Autumn Gourmand

We have been watching Geese fly south, and displays of yellow trees suddenly disappear in a high wind. The school ‘run’ with the youngest, which is a pleasant walk down our lane, now incorporates picking up twigs for kindling for the stoves.
Sometimes, we meet one of our neighbours on his morning walk. He was born in the house he lives in and went to the same school 60 years ago. His brother built a house next door to his. These two are the last still here of a hamlet that was once made up of several small holdings, all with orchards, gardens, vines and animals. The well for the hamlet was (and still is) on our property, the bread oven on the back of the brothers’ old farm house. There are unused wine chai’s (storage buildings), abandoned orchards, dying walnut groves, and bat filled barns with tiny houses at one end dotted round. Some of the old trees provide us with fruit and the pleasure of picking it throughout the seasons.

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But the best remnant of this dying era is our neighbours’ garden. Large, tilled with a hand machine, seasonal. Best of all, full of organic produce sometimes gifted to ourselves. Right now it is pumpkins. Huge, dense, rich tasting (especially when roasted) pumpkins. We love our neighbour.
It doesn’t require any fuss, unless you count making some delicious chicken or vegetable stock – but this time of the year when the wood stove is going, it is easy for me to pop on top a pot of veg scraps, herbs and water in the morning, to simmer away for a few hours.
Don’t worry about precise amounts of ingredients to use – whatever is to your taste!
– Chop a pumpkin up into even size chunks or wedges (sort of the size of a normal wedge of cake!) Leave the skin on, but scrape off the seeds with a spoon. You can save the seeds to roast and eat too, but that’s another recipe…
– In a bowl sprinkle the wedges with salt and drizzle with oil then mix together with your hands. Lay them on a baking tray and roast for about an hour in a medium hot oven.
– When cooled, scrape the flesh off the skins.
– Sweat a little onion and garlic together in a large pan until cooked and then add the pumpkin. Try adding a tiny bit of a flavour you like too – cinnamon, or ginger or chilli for example.
– Add enough stock of your choice to cover-plus-a-bit-more and simmer for just half an hour.
– Blend in the pot with a hand blender and then add some cream at this point, or swirl it about on top once it is in bowls. Garnish with parsley or coriander and some croutons…


Dessert to finish a curry with…

Can you think of a better pudding for a group of grown men after a curry?

Caramel Mousse – Nursery food at its best!

Take one can of condensed milk, and boil it unopened, in a covered pot for 2 to 3 hours. Check the water isn’t boiling away from time to time. (Do several at a time so you have them ready in advance for next time.) When it is cool, open and empty into a bowl and mix with the juice of one lemon. If it is still really stiff, add a little milk to make a smooth thick mixture. Whisk 2 egg whites and fold in. If it is only for adults, add some whisky or brandy before the egg whites. Put into nice glasses and leave to chill in the fridge. Top with chopped chocolate, and serve with some little French ‘langues du chats’ biscuits… (nb, which are not the ones shown here!)


How to have a Curry in France

Take 1 retired NHS General Surgeon with a ruin of a stone house in France. Add 4 of his friends and colleagues, who like to come out once a year to help him work on the now-not-quite-so-derelict house. (Two consultant NHS general surgeons, one consultant NHS urologist, one orthopaedic assistant, and one anaesthetic assistant, their provenance is South Tyneside district hospital in South Shields.)

One is a Morris dancer, one was a Miner for 20 years, and two are called Chris.
And one is Kamil, born in Pakistan. At 16, whilst living with his dad and having to fend for himself, he began to take an interest in where his food was coming from and started cooking in earnest the curry’s he had been seeing his mum make all his life.
Thus by the time I came to cook with him on a hot June day in a tiny stone kitchen, he was cooking up a curry feast with knowledge and ease. Tomato based chicken curry, a marinated leg of lamb, two different types of Dahl, and at the last minute we were rolling out coriander naan breads and slapping them onto hot oiled trays into an oven turned up as high as we could. And talking about food. Non-stop.

