There is never a dull moment at Bellebouche. After having an afternoon walking a friends dog in their woods, I came home to discover these wonderful carriages sat outside my house.
Firstly apologies to our regulars. We have neglected this blog – with the ease of posting and adding photos to Facebook we have regularly updated our pages there and not felt it necessary to replicate them here.
Below you will find a quick recap of some of the events that happened in 2012 …
Clearing some weeds from around the house and I discovered quite the haul of snails. Big ones.
BIG Meaty ones. What can it mean? It’s a sign!
One made a break for it then stopped to munch some lichen…
One of the greatest living Englishmen in his double-awesome ‘Fat Duck Cookbook‘ devotes 7 pages to this dish.
I’ve read it plenty of times and figure that whilst it’s challenging (on all levels) I’m going to man up and have a go at a spot of Michelin 3* cooking!
The process of prepping them takes a couple of weeks. They’ve been washed, purged and fed up on a diet of sweet lettuce, cabbage, carrot peelings and onion and fronds of dill.
They’re then weaned off any vegetable matter and have been on a sprinkling of fine ground polenta for about 12 days.
There’s no delicate way to put this but…
…they were all now doing ‘white’ poops! Ready to cook.
They have had nothing to eat for the last three days. This morning, washed and rinsed for the final time and into a pan with a little salt and some fresh bay leaves.
All done. I kept waiting for them to start wriggling again… a sad fact is that once you snuff out the life in them they’re never coming back… they’ve moved on to fulfill a higher destiny… my Sunday supper!
Yeah. Big job. I had 62 to remove from their shells. I only needed a dozen this evening for this dish… the rest of the shells have been rinsed, boiled again in salted water, rinsed again and dried in a low oven.
I’ll make a classic Bourgogne Escargot dish with them.
All naked and keeping their curls.
Ok. The initial cooking process is just enough to liberate the snails from their shells. This stage transforms the texture and flavour.
Three hours @120c for the braising. The stock is made from an onion, halved and studded with cloves, chopped carrot and celery, bunch of rosemary, bunch of thyme, stalks from a bunch of parsley. Added 250ml of Muscadet and 100 ml of water. Covered with a little baking paper and braised in a low oven.
The residual stock? I’ll be making soup with that!
So – some more on this ingredient. The Blumenthal recipe calls for a salt cured and air dried duck breast. It takes (minimum) 20 days to make that and adds a layer of savoury flavour to the butter.
I had some home air dried beef on hand ( I make Biltong every summer – a hangover from time in Africa) – when it’s shaved like that in the foreground it is pure essence of Umami on the tongue.
I would *never* have put it in a herb butter. Genius.
Take-away-trick. Sauteé the garlic until lightly golden before blending. This was 85 g of garlic in 50g of butter. Transforms the harsh garlic edge away before adding to the base butter mix.
Blended 200g of butter with 200g of parsley. The shallots were cooked gently until translucent. The mushrooms zapped until caremelised.
The Blumthenal recipe called for ceps – none in the supermarché so I used normal champignon de paris. Caramelising the mushroom like that gave them the same great flavour you get from the mushrooms in a classic English fryup. YES!
Vinaigrette to dress the fennel topping. 140g rapeseed oil, 10g dijon, 50g of walnut infused white wine vinegar. I tasted that and thought it a bit one dimensional!
Heston might disapprove but I added two big pinches of sugar and a slug of fine ground white pepper. When he comes to my house and pays me £180 for his supper *then* he can complain!
Tiny amount of stock (40ml) and 20g of sifted porridge oats – enough to just hydrate the cereal and then blob in the herb butter.
Now to plate up :-
Finally, dress with the fennel shavings in their walnut vinaigrette.
A very long walk but what a journey. It was good!
The layers and complexity were all there…
Oats tasted of oats.
The butter to envelop the oats was multidimensional – savoury, herbal, very little hint of garlic… astonishing.
The ham was… ham. Salty and textured as it’d been well cured.
The snails? Herbal, meaty.. some were quite soft.. like a just-cooked foie-gras… rich and fatty.
The fennel, fresh, anis flavour… the bite of the vinaigrette dressing and the aroma of the nuts coming through.
Hats off to Heston. He da man.
12 days prep, one day pre-prep and about 7 man hours of my own time all in. The luxury of time is the key ingredient in all of this but the complexity and layering of flavours was something else.
