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  • 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 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.

  • Cheese and Ham Croissants and a Melon starter

    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!

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    [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.

  • Chicken with Calvados

    Last month my French food recipe was a pear dish and it is of no surprise as this is the time of year, pears and apples are being harvested and stored for the coming winter months.

    I could reminisce about my younger days of climbing trees (yes, I was a bit of a tom boy) and shaking the apples from the apple trees when they were ripe – it was such good fun.

    I was reminded of these days when staying with my son in Sussex last year and we gathered an enormous amount of really good apples. What was hilarious to me at the time was the fact that the chickens were also perched on the branches as we gathered the apples. To see the chickens in the trees was to me fascinating, I simply loved them.

    We made apple pies, including French apple tarts and of course apple chutney - so delicious. I gave my neighbour some of the apples and she was very impressed with their flavour.

    Of course, Kent and Sussex are known for their cider apple growing and a glass of local cider is always welcome when in the area.

    In France, in the Normandy region they grow the apples for making Calvados which is a famous French brandy. It is distilled from cider or perry and aged in the French oak barrels for about two years.

    Calvados is also the name of one of the original departments of which was formed during the French Revolution.

    Legend has it that a shipping vessel, a galleon of the armada called the Calvador or el Salvador was wrecked on the coast of Normandy in 1588 and this is where the name of the department is derived from. Whether or not it is true is unsure but there have been distilleries in the area since around the 1600’s.

    Being so near to Paris, it is a really good choice of area to stay for a holiday or a weekend break. It is often referred to as the countryside of Paris.

    But to get back to the brandy, the French are very proud of their Calvados brandy and it is drunk as an aperitif as well as used in many French sauce recipes – one of which I have for you this month.

    It is the type of soil which decides whether apples or pears are grown in the area. The apples have shorter roots and so they are more suited to the soil which is softer. Pears, having longer root systems and can grow well in the harder soils.

    Calvados is made from apples and/or pears but these are not of the eating variety as they are very small and acidic There are about forty eight varieties which are suitable for making Calvados ranging from a very bitter to a very sweet fruit.

    The Calvados brandy must contain 70% bitter and bitter sweet varieties. Also it must contain 30% acidic varieties. It is the pears that can give the sweetness needed in this combination which gives the brandy the fragrance and the bouquet.

    Harvesting of the fruit takes place between September and January each year. If you decide to take a holiday in Calvados you may very well see some of the harvesting or indeed, have a taste of their famous brandy.

    Calvados is very much a tourist destination being one of the most visited areas in France – mainly because of its seaside resorts which are among the some of the most prestigious in France. You will find luxurious hotels, casinos, wonderful countryside, manors, French castles, chalk cliffs, typical Norman houses, Bayeux with its famous tapestry, the famous D-day beaches and much more besides.

    Food in the countryside of Calvados has abundance of specialities and apart from the cider and calvados brandy, there is the Camembert cheese, and the Pont l’Eeveque cheeses too. So staying in this region should be an absolute pleasure and don’t forget, as I said earlier, it is very near to Paris too!

    The recipe I have chosen for you this month is one using the Calvados brandy. Of course you can have the brandy as an aperitif too which I recommend – however, it is the sauce that will make this dish simply divine and it is not a difficult one so don’t be alarmed. There is a little bit of igniting to do, so please keep the children away!

    Other than that it is a beautiful dish, one everyone will love. Worried about your diet – don’t be – simply watch your portions, not too much and have a light meal tomorrow. Why miss out of something so delicious when you can be good tomorrow!

    Chicken with Calvados
    For Four People

    • 1 chicken cut into portions
    • 1oz/25g butter
    • 3 tablespoons of Calvados brandy
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 8fl oz/225ml crème fraiche or double cream

    Method

    Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed flameproof casserole pan.
    Place the chicken portions in the pan and season with salt and pepper.
    Cook over a medium heat for about an hour.
    Using a spoon, skim as much fat from the pan as you can.

    This is when you will ignite your dish.

    Pour the Calvados over the chicken pieces and bring the juices to the boil.
    Now ignite the Calvados and wait for the flames to die down.
    Place the chicken on a warm plate.

    Mix the egg yolks into the cream or crème fraiche and mix it into the cooking juices in the pan – over a very low heat.
    Beat the mixture with a wire whisk until it thickens but DO NOT LET IT BOIL.
    Pour the sauce over the chicken pieces when you are ready to serve.

    Serve your dish with boiled potatoes, sauté potatoes or rice.
    I think a few French green beans are good with this dish too.