So… finish with friends collected around a scrubbed wooden table in an old French farmhouse set in flowered meadows (as opposed to brambled, because of the hard work that had gone into removing them by the boys during the week!) on a glorious south west sunny evening, and that is how to have a curry in France.

Ps, The one flaw to this recipe, of course, is that unless you live near a big enough city down this way, lentils or dahls and pre-blended spices are really hard to find. That is why Kamil has PROMISED to send out a special package…

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Kamils Chicken Curry (for 8)
Chop 8 breasts of chicken into chunks, and leave them in a bowl rubbed over with 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and a little bit of salt.

Finely chop 5 large onions and start to slow fry them in a little oil (we had olive oil to hand) until soft. Add at the same time; 1 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp fresh ginger, 1 clove garlic finely chopped. Plus salt, pepper and chilli to taste. When this mixture is ready, remove from the pot leaving any remaining oil behind, and fry off the chicken to seal. (Or substitute whatever meats or vegetables that you would like.)

*At this point, we blended the spiced onion paste up, because, if you were cooking lamb for example, it takes longer to cook and can simmer for a lot longer, so the onion mixture will disintegrate itself into a paste. But chicken will cook faster so making the paste helps this breaking down process.

Add the onion paste back to the pot of chicken and add 4 large chopped up tomatoes. If you wanted a yoghurt based curry, instead of a tomato based one, you can add a couple of pots of yoghurt to the onion mixture instead of the tomatoes. (Add a couple of spoons at a time whilst the onions are still on the heat, and let the mixture reduce between additions.)

Add some boiling water if you need more liquid and let simmer for around half an hour.

When you turn the heat off, add some fine strips of raw peeled ginger and a whole green chilli and let it sit with the lid on for a while. This infuses the smell of the chilli, rather than heat!

Tarka Channa Dahl

Wash and drain approx. 200g of channa dahl, or yellow split peas if that is all you can get, (which don’t have quite the same nutty flavour) and put in the pot with approx. 1 litre of boiling water. Add some of your favourite spices; 1/2 tsp each of garlic, ginger, garam masala, or turmeric, or cumin. Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for about half an hour or until thick. Watch it doesn’t burn. Add more water or cook longer as needed to make a chutney-like consistency. Add salt and turn off the heat.

The Tarka is the oil that you put on top whilst it is still warm in the pot to infuse gently in the dahl. Gently heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a separate pan and add the aromatics of your choice that you want to imbue; a whole green chilli, a cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, a few cloves, garlic, a couple of bay leaves. Pour over the dahl and leave for a little while before serving.

Marinated chicken or lamb – here is a yoghurt marinade that I use for chicken.
(Kamil used a similar mixture to slater all over a leg of lamb and left to marinate for a night before cooking covered, at a gentle heat 130° or so, in the oven for 4 hours. Then take the foil off and turn the oven up to 180° for another hour, but don’t let the yoghurt covering burn.)
Mix up 1 small pot natural yoghurt with 1 crushed garlic clove, ¼ tsp each of ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and paprika. Add some chilli if you want to. Lightly slash 2 chicken breasts and smother them in the yoghurt mixture. Leave in the fridge to marinate at least 2 hours or overnight if you can. To cook, fry in a little oil for approx. 6-8 mins each side until crusty looking and cooked inside.

Naan Breads

If I have an hour and a half spare, I will make the bread dough in the bread machine. If not, I put the dry ingredients in a bowl and add & teaspoon of baking powder instead of the yeast. Then add the butter, yoghurt and water and mix and knead for 5 minutes. Leave to rest for 20 minutes before continuing.
100ml water
60ml plain yoghurt
280g flour
1 garlic glove chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
Some chopped fresh coriander
2 tsps. runny honey
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp. really soft or melted butter
1 packet easy blend yeast stuff
Mix on the dough setting in bread machine. Take out and roll into naan shape size and thickness. (A teardrop shape, no more than 1 cm thick. This makes about 6 smallish ones.)
Oil some oven trays and get them really hot in a hot oven. Slap the breads onto them and then bake for 3 to 4 minutes. Brush with melted butter and put under a hot grill to finish if you feel like it – I don’t usually get that far  before they are pounced on to eat!

