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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Bread winner

The baguette is synonymous with France and despite my own poor  standard Bordeaux hôtel holiday experiences of very tough and chewy baguette style  bread for my  petite dejeuner,  the general standard in shops and les marché en ville are usually very high and since the introduction of the new French regime of encouraging artisanal bread making among French bakeries are much improved.  Rather than the previously industrially made frozen dough high on additives, then to be baked bread that lasted less than a day, all is now well today in the boulangeries of France. The Artisan Boulangerie standard has now risen to ensure the highest standard of French bread manufacture overall. Trés bein!

When I was last in Bordeaux  (2010) and visited the Sunday market on the banks of the river Garonne the stall selling pain a l’ancienne in phenomenal sizes and types was earning a very decent crust merci, and I loved the yeasty aromas emanating from this stall so early that June morning. You could almost eat the air. As the church bells chimed in the misty far distance the selection of breads and the aroma was almost over-powering. I was on my own and some of the larger loaves, despite looking delicious, were far too much for one person. Thankfully they also sold a good choice of cobs (as we English call them) often deeply infused with sumptuous pungent  garlic, thyme and other wild  herbs like the Spanish and Italians enjoy. All I needed were some succulent sun ripened tomatoes and a back throat hitting cheese and my dinner was assured.

Guess what the next stall offered? Yes, juicy fat tomatoes that tasted like those of my childhood when an elderly neighbour called Mr Disney used to grow his own in a small greenhouse circa 1968. This miraculous stall seemed to second guess my  other needs and supplied a fine choice of reasonably priced organic French cheeses and were more than happy to let me taste a few before buying. Yummy! The vigourously blue veined St Agur was to die for. At once a richly blue flavoured cheese, subtly salty and extremely moreish.

On a browse around the city of Bordeaux, early one morning I also happened across the Teynié Traiteur on the central rue Camille Godard and their daily promotions were fabulous. I love just coming across such places seemingly quite ordinary and quite extra-ordinary at the same time. This assumption can be based purely on the basis that we rarely get such finesse in the UK and a real pride in the skill and variety of pâttiserie that is probably considered quite normal on the continent. The Teynié Traiteur offered exceptional bread products  and fabulous pâttiseries and sandwiches and plats à emporter. Maybe this is normal in France but as a huge Francophile this was just heaven on a plate with no comparison in the UK.  See and drool.

Returning to the theme, bread has been the staple of the French diet since the Middle Ages. The first loaves were large and coarse, made from a mix of flours and unsalted because of the high price of salt. Not until the seventeenth century was white bread invented when a method for removing the bran was invented.

The French have many differing names for the stages and types of bread offered such as, gross pain, pain bis, pain de Boulanger, pain brié, a very hard and dense crusted bread from Normandy, pain à chanter, pain azyme (unleavened bread), pain brûlé (deep golden brown)  and pain complet.

Although the elegant baguette is still France’s most popular bread, the more rustic and nutritious pain de champagne is growing in popularity, as are other loaves made from barley and rye. These country style loaves often use a levain (sourdough starter) rather than yeast.  The starter ferments for at least four days to give the bread its yeasty taste. Sourdough breads have a long production time, but they do keep for a few days rather than going stale quickly like baguettes. These loaves may also be baked in a wood fired oven which adds an unctuous smoky taste that lingers long after the first bite.

From a recent trip to Karlsruhe in Germany it seems that the Germans have an equal passion of quality bread making and a have Brot Festival (Easter 2008) to encourage the passion for Brot and the mouth wateringly delicious contributions of the traditional German Konditerei. I took the following pictures after being allowed into their event and being able to speak reasonably eloquently in German about my love of food.  Like the French the Germans certainly seem to have a huge passion for pastry and cakes as a regular everyday thing to consume. Then there’s the Graubrot  and Vollkornbrot and Schwartsbrot….

Naked in a field?

The story behind the header picture.

You folks have been very kind about my new header (or should that be bottomer?) picture and I felt that it would be fun to tell you how it came to be.

A couple of Summers ago the poppies in some local fields were looking exceptionally beautiful and worthy of a cycle ride to take some photos for my flickr site. So, on a very hot and sunny Sunday afternoon  I hopped on my trusty bike and cycled the few miles to the beauty spot and public pathway with my camera. At this point I had no intention of whipping my clothes off in a field. Honest.