    Bon Appétit

  • Lalbenque Truffle Market

    The area around Lalbenque in the Lot Valley is famous for its black Truffles.

  • Some ideas for Valentine's Day Menu

    I fell in love with France many years ago with it's wonderful people, language, customs and traditions and of course, the food! There is nowhere that holds this love for me more (except for my homeland of course!) and I recommend everyone to get t

  • Something to go with the wine.............

    I can’t remember where this recipe comes from originally or who gave it to me…. but I do know that this delicious meal will make a welcome change from the left over Turkey you may have been indulging in over the past few weeks.

    I can’t remember where this recipe comes from originally or who gave it to me…. but I do know that this delicious meal will make a welcome change from the left over Turkey you may have been indulging in over the past few weeks. Roast Loin of Pork stuffed with Agen Prunes
    • Serves 6 or 4 hungry people
    • 10 mins preparation, plus soaking
    • 1 hr 30 mins cooking
    • 24 Agen prunes (don’t omit to pit them!) soaked in either 6 tbsp of Cognac or Armagnac for 6 hours.
    • 1 Large beef tomato, pierced with a fork all over
    • 1.2kg boneless port loin with the rind
    • 15g unsalted butter
    • 1 tbsp Rapeseed oil
    • 200ml beef stock
    Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or gas mark 4. Roll out the pork loin, flatten and trim the rind leaving approximately 3mm of fat. Lay the pork ‘meat’ side up and lightly season, placing 10/12 soaked prunes along the middle. Roll up the loin and secure the ends with skewers and tie the roll with string. Remove the skewers. Reward yourself with a generous slurp of a fruity red, (or wine of your choice). Put a small roasting tray on a medium heat then add the butter and oil until they foam. Brown the loin of pork, then add the tomato, cover loosely with foil and cook in the pre-heated oven for 1hr 30 mins. Remove and place the loin on a plate wrapped in the foil to rest for 30 minutes. Take another generous slurp of wine. Return to the roasting tray and remove all but 2 tbsp of fat. On full heat add the stock and bring to the boil. There will be some lovely caramelised bits in the bottom of the tray. Strain the juice, add the remaining prunes to the sauce, heat and reserve.  Season to taste ….and reward yourself once again with another slurp of wine. Unwrap the pork, carve into slices, mix any juices from the meat into the sauce and place the pork and juices into a serving dish. Pour the prunes around the meat and serve. Serve with a fruity red wine (if you have any left!)
  • Summer Holidays and Recipes from Provence

    It is almost time for the summer school holidays here in the UK and many of you will be preparing to go away on your summer vacations. If you haven't yet booked anywhere take a look at what there is to offer here on www.frenchconnections.co.uk as there is plenty going on in France at this time of year and you are sure to find something to suit you.

    Of course in France it will be the start of their school holidays too, or the L'ete holidays as they are known. This is the two month long summer vacation, like our own, when all schools are closed from the beginning of July to the beginning of September.

  • The Garden of France

    Last month I talked a little about Paris. This month we will venture away from Paris and towards another beautiful area of France so often called the Garden of France and the cradle of the French Language. It is of course the Loire Valley. I also have a recipe for Saumon au Beurre Blanc (Salmon with Butter Sauce) for you.

    Last month I talked a little about Paris.  This month we will venture away from Paris and towards another beautiful area of France so often called the Garden of France and the cradle of the French Language. It is of course the Loire Valley.

    The Loire valley is a very popular tourist area and once you have been there you will be smitten. Not only is it a most beautiful part of France but it also has so many things to see and do for everyone, young and old. If you are holidaying with your family or on your own it is the ideal place to visit and stop over for a while to absorb the culture and cuisine which is just fabulous.

    [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Chateau Chenonceau "]Chenonceu[/caption]

    It is great for walking holidays and also if you are a cycling enthusiast as the countryside  is breathtaking. It was also a area popular with the French Royal families too in years gone by especially for hunting and relaxing away from the busy city of Paris. The French Royals have left a legacy for all to see with the most beautiful chateaux, gardens and parks. I love the chateaux and am quite content just strolling around absorbing all the surroundings and the history.

    Although the Chateau Chenonceau is considered to be the loveliest of the Loire chateaux, my favourite has to be the Chateau at Villandry.

    There is a great love story attached to Chateau Villandry. A young Spanish doctor, Joachim Carvallo, came to France in 1893 and he fell in love with a young American girl called Ann Coleman. They married and lived in Paris for a few years and had three children. They saved enough money and eventually bought the castle of Villandry which at that time needed restoring. The doctor became a French citizen and during WW1 he converted part of the estate to make a hospital for the wounded soldiers where he and his wife cared for them. They continued to restore the castle following the war and designed the most beautiful gardens that we can see today.

