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Saturday, 23 May 2015

Superb Sunday open market in Bordeaux France.

I was last at the Sunday market on the quay side in Bordeaux in 2008. Apart from a couple of street musicians missing from the scene and one less wine sampling stall to tempt me, nothing had really changed. Even the sun had come out again to bless the French food with its intense light and warmth. On my five day visit to Bordeaux I generally found quite a few things had changed in my favourite city in the South West of France - not better nor worse - just different.

Then I suppose anywhere will change over seven years and those nice café waiters and waitresses at the Cinéma Café Utopia that I got to recognise between my three visits during 2004 – 2008, they had all moved on to other jobs and lives. Jacky the camp waiter at another coffee haunt, on the rue St Catherine, seemed to have disappeared too and his, bijou behind the counter domain, had been given an upgrade en plastique rouge. It was more open plan now. One thing there hadn't changed at all. The Michael Jackson Thriller music still played constantly in the background. Jacky was now Jackie – a short, dark haired dark eyed, waitress continually intent on chatting to an older man sitting outside. I considered asking about the whereabouts of M. Jacky but the question got stupidly complicated in my head that was trying to express itself in limited French. So I didn't bother.

And so, on this hot early-ish Sunday morning, I made my way from the relatively unpopulated centre of Bordeaux towards the Chartrons district (about a fifteen minute slow walk) where the open market had been set up at seven o'clock that morning. Remembering that I got severely sunburnt last time in 2008 I donned a summer linen cap and protected my arms with a long sleeved shirt. It was already too warm for a coat even though I saw some French men wearing short woollen scarves! I had been in Bordeaux less than a day and my feet were already starting to blister up from my extensive enthusiastic perambulations around the hot city. It must be something to do with the heat as historically I have suffered from blisters every time in Bordeaux but rarely anywhere else. I even know the name for blisters in French just in case I need to visit la pharmacie. Blisters are les ampoules and plasters are les pansements. The verb to hobble is clopiner and I did a lot of clopping around while I was there and afterwards despite les pensements. At times I felt distinctly like an old man shuffling around. Oh la bloody la!

les ampoules (both feet were affected thus)

As I approached the market a wave of real and nostalgic happiness swept over me. Here I was again in a joyously beautiful foodie environment joining the throngs of local French shoppers and a few delighted tourists. This time I managed to chat to some of the stall holders in French about their wares and I was very pleased with myself that I could do this simple thing in their language. Everything looked so beautifully tempting and the Bordelaises certainly know their oignons when it comes to display and customer friendliness. It was a shame I wasn't in a position to buy any of the fresh meat, fresh fish and vegetables. This was because I was staying in a hotel with no provision to cook anything.

I marvelled at the variety of artisan loaves of bread on offer all of which looked a lot more tempting than the little baskets or cloth hats of teeth shattering rock-hard chunks of bread that the French bistros invariably offer to accompany a meal. One of the butchers offered me an unctuously fatty and nutty flavoured slice of saucisson sèche to sample and I enjoyed comparing English butchery styles and products with the French varieties. There were a lot of varieties of long fresh sausages the width of chipolatas but about six inches long. They all looked very neatly arrayed and temptingly fresh and glossy in the display units, especially those densely speckled with deep red hues containing chorizo.

There were fresh rabbits on all three of the butcher's stalls all with their livers and kidneys on show and of course, the yellow skinned fresh chickens complete with drooping necks, red feathered heads with beaks agape and bright Lego yellow coloured feet. As for the duck products I made a note of some of the names: Canard, a duck aged 2-4 months, Cane or Canette, a female duck, Caneton, a duckling, Magret de Canard, a breast of duck that is often smoked or air dried. Then the duck products such as Confit d'oi/ de canard a preserve of goose or duck in its own fat and Gésiers confits duck or goose necks in confit (often used in salads). Finally, Graisse de oi/ de canard goose or duck fat used for enriching soups or casseroles as well for roasting potatoes. More about the butchery side of things in a forthcoming blogpost where I take a visit to the marché des Capucines.