That afternoon, there were a few happy walkers and dopey dogs traversing the undulating path at the side of the field and me with my camera happily capturing the gorgeous red spotted field. It was almost like being in Umbria and strains of Puccini music from the film Room with a View mingled with my happy thoughts. I must have been there an hour when I decided to cycle back home and relax with a cold beer or two.

Two beers led to three enjoyed with some cheese, fresh bread and ripe tomatoes and suddenly , with potential pictures forming in my head, I was inspired to return to the fields with my camera and tripod. Off I wobbled on my bike to the field of dreams (People will come Ray) and set up my camera and tripod. I took a few practice shots to get the skyline right and things in focus and waited around, slightly nervously, for the pathways to be totally clear of walkers and scarily inquisitive doggies, before I disrobed.

I set up the camera to self time at 10 seconds and at the right moment I stripped off my top, tracksuit bottoms,  kicked off my sandals and quickly posed au natural with the bike and Mother nature. Then on the click of the camera I, even more quickly, got dressed.

On checking the picture (God bless digital cameras) I had chopped off my head.  Three attempts later and a few near misses with unseen and unheard people out walking (curse those  high hedges!)  I got what I wanted, a poetic nude shot that would be tasteful and look like something from a French film. Voila!

Have joy. Love life and be daring and poetic.


Sunday, 24 April 2011

A succulent Easter Sunday lunch

What better than to choose an Easter leg of lamb for my Easter Sunday lunch. I got a whole leg of lamb from Tesco for a tenner and cooked it very simply in the oven for two hours with four cloves of garlic and four pieces of rosemary from my garden. I browned off the the boned leg (boned it myself) in olive oil and then added the trussed/browned leg to the pre-heated oven at gas mark 6 for two hours with regular turnings/bastings every three quarters of an hour The new potatoes were simply cooked  for forty minutes with a generous shake of sea salt and fresh garden mint and the pea pods were allowed to steam for the final ten minutes. I rested the lamb joint for seven minutes and made a gorgeous gravy from the cooking juices and two lamb stock cubes. A mint jelly finished the meal delightfully and next door's cats enjoyed a few warm lamb trimmings. It was almost like they had dragged the lamb kicking and screaming from the field. Well, that's what I interpreted from their lip licking and purrs. The Bordeaux wine went down well and was casually imbibed whilst watching Mama Mia the musical film which filled in time as I slowly cooked the food. Happy Easter all.

boned lamb

part browned leg of lamb with garlic and fresh pugent rosemary.
Basting the lamb in its cooking juices
cut lamb with mint jelly

Bordeaux Supérieur

The little boy Jacob at the end of my yard liked his Easter treat of a ceramic Easter egg left by the Easter bunny.

I enjoyed my food and wine and tried not to listen to the thugs in the pub next door acting as though they were on the terraces of some big gob football ground. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Effluent in French and German.

Where did I get my love of all things French from? Je ne sais pas mais je ne regrete rien.  I think that I’ve always had an innate love of language (English, French and German) and took French at school as a foreign language. Well, I say ‘took’. I had no real choice and, as much as Mrs Harrison the French language teacher tried to instill a 1970s passion for the French Language and Culture ,most of the council estate school kids in Chaddesden, Derby,  treated les  leçons as a grande blague extraordinaire. We had no real reason to learn another language as most of us argued that we would never ever need to go to France and anyway, they all speak English, don’t they? And don’t they all eat frogs legs and stink of garlic? Ah, such enlightened times, the 1970s.

How wrong we were. Around 1972 I went abroad for the first time to a Scout campsite near Brussels and suddenly I gained an acute interest in all things French or anything of a 'foreign' nature. I loved the different names in the language of the country, Belgian beers being one of the new attractions for my 18 year old self. Everything appealed that was culturally different and showed itself to be much more vivid and exciting than my familiar and frankly, very boring existence in Derby, England.

From this Belgian adventure I returned to Oostende (even the fact that the town had two letter Os in its name was thrilling) for regular holidays with some drinking buddies and  we discovered Belgian waffles, steak frites, oily Ambre Solaire suntan lotion, Geuze bier and the ultimate joys of some freedom from our parents. From here the world was my oyster and I spent practically all of my wages as a young butcher on trips to Romania, Yugoslavia, Germany, France and the Canary Islands whilst soaking up the exotic nature of all the places I temporarily visited en vacances. I was glued to the Sunday evening 'Holiday' programmes on the telly with Cliff Mitchelmore et al and saved like crazy for many a new trip abroad. At the same time Van de Valk was showing on the telly and was very exciting and exotic televisual fare being set in Holland and Amsterdam.