My attempt was an approximation of the Blumenthal dish because whilst I had all the ingredients… he has the tools! I’m just never going to cough €4000 for a Pacojet.
Still, gave a good account of myself and will undoubtedly do it again. No question.
I’ve eaten food of this calibre a few times before and the combination of ingredients and techniques that are in play brings the dish to a whole ‘nother level.
Nothing for me to add, Heston says it all.
Except of course if you’d like to take me to dinner I’d quite like the tasting menu, please.
3.5 hrs worth of eating? £180!
Every year we make sure that we spend a day at the Festival Ludique International de Parthenay, or Flip. This year the weather has not been too kind but we managed to visit for an afternoon of sunshine with the odd shower.
Each year, over the fortnight, it draws thousands of people – young and old – into the town of Parthenay, to enjoy and partake in game playing. I have blogged this festival before in 2006 and not much has changed since then.
Father and daughter (?) playing a board game in the streets. It is so lovely to see all generations of people just stopping their day to day rush and spending time playing and being with each other.
Over the years we have had a go at some of the circus school games but this year we decided to just sit back, with a Belgian beer, and watch the children doing it with ease and laughter.
When the rain did come, it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. Numerous marquees around the town were filled with people hiding from the rain – but – still playing games! The rain passed quickly and everyone poured back out into the streets again.
Inside the Palais du Congress were all the video games and interactive games for young and old alike. It was funny to watch young girls playing a dance game, holding handsets to record their moves and scoring points for every correct move they copied from the animated dancers. They did it so seriously.
All the young boys were on the racing car and shoot-em up games. If not shooting or racing, other males were on the 1st floor of the building partaking in the Rubiks cube tournament. Some were so good they weren’t even looking at the cube while they completed it and others only used one hand. I personally have never been able to do a rubiks cube without taking it apart!
Face painting was very popular this year. It seemed to be, wherever you looked, children and adults alike were painted with patterns and bright vivid colours.
And the new hit game of the year – there didn’t seem to be one – unlike one previous year where everyone was playing Blokus. We played it too and loved it so much we bought it.
Trends for 2012 – well – you can’t escape them – only a head shot will do …
Having flown many times from the UK back home to Poitiers airport and seen this park from the air, I have always wondered what it was all about. All those unusual shapes of the buildings, stark lines made from various reflective materials and water everywhere.
Each year we have an avalanche of certain fruit. It is not the same fruit each year, last year it was the tayberries. This year is the year of the strawberry.
Last year we decided to refresh the strawberry patch. We dug up the old plants and prepared a new bed in a different part of the potager. Three different varieties were chosen to give us a long season of wonderful sweet red fruit. The plants were left to grow and any flowers picked off to make the plants stronger for the following year.
Fast forward to 2012. On the first passing – 3kgs were picked.
Fresh strawberries with creme fraiche, strawberry coulis with home-made pancakes, fresh fruit salad with strawberries, 5 pots of strawberry jam …
Homemade fruity strawberry milkshake. Delicious for breakfast and a favourite of one of our younger house guests this year.
Another 6 kgs picked …. that makes 9 kgs in total …. and counting. This doesn’t include the garden snacking whilst working in the potager and the hundreds of partially slug eaten or rotten ones we have given to the chickens.
So now – we are running out of things to do with them – we have given 1 kg to friends – there can be only one option left …
What could this possibly be ….
A strawberry daiquiri – for the lady – of course !
Our goose rearing in 2012 started when we collected 9 eggs from a farm in a town nearby. The farmer was a friendly chappy who lived on an apple farm. He produced apple juice and shared a bottle of his own freshly pressed juice with us. It was truly delicious.
On returning home, the large eggs fitted snugly in the incubator and all seemed well …. until we received a letter from the local electricity company a few days later … informing us they were turning the power off for most of one day while they connected up some new cables.
We had plenty of time to arrange a system of keeping the eggs warm in that period. An old, small chest freezer – Adrian uses for keeping fermenting beer at a constant temperature – was filled with large flagons of hot water and when the time came the incubator was placed in the freezer. We checked the temperature every half an hour or so to make sure it didn’t fluctuate too much. So far so good …
Seven days after being in the incubator and we candled all 9 eggs.
7 look ok with one being a maybe and one being a dud. So 7 goslings on their way – this could be fun !
Hatching day arrives – 4 pop out with no problems. The fifth takes a little more time but is duly plonked under the heater just after hatching and just before we nip out for coffee at friends – mistake number 1.