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2. Gourmand.
Not quite so cheap (as in gratuit), but I bet, pretty inexpensive compared to the UK, was a night away a few weekends later, staying at the delightful Le Pont de l’Ouysse in Lacave near Rocamadour.
By treating ourselves (just me and husband) to a get-out-of-life-free-for-one-day-only card and aided by having no agenda except for deciding when to eat, it was spent following our noses and enjoying more of our corner of the midi Pyrenees;
First up, Tea in the tiny tea rooms in Gourdon, (look for the only tea shop on the main street) served in proper pots and big mugs, my favourite place to sit is in big armchairs in the tiny room out the back. Wander up the medieval streets to the castle at the top of Gourdon whilst you are there. Typical of so many working towns in this region, Big church, old castle, old winding streets and ancient buildings, but not a tourist destination particularly.
Next up, plate of the day of duck confit & salad at a family run restaurant in the middle of Rocamadour. (Mum, daughter, and granddaughter all serving.) Although it can be heaving in the height of the tourist season, spring isn’t so bad and I always enjoy the fact that it has a slight scruffiness and a low-keyness to it, despite being a major pilgrim centre and pretty amazing town perched on the edge of a cliff.
After climbing the 216 stairs to the church of Notre dame, we happened upon an impromptu duet by 2 members of a visiting choir in a small chapel – thinking it was a recording at first, we and the smattering of tourists were struck dumb by the beautiful voices soaring in the tiny vaulted space.
Ps, a hot tip for anyone visiting Rocamadour who can walk and not needing the tram to get up and down – avoid the tourist buses and crowds at the carparks at the top where everyone is looking at the view, and take the road right down to the bottom of town where there is plenty of room to park/picnic/take dog for a run. There is a tourist train in high season to take you to the first street if you can’t manage the hill walk up, and from there a lift to the church, and then a tram to the castle at the top.
There are oodles of other things to see & do around Rocamadour – Eagle parks, Monkey parks, Dinosaur parks, enormous caves and grottoes, but on the way to our hotel on the Rocamadour-Soulliac road, we stumbled across La Borie d’imbert, a goat farm that makes a Cahors AOC rocamadour cheese, and then feeds the whey to a whole bunch of mud wallowing, snorting, greedy pigs that you can visit in the fields. Actually a fascinating lesson in food production cycles. You can watch goats being milked, cheeses being made, all for free, AND you can visit the nursery shed piled full of of snuggly, nibbly baby goats! Pop over the shop across the road to stock up on the fresh cheese and pig produce direct from source…
So a gastronomic day, topped by the gourmet finish of the 1 Michelin star meal at the family run Pont de l’ouysse; Hors d’oueves with cold white wine sitting on couches by the ouysse tributary, quails egg ravioli for an amuse-buche, foie gras, seared river fish with dainty vegetables, chocolate mille-fueille, tiny petits fours with coffee – it actually won the contest of how much delicious food I can stuff inside me, over how much is given. The service can be slightly formal-French and stuffy, but we take no notice – if you enjoy talking about the food and surroundings, the team will soon start to talk to you too. The young Sommelier was particularly full of himself, and got some information wrong, but this did result in me trying the best glass of (Louis Latour) chardonnay I have ever tasted because I didn’t like what he had selected. Or was it just the excess of fabulous food and drink talking by then?!

How to make Duck Confit:
A traditional method of storing Duck for a long time. So easy to buy in large tins by local producers here, but so easy too, to buy tubs of duck fat if you want to try it…

Legs and wings of duck only
Melted duck fat
1 bay leaf
Some thyme/sage/rosemary
Plenty of salt.
Put some salt and herbs in a flat container (and some garlic if you want to) and place the duck on top. Sprinkle with some more salt and leave overnight.
Brush off the salt and put the duck in an oven proof container. Pour melted duck fat over the top, you can use a mixture of duck fat and olive oil if you need more, as you need to cover the pieces. Cook in a really low oven (100°C/225°F) for about 3 or 4 hours. Leave in the pot in its fat and it will store in the fridge for weeks. Crisp up the duck legs in a frying pan when you are ready to use them, and keep the fat for frying or roasting potatoes!

