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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 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!

  • Chicken with 40 Garlic Cloves!

    "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

  • Christmas in France and a Traditional Yule Log Recipe

    December has arrived! Are you one of those counting the days to Christmas or are you finding it a daunting task trying to juggle a busy lifestyle and trying to organise the Christmas presents, Christmas food and family parties etc.

  • Halloween in France - Pumpkin soup and Sausages braised in White Wine

    This month we explore the origins of Halloween and I have a couple of good Halloween recipies for you.

  • March in France and Patisserie Religieuse

    March is my favourite time of year when spring has arrived and the garden is beginning to show signs of new life. Of course with the weather and climate so changeable these days we may not be so lucky but I am forever an optimist.

    It is a good month for a trip to France as it will refresh you and recharge your batteries so to speak. It is much quieter at this time of year and if you would still like a skiing holiday, it is not too late as March is the last month for this season so you can still take that longed for break.

    The air fares remain lower which again is a bonus and of course you can find many holidays to suit you at French Connectionswhether you want a skiing holiday or just a quiet getaway to relax and enjoy the good food and fantastic scenery France has to offer.

    You may still be able to enjoy the carnival in Nice, on the Côte D’ Azur or Le Carnival Parade as this runs until the 6th March. The Nice Carnival is a wonderful sight and to be there and enjoy the festivities at this time of year is another reason to visit the South of France. This year the theme is ‘King of the Five Continents’ and the streets are alive with musicians and artists all participating to make the event a very extravagant affair.

    A little further along the coast is Menton, where there is the Lemon Festival which runs until the 9th March and is such lovely tradition where the streets are decorated with lemons and oranges to make this a truly colourful event. This is a beautiful town and well worth a visit if you are on holiday in the South of France.

    If you are a book worm (my husband being one of them) you may like to visit the annual Salon du Livre or the Paris Book Fare. It is to be found at the Porte de Versailles Exhibition Centre in Paris and admission to it costs around 10€ for adults with students and under 17’s free.

    It will be Easter toward the end of March; Good Friday being on the 29th and Easter Sunday on the 31st March. This is the most important period in the Christian calendar and is one of the moveable public holidays in France. As a result you may find that some smaller towns and villages are closed at this time while they celebrate this religious event.

    In France, especially for Roman Catholics, Easter is celebrated with much joy as it commemorates the resurrection of Christ. Easter or Pâques as it is known, is considered the holiest day in the Christian calendar and is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon on the day or after the day of the vernal equinox. This is the time when day and night are about the same duration.

    If you are in France for Easter, whether in the cities, towns or villages, you will surely hear the sound of church bells ringing on Easter Sunday morning, celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. Children wake up in anticipation of finding ‘les oeufs de Paques or Easter eggs which may be hidden inside their homes or in the garden.

    Children are told the story which connects the bell ringing on Easter morning to the appearance of the Easter eggs. The story goes something like this – “On Maundy Thursday the bells are silent as they have flown across to Rome to visit the Pope. On Easter morning, their return signifies happiness at seeing the Pope and they bring with them beautifully coloured eggs as gifts for the children”.

    There are many different chocolate eggs these days for children and adults alike from traditional egg shaped ones to bunny rabbit novelties and even little fishes too.

    Traditional games are also played at Easter such as rolling eggs down a slope and whoever has an egg that does not break is the winner. This game is meant to symbolise the rolling away of the stone at the tomb of Jesus.

    So if you area able to have a French holiday in March there is much to see and do whichever region you choose to stay. The countryside is coming to life with spring flowers, blossom on the trees, and the coastline has miles of beautiful quiet beaches at this time of year. Whether you want a walking holiday, a skiing holiday, a shopping trip or simply just a relaxing, doing nothing kind of holiday, France is the place to do it!

    When it comes to traditional French food for Easter, there is no one food particularly for this time but eggs are certainly on the menu and omelettes are often made at picnics as well as in the home. Lamb is very popular too either a roast or a slow casserole of lamb which can be left cooking for several hours.

    Giant omelettes are sometimes made for picnics to feed the whole family and of course they need many fresh eggs. So with these foods in mind there is something for most people to enjoy.

    You will find the recipes for Navarin of Lamb or a slow lamb stew and a good roast lamb recipe called Gigot de Pre-Sale Roti at French-recipes-to-love.com but for something different I thought you may like a recipe for some very special little French cakes which you can buy if you are on holiday in France, or choose to make for Easter if you are at home.

    They are not specifically for Easter but I think they will go down a treat with your Easter tea or even an after dinner dessert. If you are in Paris you will see them in such shops as Laduree's where they are decorated so artistically. I am afraid my decorating needs a great deal more practice but I can assure you they taste just as good.

    Patisserie Religieuse

    Gorgeous little cakes made with choux pastry or pate chou. In a sense they are simply cream puffs, one larger one and a smaller one on top. The name Religieuse may have come about as they look like little nuns, and the colour violet is from the Cardinal’s robes although you will find these cakes in many colours and flavours nowadays such as pink, chocolate and coffee.

    First you will need to make the Choux Pastry:

    Ingredients

    • 110g (3 3/4 oz, 3/4 cup) plain, all purpose flour
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 175 mls (6 fl oz, 3/4) water
    • 85 g (3oz, 6 tablespoons) unsalted butter cut into pieces
    • 3 eggs
    • Pinch of nutmeg

    Method

    • Pre-heat the oven to 200C (400F, Gas 6)
    • Sift the flour together with the salt and nutmeg.
    • Put the water into a heavy bottomed medium pan, add the butter and bring to the boil.
    • Remove it immediately from the heat and quickly add the flour mixture.
    • Beat well with a wooden spoon and continue to beat until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan
    • At this stage, place the pan back on a low heat and continue beating for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
    • Make a well in the middle and place one egg in the well and beat into the mixture until well absorbed.
    • Continue with the other eggs in the same way, it should be easier with the last egg.

    When the mixture should is shiny and smooth spoon it out onto a buttered baking tray :

    Drop tablespoons of the mixture on to a baking sheet, (tablespoons for the big ones and teaspoons for the smaller ones) leaving a space between each one to allow for it to puff. You can use a piping bag with a round tube opening if you prefer.

    Place into a pre-heated oven and bake for about 20 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Take out of the oven and pierce each puff to allow the steam to escape. Turn the oven off and place the puffs back in the oven with the door ajar for about 10 minutes.

    Remove and allow to cool on a wire tray before filling.

    Tip!!
    Sometimes your choux pastry will be a little soggy in the middle when taken out of the oven. Do not worry, just take a fork and scoop any uncooked pastry from the centre.

    The Filling

    You will find the recipe for the custard filling at www.french-recipes-to-love.com/creme-patissiere.html

    When the crème patisserie has gone cold, flavour it with a few drops of rose water and a drop of pink colouring and simply fill your puffs with the cream. If using chocolate flavour you can add cocoa powder or melted dark chocolate.

    For the coffee, make some coffee with hot water and coffee and allow to go cold. Add this to your cream filling.

    For the icing simply add your flavour and colour to some icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar) with a few drops of water. Mix until you have the right consistency which should be nice and thick but not too dry as you need to either spread it on your buns, or dip your buns in it.

    When it has set, pipe some icing between the two buns.
    When the icing has dried your lovely Religious cakes are ready to serve!

    Bon Appétit

  • Potato and Comte Cheese Tart Recipe

    Try this recipe for a delicious tart made using Comte cheese from the Franche Comte region in Eastern France.