    [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Villandry Gardens"]Villandry Gardens[/caption]

    A life times passion for this loving couple created a beautiful place for us all to enjoy and I guarantee you will love it too. I just love the kitchen garden and wish it were mine! The gardens are truly amazing and in fact they are described as a 'true Renaissance-inspired masterpiece' as their geometry is perfect and their paths intersect at right angles.

    If you are coming from Paris  by car it is about 240 Km : A10 exit 24 (Joué-lès-Tours) then A85, direction Saumur, exit 8 (Villandry).You can take a train from Montparnasse station then taxi from Tours or Saint-Pierre-des-Corps stations.

    Other areas and towns to enjoy  are Amboise, Blois, Chinon, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours simply because we love the history surrounding them, the old buildings and the heritage.

    Samur is a pretty little town, with it's buildings of white tufa stone and sits on the banks of the Loire river. It is a welcoming place to stop for a rest and refreshments and you will find good inexpensive places to eat. It also has a beautiful chateau which you will want to stop and admire.

    If you love horses, then you are in the right place as Samur has a long history  with horses. It was home to the French Calvary Academy, and is home to the Cadre Noir horsemen. A visit to the French National Riding School is an experience not to be missed as you will see the riding tricks and skills of the best horsemen in the world. The annual Carousel (an equestrian show that takes place in July) draws thousands of visitors.

    Another fascinating place to visit and especially good for children is the famous  Troglodyte Village of Rochemenier.  Here you will see dwellings or homes that have been dug out of the soft tufa stone and are called Troglodytes. Part of these are now a museum and show how they were used up until about the 1930's. They were said to keep a constant temperature of cool in the summer and warm in the winter. You will see some farm houses and even a chapel carved out of the stone. It's difficult to imagine people actually living in houses created in this fashion but they did and in fact people still do in some even today - wealthy Parisians have some for second homes!

    If you want a place to eat you will find many restaurants to suit all pockets and all will provide you with the best of French food. The Loire is famous for it's fresh fruit and vegetable produce as well as it's dairy food which it supplies to the rest of France.

    If you are self catering you will have no problem purchasing the best of food for your meals  and the markets are the best places to do this. Fish is plentiful as well as poultry and cheeses, with goats cheese being very popular.

    To close our trip to the Loire this month I have included a recipe using fresh fish and the speciality Loire butter sauce. I hope you like it and if you are in France, do try to sample the real thing as it is just divine!

    Saumon au Beurre Blanc (Salmon with Butter Sauce)

    [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Saumon au Beurre Blanc "]Saumon au Beurre Blanc [/caption]

    This is a really beautiful dish using fresh salmon which in the Loire is fresh from the river. It can also be made with pike-perch called zander. I have used fresh salmon which is so good accompanied by the Loire speciality of a melted butter sauce flavoured with shallots and white wine vinegar. It is easy to make and if you are on holiday you can choose to make your own but it would be a shame not to taste the real thing if you are in France.

    The butter sauce can be made ahead of the vegetables and the fish and kept in a vacuum flask, or you can make it as the vegetables are cooking. It will take about fifteen to twenty minutes. The fish will take about ten minutes.

    Ingredients for 4 people

    • 2 lbs white fish such as pike-perch, sea bass, sole  (or salmon if youprefer)
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    Butter Sauce

    • 2 shallots finely minced
    • 6 tablespoons white wine vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon thick cream or crème fraiche
    • 6 oz butter cut into small pieces
    • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon

    Method

    Place the shallots and white wine vinegar in a pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.

    Cook until the liquid has reduced leaving about one tablespoon of juices.

    Add the cream and mix well with a whisk.

    Reduce the heat and add the butter a little at a time whisking as you do.

    Continue to whisk in all the butter, lowering the heat or removing from the heat if it melts before it is well blended.

    Finally add the chopped tarragon.

    Season with salt and pepper to taste.

    Cover the pan and keep in a warm place. (You can put it in a vacuum flask if you wish)

    To cook your fish you can either dust it with seasoned flour and lightly fry it in butter and oil or you can steam it for about five minutes. I have steamed the salmon in the photograph here.

    Serve with the butter sauce, small potatoes and French beans.

    Bon Appétit!

    For more French recipes from Gaynor, visit French recipies to love

  • The secret of a good French Pancake

    Today all over France people will be celebrating ‘la chandeleur’ (pancake day). Here is a favorite recipe of mine for French pancakes.