As you can see from this edited three minute long video I got busy with my video camera trying to capture something of the atmosphere of the fantastic open market. Sometimes the stalls (like a great cheese stall in the market centre) got so wonderfully busy that I had to edit out the images of the bottoms and backs of the customers because they are nowhere as interesting as the products constantly hidden by the depth of the crowds.

Most of the stall holders had offers chalked up on chalk boards in, to my English eyes, almost unreadable French hand writing. It was all very neat but so compact that one word seemed to blend into another and en occasion the letters became indistinguishable from the numbers. Saying that I did find some of the boards a lot easier to pick out the individual words even if the words themselves were unfamiliar to me with my limited French. Much easier and pleasant to the ears were the constant pleasantries spoken by the stall holders and their happy customers. You can hear them in my video above.

Back at the hotel with my now very sore feet the charming young woman receptionist told me that there were two chemists open in Bordeaux on a Sunday and both were on the other sides of the city. These could mean a long walk for me! Reluctant to walk I opted for the one near to the marché des Capucines and according to the map just down the road from the tram stop at place Victoire. I got myself a tram ticket and took the tram to place Victoire and hobbled the rest of the way down some dodgy looking streets to the chemist. Armed with my purchase of plasters for blisters I took a brief look around the partially closed indoor market and promised myself a return visit on Tuesday.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Bordeaux bound

Well dear readers, tomorrow I leave the country for France. It had to happen one day. Sadly it is only for five days. Never-the-less I have booked myself a last minute trip to Bordeaux in the South West of France. I have been there before, four times in total, if I count a day trip with my blogging friend Marian a few years ago. However I haven't been there since 2009 and am excited about my impending visit. Six years is too long to be away from my favourite city in France.

I am staying in a hotel I haven't stayed in before, the Best Western Hotel Bordeaux Bayonne Etcha-Ona on the Cours de L'Intendance. It is in the city centre. I tried the two hotels I had stayed in before – even rang them up and spoke a little French -  but they were both complètement. I think that it what they said and I took it to mean fully booked. I tried one other, the Hotel Gambetta, which was recommended, but that too was booked up. Trying not to panic (I had already booked and paid for my flight online) I looked on Expedia and found the larger Best Western. It had good reviews and although the price of the room was a little more than I had paid in the past I went for it and got a 10% discount offer. The reviews online were generally positive too.

The Quai Des Chartons
This time round I will probably nip round a few of my old haunts like the media store FNAC and the Cinema Café Utopia (a place that has become like a second home in Bordeaux for me) but I also intend ( like in Star Trek) to seek out new foodie places and new foodie civilisations. I have a few already in mind. Firstly the main draw will be the Marché Des Cacucines – a fab looking covered market with loads of French food stalls including butchers, charcutiers, and fishmongers. Can't wait to visit that one. My eyes will be on stalks and my tummy rumbling with excitement.

Then I have read of a few other coffee places like Books and Coffee on rue St James and the popular C'est Bio store. Certainly for curiosity's sake, but probably not to eat, I must track down Bordeaux's only Fish and Chip shop called Yes Mum. Yes Mum is a weirdly brilliant name for a Poisson et Frites establishment and I make a big assumption that it run by Brits. Another place I must go back to is the wonderful Sunday market on the quay side of the river Garonne in the Chartrons district. I found it by accident in 2009 and fell in love with the ambiance and of course, the food and drink. I might even try some fresh oysters with a glass of chilled white wine this time round.

I've noticed too that that popular meat based British film is on at Café Utopia while I am there. You know – Shaun Le Mouton. Ha!