Don’t tell the French!…

With more contact than usual with UK media over school holidays, I am mindful of the foodie interest in provenance, food miles, and local culinary practice. I came over all smug with this recipe …until I remembered the beans.
What better way to feed a large number of visitors over Easter than to use up the last haunch of venison, still in the freezer, for the main course? Although I knew it was from the woods in the valley directly below us, I wasn’t completely sure of its age, so decided to slow roast to ensure tenderness. (This recipe is adapted from a slow-roast lamb dish I cut out of a long-forgotten-which-one magazine).
Knowing it wasn’t going to be warm-and-sunny salad type of weather, I paired it with a potato dauphinois, with potatoes provided by the neighbour – grown each year in his enormous plot that borders our fields, and then stored in his garage. This recipe is fail-safe and fantastic for large events. (Duphinois recipe taken from a book put together by volunteers of the American Hospital of Paris.)
Lastly, I used lovely big vibrantly green French beans, sautéed in garlic…But they came from the local supermarket. They were there in abundance because, as the blackboard sign clearly stated, they came from Morocco. Miles away. Don’t tell the neighbour, he would not be amused!

Slow-Roasted Haunch of Venison

• Shoulder or leg of venison (that has arrived, in a dripping plastic bag, from the local hunters. Defrost first if you have frozen it.)
• Herbs of your choice (from the garden)
• 2 onions (grown by the neighbour)
• Approx. 300ml (½ pint) red wine (mine was local Cahors AOC)
• Approx. 1 litre (2 pints) chicken stock (mine was fresh from a chicken bought in the village – told you I was feeling smug!)
• 6 garlic cloves (from France)
• A couple of teaspoons of honey (local supplier at the market)
• Approx. 150ml (1/4 pint) balsamic vinegar. (Oops, produced in Italy)

Peel and cut the onions into chunks, and put in a large roasting dish, along with the peeled garlic cloves and herbs. Place the venison on top. Heat the wine and stock together and pour over the venison in the roasting dish. Cover tightly with foil. Cook in the oven at 130°C (250°F) for 4 hours. Uncover, mix balsamic and honey together and baste with this mixture. Cook uncovered for a further hour at 180°C (160°F, 350°F, gas 4). Rest for at least 15 min before serving. Use the onion broth that is left for gravy.

Gratin Dauphinois

• 1kg potatoes (The neighbour grows ‘Spounter’ potatoes because they keep well)
• 3 cups of milk
• 1 cup cream or crème fraiche
• Salt & pepper & a pinch of nutmeg
• 100g butter and 1 garlic glove
Peel and cut potatoes into very thin slices. Heat the milk in a large saucepan without letting it boil over. Add the salt & pepper, nutmeg, cream and potato slices. Bring to a boil again and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes. Don’t let it stick to the bottom of the pan. Prepare a roasting pan or gratin dish; melt the butter and mix it with the crushed or chopped garlic, and wipe this all around the inside of the dish. Pour in the potato mixture and bake in oven at 150°C (300°F) for 2 hours – check to see that it is cooked through and all the liquid has been absorbed.
This can be made beforehand if required, sliced into desired shapes, and reheated in the oven.

Green beans sautéed in Garlic

Buy French beans that have been locally grown! Trim off the ‘picked’ end – I leave the slightly curly other end intact, although I have been told (locally) that this is not acceptable to the French, they always trim this end off too.
Boil until just tender, about 10 minutes, but regularly check by eating one (finish it, don’t put it back!) until they have the perfect crunch. Drain and soak/ rinse under cold water to stop them cooking. Heat a non-stick pan and sauté them very briefly with a little olive oil and finely chopped garlic to taste.


Neighbour's vast garden Stored Potatoes