Saturday, 31 December 2016

Burning off some Calories

After the indulgence of Christmas dinner and too many chocs we took ourselves off to La Verticale in Niort, the biggest indoor climbing wall in France, 42m long and 16m high. The boys climb often but it’s something we’d never done. I admit it, I was feeling a teeny bit nervous and Roger wasn’t that keen on how high the wall was, but we were determined to give it a go. For me the boulders were really hard, I much preferred climbing with the ropes even though I didn’t get that far up, it’s the wrists and arms that give out first. After some hesitation Roger went up to, but like monkeys the boys made it look easy, straight to the top in no time at all. A fun way to spend a few hours.

Climbing 1

The wall.

Climbing 2

Josh on the boulders.

Climbing 8

Darrel doing the same.

Climbing 3

Taking a break.

Climbing 4

Darrel near the top.

Climbing 5

Josh a long way up.

Climbing 6

Roger on his way up.

Climbing 7

And me, I got between 1/4 and a 1/3 of the way up.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Boudin Blanc

I was given the opportunity to help make the traditional white pork sausage Boudin Blanc with my neighbour Solange. Originally from the Champagne Ardenne region, Boudin Blanc is made with pork, eggs, milk, salt and pepper and is now a protected recipe but Solange had 2 recipes we were going to make, one with a slightly longer list of ingredients. The first recipe has pork, onions (lightly cooked), eggs, breadcrumbs, white wine, brandy,parsley, spice, salt and pepper and the 2nd was closer to the original but with added cooked shallots. For both recipes the pork is cooked in water for 1 1/2 hours, then cut into chunks and put through a mincer. Add the rest of the ingredients to the mince, then using a funnel or a machine if you have one put the mixture into sausage casings, tying each sausage off with string pushing out any air. Slowly simmer the sausages to a temperature of 75 degrees for 30 minutes in the cooking stock, remove and leave to cool. Having tried the supermarket versions which have a mousse like texture I was looking forward to trying them with a coarser texture. So a taste test was in order so one of each recipe were slowly cooked in butter. Don’t cook them to quick or they will burst as I found. The coarser texture was really nice but out of the 2 varieties we made I preferred the 2nd, they had a more delicate flavour.

Boudin1

Table full of ingredients.

Boudin2

Steaming hot pork.

Boudin3

Patou mincing.

Boudin4

Preparing the casings.

Boudin5

Here comes the sausage.

Boudin6

Tying off the sausages.

Boudin7

Freshly prepared Boudin Blanc.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Baked Oysters

Trying to enthuse about oysters, I decided to try baking them in the oven. First I prepared the oysters by detaching them from the shell, then leaving them in their shell they were laid in a baking tray.

Baked Oysters 1

I then pan fried some garlic, onions and breadcrumbs in some butter then added some mixed herbs, salt and pepper. Pop a spoonful of the mixture over the oysters and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. They were nice, but would I buy oysters, probably not. Glad we’ve tried them though.

Baked Oysters 2

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Île d'Oléron

Solange and Patou invited us out for a day on Île d'Oléron, mainly to collect 10 kilos of scallops (half for us), but on top of that we did 2 lovely walks, had lunch with Solanges’ sister and niece and ate very fresh oysters. We had visited the island before and to be honest we found it a bit touristy, but when you visit with people who know it well, you see it through different eyes. The morning was spent at Le Château-d'Oléron and then after lunch we went see oysters being washed and prepared for sale, around 60% of all oysters are sold in the run up to Christmas. There were 2 types available to try, one is known as Les Vertes which takes its name from the green algae they feed on and the other Blanche. You cannot get fresher oysters than straight from the sea, and while we appreciate how enthusiastic people are about them and were grateful for the tasting session, we just can’t see the appeal. We were given 12 oysters to take home and I’m going to try baking them, results will be posted soon. The end of the day was spent walking on the beautiful beach at Gatseau at the very south tip of the island. The tide was coming in and with mist hugging the waves, everything felt very atmospheric but one thing we didn’t expect to be doing in December was paddling.

carte-plages-ile-oleron
Oleron 1

Through the arches - Citadelle du Château-d'Oléron

Oleron 2

Soldier sculpture by Alain Nouraud including real life models

Oleron 7

Panorama of Château-d'Oléron

Oleron 10

Very fresh oysters

Oleron 3

A chilly December paddle

Oleron 6

Run – the tide’s coming in

Oleron 5

The coastline is being eroded with many trees falling onto the beach

Oleron 4

A stroll along the beach

Oleron 9

Preparing the scallops for the freezer but some didn’t make it.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Homemade Nibbles