In the past (pre-blogging days) I have been in the habit of comprehensively writing up quite detailed journals about my French trips. Really these were accounts just for me and the re-living of pleasures and the terribly fond memories of great holidays. My intention this time is to make notes and take lots of pictures (possibly even video) and write several blog posts to share with the world et son chien. It is a shame I am not in the practical position to buy lots of fresh cheese, meat, fish, veg and a deliciously warm fresh baguette to cook in a cosy appartement. I can just envisage it now situated in the historic maze of narrow back streets of the St Pierre district with the evening swallow population swooping and diving overhead to the backdrop of azure blue skies of the Aquitaine. And as for that charcuterie and those luscious hams!!! I'll be wanting to bring it all back home!

See you soon!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Two types of roast chicken for lunch.

It must be nearly summer.
Tonight I made use of two chicken meat ingredients and cooked them in different ways to enjoy together with some simple tomatoes, olives and two types of soft cheese. I can't pretend that I planned it all in advance. Really it just sort of came together by chance. First of all I noticed the chicken wings on a reduction at the local Co-op store and for under £1.50 I bought the packet of about ten wings.

First of all I sprinkled them with just a light dusting of Santo Domingo Pimenton de la Vera (M&S for £2) added some lemon zest and cooked them in sunflower oil for an hour and a half at gas mark 6. For the last half an hour I added some slivers of chorizo for taste and colour.

The with two hungry cats dodging about and hoping for a little Sunday afternoon treat I went out and purchased a whole chicken and boned the breasts and legs (tying the legs together to make a small compact joint). The cats got treated to a couple of tiny bits of raw chicken breasts. Then I put these in an oven- proof dish and saturated them in fresh lemon juice and gave all of the meat a good sprinkling of ground black pepper. The spare chicken wings got added to the other chicken based dish.

Both of the chicken dishes cooked for about an hour and a half at gas mark six with a couple of basting opportunities made use of to keep the cooking chicken moist.

Rosemary from the garden just for decoration purposes

For a simple supper I set the chicken on a plate with mixed olives, basil leaves, sliced tomatoes, French Brie and Le Rustique Camembert.

Daisy the plastic cow looked on in admiration during the whole process and my neighbours Jo and Georgina enjoyed a chicken treat this evening too. The pimento/paprika purchase was well worth it for the most sublime taste of Spanish cooking.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A review of Cured a café bar in West Bridgford.

For me, what better way to spend the early part of a wet Friday evening in May than to bask in the cosy comfort of the relatively new café bar called Cured situated at 33/35 Central Avenue in West Bridgford near Nottingham. I would say that West Bridgford is the epicentre of restaurant and bistro life in Nottingham and we are talking real quality establishments. As part of the Brown & Brown Industries group Cured offers a relaxed place to enjoy what they described to me as them capturing the laid back feel of a craft beer bar whilst offering the eclectic luxury of a European café and kitchen. And that is precisely what it felt like as I happily ordered a 5.4% Point hand crafted traditional pale ale from Louise at my table.

There are a generous amount of beers and lagers to choose from at Cured and it's a good job I ordered my pale ale quickly as I never noticed the white and fruit beers, Belgian beers, Trappist beers, a whole raft of craft beers and Porters temptingly listed on the opposite side of the extensive four page drinks menu! I may have to go back after getting rather a taste for those Belgian beers in Leiden last year. For the non beer drinkers all is not lost. Cured list an equally tempting list of European and New World red, rosé and white wines as well as cocktails, sparkling wines, champagne and fortified wines. There are also a selection of juices and soft drinks and hot beverages.

The bijou café bar is already buzzing at 6.30pm and a congenial atmosphere exists here where a few pleasant drinks and some food are appreciated whilst spending time with friends and family. It certainly has that continental feel that myself and others enjoy. More layers of atmosphere are created with unobtrusive background music and the quirky tiled walls. Shortly before I left I spoke to some of their customers and in particular to Mark Watson who was there with his family and friends including the young children. Mark said that they used to go to another place on the Avenue on a early Friday evening but now really enjoy frequenting Cured because the staff are so friendly and welcoming especially to the children. He smiled a handsome smile and added that the craft beers are a bit of a draw too.

