caramel.
    • Stir in two tablespoons of boiling water and add this mixture to the pan, this gives it a good colour.
    • or a thicker sauce, mix the tablespoon of butter with the flour and stir it into the sauce.
    • Replace the meat in the pan.
    • Bring to boiling point and then simmer again for ten minutes.

    Serve with either noodles, frites (chips)or plain boiled potatoes and a glass of beer!