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Come on in my kitchen

Hats off to Heston

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!

snails

One made a break for it then stopped to munch some lichen…

snails

I’m going all Heston on these boys.  I am following Heston’s recipe for snail porridge one of the signature dishes from his Michelin three star restaurant in the UK.

snails

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.

slow food

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.

snails

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.

snails

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!

snails

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.

snails

All naked and keeping their curls.

snails

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!

snails

Mushrooms, sliced almonds(!), parlsey, butter (more later), air dried cured beef (more later), 85g of garlic (a lot!) and two shallots.  This lot goes to layer the complexity in the garlic butter.

snails

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.

snails

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.

snails

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!

snails

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!

snails

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 :-

Porridge is made.
sp-building-01
A layer of chiffonade ham.
sp=construct- porridge and ham
sp-building-03
The snails have been sauteéd in a little foaming butter and then given a final seasoning with fresh pepper. A handful on each portion does the trick.

 

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.

snail

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.

snails

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!

Strawberry Fatigue

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.

strawb2012

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.

strawb2012b

Fresh strawberries with creme fraiche, strawberry coulis with home-made pancakes, fresh fruit salad with strawberries, 5 pots of strawberry jam …

erm …

strawberry milkshake

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 …

ingredients for strawberry daiquiri

What could this possibly be ….

voila - strawberry daiquiri's

A strawberry daiquiri – for the lady – of course !

Fête Des Nationalites 2012

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.

fete-01

We had a selection of malts on hand for the show’n’tell.

fete-03 - Barley selection

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.

fete-03 - Hops

Adrian brought hops from New Zealand, Slovenia and… Blighty!

All quite different and one of them was outrageously skunky.

fete-04 - the small screen glasses and books

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.

fete-05 - samples on offer

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.

fete-06 - mrs fod gives good head

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 !

fete-07 - IPA to die for

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!

fete-08 - crowds take their places for dinner

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.

fete-09 - god save king george
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 !!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valentines Day !

A surprise for my Valentine.

Ready for action :-

valentine chocs 01

Chocolate

Butter

Moulds

Elephant sedation device !

 

valentine chocs 02

You need ALL the pots.  Lots of washing up for your Valentine.

Oh the romance !

 

valentine chocs 03

First step :-

Molten white chocolate randomly dobbed into the mould.

 

valentine chocs 04

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.

 

valentine chocs 05

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!

 

valentine chocs 06

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.

 

valentine chocs 07

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.

 

valentine chocs 08

Turn ’em out!

 

valentine chocs 10

We’re not done yet …

We need a frou-frou matching purpley lady box!

Job done !

 

card

I never get tired of receiving a Valentines.

Ice Ice-Cream

tbc02

What else are you going to make when it is -5 at mid-day!

ice ice cream 1

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 …

ice ice cream 2 - the snow

Some actual snow !

 

Ice Ice-cream step one …

Whizz up the yolks and sugar to a fluffy thick airy egg syrup.

ice ice cream 3 beat the eggs

 

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 - chilling in the snow

 

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 cream4 steep

 

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 churned

 

Ice Ice-cream step five …

The tasting.

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.

ice ice cream first tasting

 

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.

 

 

 

The Oxford Companion to Beer

Something of a red letter day at Chez Bellebouche this afternoon. The culmination of a long long wait… my publishing debut!

ocb3

 

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La Chandeleur

Most people who know me, know that I don’t particularly like cooking,  so I try not to cook if at all possible.  Well apart from sauces, soups, jams and other concoctions needed to store our wonderful produce.

Well today in France is La Chandeleur.  A French holiday that welcomes the first signs of Spring.  It is traditionally celebrated by making crepes so …

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Aperitif á  l’Épine noire

In late 2006 we’d had a roofer in, Denis, to do some renovation and repairs on our old slate roof at the rear of the property. He was a super guy and tireless worker… scampering up on the roof in the dark at 7am and living on-site with us and parking his camper van in the paddock for a few nights each week. A real diamond in the rough.

When the job was over he invited us over to his place to see his renovations on his own place (very impressive) and to view his vehicle collection… he had five Harley Davidson motorcycles, one of which was pre-war and a huge white (white leather interior, whitewall tyres on gold spoke wheels, massive V8 engine) Cadillac pimpmobile. Awesome stuff – he was totally into Americana.

Anywhoo, he took us to his friends place (a very smart riverside petit-chateaux) and we were offered an Aperitif à  l’Épine noire.

Strange to describe this but this drink is made from the spring growth of the woody spines of a blackthorn bush. Speaking to various French neighbours, there seems to be some differences in opinion as to what parts of the bush you use – young fresh buds or young leaves.  We were informed that you cannot buy this drink in the shops but lo and behold we found a bottle.

epine

Now, it’s only a few short weeks until the growth will show again in our hedgerows.   We will be attempting to make our own and will now be able to compare with the commercial version.

Cooking Up A Storm

From the first leeks and cabbages in late February up to the baskets of quince in November, 2010 has been a great year for Bellebouche produce.

We have enjoyed eating cherries, peaches, plums and pears picked straight from our trees – tomatoes picked and eaten before reaching a salad plate – strawberries and blueberries popped into an eager mouth before reaching a bowl – cucumbers, lettuce and fresh herbs all mixed into a summery salad – courgettes and patissans grilled on the bbq and many many more delights.

The only downfall is that at this time of year – the garden is bare.  Nothing left to graze on while walking around the orchard or potager.  So, how do we remedy this sad situation?

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Bellebouche Délices d’Automne

This year has been one of the better ones for our old, gnarly quince tree.  We often ignore this tree and then are surprised with the wonderful delights it offers up to us.  In spring the beautiful pale pink flowers bear a strong perfume which wafts around the courtyard and catches you unawares.

Then in late autumn, the last harvest to be made, is a bountiful supply of golden yellow fruits.  This year resulted in 28 kgs, not the best but still a good amount.

Golden fruits

So the question is – What to do with all these fruits?

This year I have already made a bazzilion jars of various jams and we are still eating chutneys from 2006/7.   One of our successes over the years at Bellebouche has been the quince paste – a misnomer as it is closer in consistency to turkish delight.

These little fruity gems are perfect for xmas gifts and if the surly security guards at the airport don’t confiscate them, then they will be handed out tout suite.

They take a while to make but fill the house with a wonderful fruity, floral aroma.  Basically, they are peeled, cored and chopped into cubes.  Put in a pan with a little water and cooked until soft.  Mashed and whizzed into a compote consistency.  Sugar is added and then they are cooked, slowly, for a long time – a very long time – until the mixture turns from an apple colour to an autumnal leaf colour.

The difference in colour as the paste is cooked

You can see in the photo the pan on the right is much lighter as the mixture spits and spatters like molten lava until it thickens.  You can speed up the process of the cooking by turning up the heat, but it then needs constant stirring so as not to burn on the bottom of the pan.

Once the mixture is so thick that you can make a ball in the bottom of the pan with it, spread it out evenly onto a tray, coated with parchment paper.  Leave to dry further – again if you want to speed up the process – put the tray into an airing cupboard or hot oven which has just been switched off after use.

When the mixture is ready for cutting it should be firm and easily chopped into cubes.  You can then either coat in icing sugar or leave as is.

Ready for cutting into cubes and coating with icing sugar

28 kgs will make an awful lot of quince bon bons so I have made a few variations on the above.  Apple and quince, blackcurrant and quince (which produced an amazing coloured sweet) and one with a secret ingredient which you will have to guess by tasting!

quice jellies 2010

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