fbpx
French Connections

Find Holiday accommodation in France

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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

  • If you appreciate beautiful  countryside, rivers and canals, historic towns and authentic French food and wine, then you’re likely to arrive in Burgundy and breathe a deep sigh of pleasure.  Our featured region this month is also a haven for artists, writers and bird watchers – a corner of France where it’s possible to be both relaxed and inspired by the surroundings and way of life.

    Burgundy has been described as the heart of France, summing up so much that is appealing about the country to Francophiles. It lies to the south-east of Paris and two of its most famous names are located in the Côte-d'Or department – Dijon, city of gastronomy, and Beaune, home of the fine wine.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • August has arrived and I'm still waiting for summer! One day it's warm and sunny, the next it's chilly and pouring with rain! Yes, that's what it's like with the good old British weather.

    We've had a few lovely days here in Wales when I think it's time to put all my winter woollies away and get out the sun cream. Then I wake up to another miserable day with lots of rain and have to go and delve in the cupboards looking for warmer clothes again.

    Well, I'm living in hope that we get some summer here soon. My son lives in the south of England and says it's been wonderful down there and a lot warmer than in Wales so the weather does vary according to the region.

    It's the time of year when I love to spend time in the garden, especially growing herbs for my cooking. They are not too bad this year but of course they need lots of sunshine and it's not quite like being in France.

    Our garden is not immaculate by any means, it's more of a comfortable area with a tired looking lawn; one that is dog friendly! We have pots of geraniums, lavender and of course my little patch with herbs! The herbs are used daily during the summer for cooking and are sprinkled on just about everything for their flavour and goodness.

    We have a small summer house bought very cheaply in a sale from Argos a few years ago and I call it my ‘Petite Maison’. This is where I like to sit and read when the weather’s warm.

    I have just made (and eaten!) a lovely herb omelette for my lunch which is very easy and so tasty. It's just the thing when you want something quick. My friend asked me to show her how to make one last week so she can make them for the kids during the holidays. They have just driven off to the Dordogne – and I am so envious. You'll find the recipe at www.french-recipes-to-love.com

    If you are still wondering where to go for your holidays, there are plenty to choose from at www.frenchconnections.co.uk including a good selection in the Dordogne either bed and breakfast or self catering.

    I gave my friends Michael's tip from the June Blog - "A good tip if travelling on your holidays and dread the long queues on the French auto routes is to buy the same tag as the French people do" - see the blog given by Michael of June 23. They thought this a great idea!

    August is usually a very busy month in France as it also their school holidays too or L'ete holidays. Another thing to bear in mind is that Aug 15 is The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary or L'Assomption De Marie. France of course is predominately a Roman Catholic country and this Feast is celebrated all over France in towns and villages as one of France's Public Holidays.

    One important town is Lourdes in Southwest France where in 1858, a young girl, Marie-Bernarde Soubirous aged 14 is said to have seen the Virgin Mary. People travel from all over the world to this small town on a Pilgrimage.

    As you can imagine it will be very busy at this time in France particularly as L’Assomption de Marie also falls within l'ete holidays (the school summer vacation). So you need to be aware of this if travelling through France as the train stations and roads will be extremely busy and many shops will be closed in some towns and villages.

    On the other hand, the Feast is a wonderful time for family gatherings and there will be celebrations with lots of food, parades and even sports. In fact France is very much a family orientated country and the fact that they celebrate their Feast days in this way is what we all love so much.

    As it's the school holidays this month I'm sure you will want to enjoy as much time as you can together whether you are on holiday in France or at home. Eating together is such good fun and a time for all the family to relax and enjoy each other’s company.

    You need some easy recipes for quick meals as you don't want to be spending hours in the kitchen when you could be enjoying your time together. This month I have chosen a tasty but quick recipe that you can have on its own or with a lovely green salad and make into a light meal. The kids can also join in to prepare this one!

    This is an easy version of Croque Monsieur or a tasty hot sandwich. This recipe uses French croissants with a filling of soft cheese and prosciutto ham. If you are in France the cheeses you find locally will be fabulous and this is one way to enjoy them.

    The amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in France is also fantastic so you will have plenty to choose from. Melons are in season for most of the summer and will make a great appetizer or dessert if you prefer. The most popular is the cantaloupe but any you can find will be just perfect. I have used honeydew for the recipe here.

    So wherever you are for your summer holidays have a great time, and Bon Appétit!

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------

    [caption id="attachment_1993" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Cheese and Ham Croissants"]Cheese and Ham Croissants[/caption]

    Croissants au Fromage et Jambon
    (Cheese and Ham Croissants)

    Ingredients

    • 1 large croissant per person
    • 1 slice of prosciutto ham per person
    • Dijon mustard
    • 2oz Brie cheese or Camembert, sliced
    • Salad leaves, chives and tomatoes to garnish

    Method

    Pre-set your oven to 400F
    Slice the croissants lengthwise and spread one side with Dijon mustard.
    Place the sliced cheese on this half and then the ham.
    Place the other half on top and place the croissants on a baking tray.
    Cover with tin foil and place in the pre-heated oven for about 5 minutes just until the cheese melts.
    Serve at once with the salad.

    *********************

    [caption id="attachment_1994" align="aligncenter" width="350" caption="Melon Appetizer"]Melon Appetizer[/caption]

    If you would like a quick and easy recipe for a summer appetizer or dessert this is one the kids can help you make!