I've ordered a gourmet platter of charcuterie which is really for two to share and it is brought to the table by the chef who introduces himself as Kevin. The Cured staff are wonderfully knowledgeable and proud of their food and these are pretty much Kevin's own words as he presented the beautiful platter of cured meats, cured vegetables and cheeses to me. I think the phrase 'died and gone to foodie heaven' came into my mind. Over to you Kevin.

“So what we are presenting to you this evening Phil is a prime example of our gourmet selection. It's a selection of four cheeses and four charcuterie and four vegetables matched with bread and olives. The cheese comes from various places in Europe. You've got a Spanish Iberico chorizo, an official Italian Parma ham, a stamped ham, a Napoli salami, our cured and boned honey baked ham which is brined, roasted and then glazed three times. You've got some beautiful marinated vegetables including pickled artichokes, char grilled courgettes marinated in chilli. Plus you have char grilled aubergines in chilli and then you have roast and charred fennel poached in lemon. The selection is garnished with rocket, olives, olive oil balsamic oil and butter. The cheeses you are presented with this evening are Cornish Yarg, French Brie de Meaux, locally produced Cropwell Bishop Stilton and Italian Tallegio.”

I asked Kevin to tell me a little about the provenance of the meat charcuterie.

“We cure our own honeyed ham here and the rest we get from Delitalia a supplier of Italian charcuterie and they offer the best Italian products we can get our hands on. The ham we buy from our local butchers, we brine it to remove some of the salt and brine it again to put some of the sweetness back into it. We roast it low and slow from anywhere between three and four hours. Once its reached the temperature of about 50 degrees we've got our own mustard sugar to glaze the ham. We make the glaze in house- a mix of Dijon mustard, a little bit of sugar and honey and the glaze creates a sticky crust. When it sets there's a little bit of crunch to it. So, yes, the ham is the one we do in house and we are very proud of and I'm sure we'll do more as the concept grows with us.”

I'm not going to go to town describing each delicious mouthful. I think Kevin has done a great job in whetting anyone's appetite. Let's just say that after three quarters of an hour of very enjoyable, slow and considered eating there was very little left on the slate platter and wooden cheese blocks! And this was supposed to be for two! The cheese that really did it for me was one I had never tried before, the Tellagio, It had pleasant aroma, a mild fruity tang and slightly nutty flavour. The texture was similar to a rich Brie and caramel in colour. Their honeyed ham was every bit as scrumptious in taste as Kevin so eloquently described. I was also very taken with the fennel in lemon.

Later on I chatted with one of the male staff from the kitchen who took time to tell me that Cured try to source everything locally if they can including growing their own salads and vegetables. He said that the fennel was fairly easy to grow and we got into a great conversation about blanched vegetables such as white asparagus. You can't invent these kind of food appreciative situations or the love that goes into this business and its craftsmanship in creating their special cuisine.

You can find out much more about Cured online. They offer regular eat in and take away deals and have recently launched their Cured luxe Burgers and Cured posh dogs both of which according to their Twitter account seem to be flying out. Find Cured on Twitter @Cured_Bridgford

Cured on Facebook.

For large group bookings or private hire of the lounge call 0115 9817070.

A rainy Friday evening or not I shall certainly be back to Cured again sometime soon. Keep those beers chilled and those yummy cured meats coming. Thank you to owners Daniel and Dean Brown, Louise and the great staff at Cured for your gracious hospitality and warm welcome.

Phil Lowe

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Charcuterie Special No2. Bresaola

 I had seen Bresaola on the shelves but never got round to trying it until last week. I got a pack from the Co-op from their Truly Irresistible range. The lean topside of beef from which it is made is infused with various spices and extracts of black pepper and garlic and then air cured in Northern Italy where it develops its exceptional flavour. The actual beef comes from both France and Italy.