We return back after about and hour only to find the poor bird had died – it had got too hot under the lamp and wasn’t quite able to move away. We should have left him in the incubator – oh well – that’s something we will remember next time.
We discovered that one chick died in the shell after about 25 days.
Egg number six had pipped but seemed to be taking ages to hatch. We normally don’t interfere but I felt it had been taking far too long and the bird was getting weaker and weaker in the shell. I made the decision to try to help him along – mistake number 2.
I took off too much shell and left the membrane attached – which duly shrank and hardened around the chick in the shell. After much damping down and fingers crossed the poor little bird was free of the shell. We left it in the incubator to dry out and after 24 hours it started to look OK. It was put into the box with the others and slowly picked up.
We had decided to keep the geese in a large cardboard box, lined with paper and a heated lamp hung across the top. This seemed to work fine until we noticed that two of the goslings legs were splayed apart and they couldn’t stand up properly – mistake number 3.
The paper was too slippy for the goslings and their muscles too weak to hold them up properly. If this wasn’t fixed quickly they would never be able to walk properly. So we improvised and made hobbles with a couple of hair bands.
It seems harsh but the soft cotton protected their tender legs and allowed them to walk and develop enough muscle strength to look after themselves. The hobbles were removed after about 4 days and we couldn’t recognise which had been hobbled and which hadn’t.
As soon as the weather turned brighter we let them out in the garden during the day – bringing them back under the lamp of a night time. Here’s a little video of them all enjoying the garden.
The goslings were growing at a heck of a rate – except gosling number 6 who was still quite small. With no major signs of anything really wrong we found the little gosling dead one morning. Poor thing – oh well.
So we now have 4 healthy goslings – twice as many as last year !
One was camera shy.
Of course, drinking from your drinking bowl is so passé. All the cool kids swim in theirs!
And now …
Take a gaggle of geese. Add to small paddling pool. Stand back as the craziness unfolds!
It’s a wonderful experience to introduce a water bird to water for the first time. They have no idea what it is but they just know that unending joyous playtime awaits once they get past the terror of being surrounded by water.
We took this about a fortnight or so ago – no problems getting into or out of their splashpool now. They are now starting to get their true feathers and at the moment look a little scruffy.
We have put them in the courtyard rather than leaving them to have the run of the garden – you cannot imagine the amount of mess 4 birds make! They are enjoying the buttercups, vine and nut tree leaves in there.
Raising water birds is far more difficult than chickens but is more rewarding and fun !
Each year the Comité des Fêtes hosts an evening soiree to celebrate the diversity of the nationalities of the residents of Gourgé. There are 12 different nationalities – French, English, Scottish, Portuguese, Mexican, Australian, Dutch, Turkish, Spanish, German, American and Romanian.
The first soiree held was three years ago and was an introduction to all the varied cultures.
The drinks and meal were all Dutch based.
Last year was the turn of the Mexicans. There was a slide show highlighting the country, culture and famous sights. Margaritas, Mezcal and a traditional Mexican honey based drink – Xtabentún – were served as pre drinks. The meal consisted of Quesadillas, Tortillas, Mole, Frijoles and other spicy delicacies. All enjoyed to the sounds of Samba and a little bossanova ! After the meal some individuals gave a little turn by singing a song or doing a little dance. At this point we left but were later informed the evening didn’t really finish until 0430!
Now to 2012 – the turn of the English !
Adrian volunteered to do a presentation on the history of British beer, brewing, pubs and he made a selection of traditional beers for sampling.
The car was loaded up with beer, a projection screen, laptops, various malts, hops and various other beery paraphernalia.
We had a selection of malts on hand for the show’n'tell.
An old gentleman came up and after asking a few questions about the different malts, he recounted his story of wartime occupied France when there was no coffee available – he told us how they used to roast malted barley at home to make a powder to make a coffee substitute.
He had slightly moist eyes at the end of the tale – quite lovely.
Adrian brought hops from New Zealand, Slovenia and… Blighty!
All quite different and one of them was outrageously skunky.
On the small screens we had a little running gallery of beer related pictures.
Ancient pubs, drayhorses, beer engines for hand pulled pints. It was suprisingly popular.
A little selection of brewing and beer history books and an introduction to the best drinking vessel in the world. A 568ml dimpled pot! Enough to make a grown man cry.