    Melon and Orange Appetizer

    Ingredients

    • 1 large honeydew melon
    • 4 small oranges
    • 2 teaspoons of dry sherry (optional)
    • ½ teaspoon ground ginger

    For the sauce:

    • Juice of 4 oranges
    • 1 tablespoon of Demerara sugar
    • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

    Method

    Cut the melon in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds.
    Cut each half in half again lengthways.
    Take a sharp knife and starting at one end, slice the flesh of the melon out in one strip.
    Cut the melon flesh into small cubes.
    Keep the base of the melon for your serving dish and cut zig zag patterns along edge with a scissors or sharp knife.
    Peel and remove the pith from the 4 small oranges.
    Place the orange segments in a bowl with the melon cubes. If the orange segments are too big, cut these into small pieces as I have done in the picture.
    If you are using the dry sherry, mix this in with the ground ginger and leave to marinate for about half an hour.

    To make the sauce:

    Put the orange juice and the sugar into a pan and heat gently until it is dissolved.
    Gradually increase the heat and boil rapidly for 2 minutes.
    Remove from heat and allow to cool.

    When you are ready to serve your appetizer, place the marinated fruit in the melon shells.

    Pour the sauce into a sauce dish or jug and let your family and friends help themselves spoon it over their appetizers if they wish.

  • "June is bustin' out all over
    All over the meadow and the hill!
    Buds're bustin' outa bushes
    And the rompin' river pushes
    Ev'ry little wheel that wheels beside the mill!

    Because it's June, June, all because it’s June, June, June!"

    Well, ok, you can't hear me thank goodness but it is a time when most of us feel better with a little more sunshine and long summer evenings. It's the time when summer holidays are on the agenda and outdoor gatherings with barbeques and picnics are beginning to happen.

    It's a wonderful time of year to visit France and June is a good time if you want to avoid the crowds which will start with the French school holidays next month, July.

    The countryside is truly magnificent wherever you travel so if you are planning on touring France you will not be disappointed. The spring showers will have encouraged many beautiful flowers to spring up everywhere making the countryside a palette of colour.

    There are many things to see and do this month and if you love music July is the time when the Fête de la Musique takes place in Paris. This is a different type of music festival where amateur and professional musicians perform for free. It is popular with both the young and old, so is an opportunity for all age groups to enjoy the atmosphere.

    The Paris Air Show also takes place during the third week of June so if you are an aviation enthusiast this may be for you.

    In the beautiful countryside of Brittany sports car enthusiasts can enjoy the 24 Hours of Le Mans Auto Race. This has been held near Le Mans since 1923. This is held on a circuit with the public roads closed for the 24 hours of the event.

    One of my favourite pastimes is browsing the many markets in France. Wherever we go I simply have to visit the markets and buy some of their fresh produce. The vegetables are fabulous, so fresh and healthy so these are first on my list. Then there are the French cheeses which again I cannot resist.

    This gives me some really good food for our meals and picnics, together with some beautiful fresh fruit. And last but by no means least, are the fresh herbs; not small offerings such as we get in our supermarkets but big healthy bunches of French parsley, tarragon, chervil, chives and many more including endives and rocket. Then I will buy some garlic as it is something I use often in my cooking.

    Cooking is not a chore when we are on holiday. Although we love self catering, the recipes can be easy and not time consuming. Using the local produce is a must for me. It is in my opinion the only way to eat when in France. I once heard of a lady who went to France on holiday from the United Kingdom and took her food with her – mostly tinned food such as corned beef! She obviously hadn’t heard that French cooking is the best in the world.

    Apart from the fresh fruit and vegetables, the markets also sell fresh poultry and believe me there is nothing quite like the taste of freshly roasted French chicken. So for this month’s recipe I have chosen a recipe popular in many regions of France as it is very easy and so tasty. I have to warn you it is cooked with a great deal of garlic, however, it will not taste or smell strongly of garlic so please don’t be afraid to try this recipe. The garlic is cooked in its jacket and following the cooking, the garlic paste inside the jacket is used for spreading on crusty French bread.

    Chicken with 40 Garlic Cloves

    Ingredients

    • 1 free range chicken
    • 40 garlic cloves
    • 1 small bunch of fresh tarragon
    • 1 small bunch of thyme
    • 1 bay leaf
    • Toasted bread or French crusty bread
    • Olive oil
    • Salt and pepper

    Method

    • Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the chicken and place 4 cloves of garlic inside the cavity.
    • Brush a little olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
    • Place the herbs in the bottom of a large casserole/roasting pan (choose one with a tightly fitting lid) Place the garlic cloves with the herbs.
    • Now place your chicken to sit on the top of the garlic and herbs.
    • Place your tightly fitting lid on the pot.
    • Cook your chicken for about 1 ½ to 2 hours or until cooked.

    If you don’t have a good fitting lid, one of the methods used in France is to make a dough from water and flour, make a roll and then seal the pan lid with this dough. I think that tin foil may do the trick.

    When you lift the lid your chicken will smell wonderful. You can serve it with your favourite vegetables or with a salad and the garlic paste spread on crusty French bread.

    Bon Appétit

  • Valentine's Day will soon be upon us and at home here in Wales I notice there are many advertisements in the local newspapers for Valentine's short breaks to Paris. This is surely a most romantic getaway for those couples wanting to spend a special time together and where could be more romantic than Paris!