A strict fat trimming process is essential to the rich taste. The legs of beef known as 'the top' in English butchery terms are thoroughly defatted. A rub is used to impart the spices and it can hang up to four months in the air drying process. As well as black pepper and garlic they also infuse the meat with salts, bay leaf, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, caraway, star anise and sometimes juniper berries. It is quite a thin dry papery form of charcuterie in the end result and very lean unlike a lot of the pork based products. I found it an acquired taste and I liked the salty aspects which you can see on the picture above.

It can be eaten on its own or with a few black olives and rustic bread. I had it with some tomatoes, a soft cheese, a few tossed basil leaves and a couple of ripped focaccia bread chunks flavoured with rosemary and olive oil. The focaccia bread was from Marks and Spencer.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Michel Roux's Service programme. Episode eight - welling up now.

I tend to watch TV programmes on BBC iplayer and always head toward the food category to see what I would enjoy catching up on. Well, for whatever reason I missed Michel Roux's Service eight part series when it first went live in 2011 so I was intrigued to see how the young candidates would fair in the challenge. Michel Roux's Service saw Michel attempting to train eight young people all of which had never considered a career in front of house, high class waiting on or in the role of sommelier.

Michel Roux

None of these roles are easy in a live restaurant situation and require huge amounts of passion and knowledge, engaging personalities and commitment to the industry. After the second episode one of the eight, a very sarcastic and immature young man, was removed from the show and this left Ashley, Nikita, Brooke, Tom, James, Danielle and Nicky to continue the journey to the highest levels of service finishing at Michel's own restaurant Michelin starred restaurant Le Gavroche.

Most of them admitted, en route, that the road was hard going because of their own attitudes, wavering self beliefs, inexperience and nerves. But when they did well and started to realise their potential through Michel, Fred and other supportive industry professionals, and their faces lit up in proud beaming smiles, those were the moments worth savouring from the programme. Plus they were starting to enjoy the work and in some cases got great personal fulfilment out of their achievements. I couldn't wait for the each next episode to appear on BBC iplayer especially episode eight - the last in the series.

Ashley, James and Danielle became the eventual winners of the scholarships offered by Michel Roux Jnr and as I sat glued to the last of a very enjoyable and educational series I was moved to tears by young Ashley's reaction. Here was a young man who initially had very little confidence in himself, self confessedly angry at the world in the beginning now winning one of the two prized Front of House scholarships. He was welling up with tears of pride at his achievements and so was I. It just showed that with some application, mentoring and self belief that this young man from a council estate in Leeds could do well.

I don't know what the original candidates are doing now but whatever route they have taken the Michel Roux's Service programme has opened their eyes and minds to their potential as human beings. What a great programme. Oops welling up again!

Friday, 1 May 2015

New Rachel Khoo DVD. Terribly over excited

Yes!!!  (or should I say "ja") a DVD by Rachel Khoo has just been released on 24th April  and hot off the press I have just ordered my copy through Amazon. I am totally over excited!

OK so the title Rachel Khoo - Europa in meiner Küche is in German but it is possible to play an English language version too. In the DVD you can join Rachel in her travels across Europe where she discovers new flavours and comes up with ever more new cooking ideas. On her Twitter account Rachel jokes that you can even hear her voice dubbed in German if you want. Ich freue mich sehr darauf! I'm really looking forward to that!

I've been loving Rachel's recent book Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook so much so that I have nearly worn out the book spine and ribbon and I am bursting with excitement for this DVD to come through my letterbox soon. Like many Rachel Khoo fans worldwide I think that it would be fantastic to have The Little Paris Kitchen: Classic French recipes with a fresh and fun approach in a DVD format too. This is a BBC DVD so hopefully there will be more titles on the way if this proves popular. I see no reason why not personally.


PS ignore the funny little white squares that appear after the books and DVD title. I am not so clever with html to get rid of them. The links still work.  Phil x