All the tasters laid out. In this shot… from the back… our Timothy Taylor clone, an ancient 1750′s London porter, 1840′s IPA and a contemporary recreation of an oatmeal stout clone from Samuel Smiths in Tadcaster.
The Oatmeal stout … a big surprise for everyone that tasted it. Adrian had also germinated some barley to show where the sugars originated from and where his photo publishing debut was inspired from !
Adrian’s IPA. There were a few ‘WOW’s and a few people who have no doubt never had anything that bitter in their mouths before!
Crowds take their places for supper. Starter – Mulligatawny soup. Main – Hot pot, potatoes and carrots with swede. Desert – Trifle, Victoria Sponge Cake or Banoffee Pie. Cheese – Jacobs Crackers with 4 different cheeses including Cheddar and Wensleydale. Tea or Coffee.
A lot of elderly people in the village turned out. They didn’t stay for the singing and the dancing. We left around 0130 as the night was winding down.
Other presentations were of the Royal Family past and present with wedding memorabilia from the most recent royal wedding. A bowler and top hat adorned one table and I had created a slide show of all things British projected onto the screen throughout the evening. From red telephone boxes to cornish pasties, The Angel of the North to full english breakfasts, Wimbledon to Churchill and many many more.
All in all a very enjoyable evening and hopefully a little eye opener for our French friends and hosts.
Next year – the nationality will be …. French – not sure what to expect !!
A surprise for my Valentine.
Ready for action :-
Elephant sedation device !
You need ALL the pots. Lots of washing up for your Valentine.
Oh the romance !
First step :-
Molten white chocolate randomly dobbed into the mould.
While the white chocolate is in the fridge setting I made a ganache for the filling.
Molten chocolate, tablespoon of cream, knob of butter and the booze of your choice.
Here I went with home made creme de cassis. Blackcurrant.
Next up. Melt the dark chocolate.
Steady does it. If you over melt it, it will go grainy. This is bad but it can be re-tempered by “setting” with cooler fresh chocolate to reseed the finer crystals in it.
The art of the chocolatiere is not to balls it up in the first place!
Line the mould with the molten chocolate – just enough to form a shell. Then, tap gently to release any air bubbles and then back in the fridge to set.
Next, inject the creamy/boozy/fruity ganache into the shells. Back into the fridge to set for an hour and then …
smear a sealing coat of chocolate on the bottom to “close” the chocolate and encase the ganache.
Turn ‘em out!
We’re not done yet …
We need a frou-frou matching purpley lady box!
Job done !
I never get tired of receiving a Valentines.
What else are you going to make when it is -5 at mid-day!
The recipe and method were borrowed from Mr Blumenthal.
1 litre of milk
180g of egg yolks
90g of cane sugar
4 vanilla pods
5 coffee beans
The secret ingredient …
Some actual snow !
Ice Ice-cream step one …
Whizz up the yolks and sugar to a fluffy thick airy egg syrup.
Ice Ice-cream step two …
Boil the milk, coffee beans, the stripped out seeds and husks of the vanilla pods and then cool in the snow to 60C.
If you have no snow, you can sit your pan in an ice bath.
Ice Ice-cream step three …
Mixed the cool (60C) infused milk with the whisked up eggs. This will partly cook the egg and you will end up with a well set custard.
Heat to 70C for five minutes to pasturise the egg …
then rapidly chill again out in the snow and leave at fridge temperature for 24 hours to allow the flavours to develop.
Ice Ice-cream step four …
Put the mixture into an ice-cream maker for as long as it takes to churn it all down into fluffy light -5 pillowy, wallowing icecreamy deliciousness.
Then properly freeze at -18C for a while before tasting.
Ice Ice-cream step five …
It comes out of the freezer quite hard but after 5 minutes at room temperature it is quite malleable like plasticine.
It is not sticky sweet like many icecreams and is much lower in fat. This is all about the texture and flavour. It melts … just vanishes on the tongue … much like a sorbet but the texture is silky smooth.
As it warms in the mouth you get a huge vanilla hit and then the back flavour is all about the coffee. I was stunned at how dominant that was, given that there was just a few beans in it. Amazing.
I have never used this technique before and it is knockout. Hats off to Heston … the world’s best chef and if you are half minded to buy an amazing cook book then “The Fat Duck Cook-Book” is highly recommended.
We have plenty of visitors booked for this year and I can see that I will be making lots of this.