I can’t remember if someone told me about these or I read it somewhere but I thought – what a great idea. You always get masses of seeds from a pumpkin or squash and I just throw them away. These seeds are from a butternut squash and all you do is pop them on a baking sheet, sprinkle on your flavourings, a splash of olive oil, mix together, spread them out and bake at 180C/350F/Gas 4 for 10 minutes turning them halfway through. I used chilli flakes, crushed fennel seeds and salt for mine but a bit too much oil, so I will reduce that next time. Other seasonings you could use are crushed or ground cumin seeds, Garam Masala, crushed or ground coriander seeds, crushed peppercorns, chopped garlic, Ras el Hanout, cayenne, paprika or fresh chopped herbs. You could also make them sweet with honey, cinnamon, maple syrup, sprinkle of sugar, ground ginger etc. These are so quick and easy to make and cost next to nothing.

Butternut Seeds 1

The unroasted seeds

Butternut Seeds 2

After roasting – delicious

Monday, 5 December 2016

5th December, 1.30pm, Lunch in the Garden, 32 Degrees …

…. well directly in the sun anyway. It’s been a glorious day today, beautiful blue skies, hardly any wind and nice enough to eat our roast pork and apple sandwich outside. Excuse the grubby state of us, we spent the day chopping and stacking wood.

5th December

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

Another one of those silky smooth autumn soups great to have on a chilly day. I added some carrot to this recipe as I had one lying around plus some chilli flakes for extra warmth. If you don’t like it spicy, leave them out. A swirl of cream on top is also nice. Makes loads so I froze enough for another day.

Squash
Squash Soup
Ingredients Method
Butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 butternut squash, diced
1 sweet potato, diced
1 litre vegetable stock
Pinch of chilli flakes
Salt and Pepper
Melt a knob of butter in a large saucepan.

Add the onions, fry until soft, than add the butternut squash and sweet potato and stir for a minute coating the vegetables in butter.

Add the stock, chilli flakes, salt and pepper, bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for 45 minutes.

Blend the soup and serve with crusty bread.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Bread

I really didn’t think that yeast would go off, but after making a few bricks, I realised it does!! So into the bin the old yeast went and new sachets were purchased. It’s so much more satisfying seeing it rise, than see a disappointing hard lump in the bottom of a mixing bowl doing nothing. What a difference a new sachet makes. Here’s my bread after it’s second prove with and without its greenhouse, then after, fresh out of the oven.

Bread 1 Bread 2

I use this basic recipe http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2060/easy-white-bread but for this loaf I swapped 150g of the white bread flour for some wholemeal. Some recipes suggest covering your loaf with a bag or cling film while it’s proving, but I use a shower cap (the type you get in hotel rooms) which are perfect for this. They sit snuggly round the bowl to give the bread it’s own little greenhouse.

Bread 3

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Not sure it was worth It

From this basket full -

Beans

I got these -

Shelled Beans

I’d picked a big basket full of beans hoping to get loads of big fat Shellies (I’ve read that’s what they’re called ), but they were tiny and not sure it was worth the 2 hours work. But at least I’ve got enough to throw into a Minestrone soup. Perhaps I needed to leave the beans a bit longer to get even fatter for plumper bigger beans. I’ve left 1 plant in the garden to let the beans get big, so we’ll see what happens in a few weeks time.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

What we spent in September and October

Squash
Again, with visitors most of September and October in the UK, the spending went completely adrift. But with November upon us we need to watch the budget again and with all the freezers full of garden produce we need to eat what we’ve grown this year and last. It’s fruit we seem to have the most of, figs, plums, blackberries, redcurrants, raspberries, rhubarb and apples so to use some of them up, we’ve started making smoothies which make a lovely change for breakfast. We threw in plums, blackberries, squidgy bananas, honey, vanilla sugar, yoghurt and a splash of milk to make this delicious deep purple smoothie.

Smoothie

We also have an abundance of squashes this year which thankfully keep for a long time. They make the most amazing silky soup, I’ll post a recipe soon.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Autumn Harvest

Harvest

We’d left our tomatoes, beans, courgettes, peppers, aubergines and figs to fend for themselves while away, so after a month we really thought we’d come back to nothing but rotting veg. So we were very surprised to find that we still had tomatoes ripening, figs on the tree, juicy plump peppers and courgettes the size of marrows. The beans had gone mad but they're a bit big and rubbery, so I’m going to remove the beans, have a go at cooking with them and save some to plant next year. A bucket of tomatoes have been made into pasta sauce, soup and some frozen. The figs have been slow this year but we’ve got enough to make some fig bars and crumbles. The photo above is just a fraction of what we’ve picked but I have to thank Sue for the basil which came in very handy for the pasta sauce.

Courgette