Whilst on a particular holiday in the rugged mountains of Romania I met a young German woman called Uta Best and suddenly, through a gross infatuation, I fell in lust with her and all things German. I took a Linguaphone course in German, got obsessed with the novels of the German poet and writer Herman Hesse and spent every possible moment I could in the vicinity of the small German village of Beuren in Baden Württemberg  engaging myself in a romantic idyll that could never be. I also travelled extensively on the very efficient German Railways system throughout Bavaria and Baden Württemberg courtesy of the DER holiday company. Whilst in Beuren I befriended another German family called the Hauptmann family and despite my German language being quite poor spent many a happy stünde (hour) in their company. Regardless that the elderly  and partially sighted Herr Hauptmann hardly spoke a word of English I got on with him very well and got to see another side of the German  people apart from the stereotypical image that prevailed after the Second World War. The ground-breaking TV programme Heimat also helped with that deeper understanding of a nation with which Britain was at war  thirty years previous. Influential films like Die Blechtrommel, Cabaret and a Deutsches Kultur course I attended at a local WEA college on Monday evenings in Derby helped in me gaining a deeper understanding of the German nation circa 1980.
Somewhere along the way I also met up with a great pen-friend called Birgitta Santos and still have her, as such, along with her husband Erik and their now, grown up kids. All along I have haphazardly communicated in German and English with them. During my friendship with the Santos family I have enjoyed many an experience living in the Wedding district of Berlin as their guest and always found them to be very generous with their limited resources as a growing family. I got to be in Berlin at a time when the wall was still in place and shortly afterwards too. The Santos family now live in Friedrichshafen by Lake Constance and I hope to see them again in the not too distant future.

More recently I have been friendly with even more Germans in the twin town of Karlsruhe through theatrical exchanges every two years with the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham. These exciting exchanges have meant staying in the homes of the Karlsruhe folk and vice versa and enjoying some European camaraderie as well as chances to improve my language skills, make new European friends and such.

But back to the French mes amis. From my early twenties in Derby I visited the Métro Arts cinema on Green Lane and very regularly viewed  most things cinematic including endless French language films and enjoyed the albums of Edith Piaf after seeing Pam Gems’ drama ‘Piaf’ at Derby Playhouse many times over. For while I was obsessed with the musical play Irma La Douce and I grew to love anything with a hint of the Gallic. Even Gallic bread! The sound of the French language enthralled me and despite many years of relatively little comprehension of the words (ongoing) I still get a thrill from the romance of the French tongue.

I remember around 1974/6 going to see the original softly erotic films of Emmanuelle and Emmanuelle 2 and loved the soundtracks of floaty musical eroticism by Pierre Bachelet and Just Jaeckin. The actress Sylvia Kristel was quite an attraction too , I admit, and certainly the nearest I ever came to a sexual thrill back then. All my male friends at the time used to tease me because  I proclaimed that I went to see the films for the cinematography as well as the titillation. It was true! They were beautifully filmed. Honest!

All this time I collected the Emmanuelle soundtrack albums (alongside James Bond soundtracks and Kate Bush and Leo Sayer albums) and got into Charles Aznavour big time after seeing him live at the Derby Assembly Rooms. "She may be the face that I adore..."
When I went to University in the late 1980s as a Performance Arts student my Francophile passions encouraged me  to create two separate theatre pieces around the lives of the composer Claude Debussy and surrealist poet  Guillaume Apollinaire as well as being involved in a production at Nottingham Playhouse of Les Misèrables – the play, by Christina Reid. Of course I was also impassioned by the musical of the same name (still am) and my arts studies meant that I was exposed to plenty of new and old French film makers at the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. I continue to enjoy these influences today with films shown at the cinema and my own growing DVD collection. Audrey Tautou is a particular favourite among the actors in my films as well as the fine actor, Daniel Auteuil.
Street life in Bordeaux
More recently I have collected various modern French music CDs from trips to Bordeaux, Nice and Paris and love playing my collection in the background as I cook and live. I practically live in the media store of FNAC when I enjoy my periodic French holidays. My language skills have broadened through listening to courses by Michel Thomas and the OU and an Accelerated Language system that I am currently reviewing to improve my skills.  My love of cooking and watching Rick Stein’s French Odyssey barge adventures in France have added to my Francophone passions. Although, saying this, I struggled majestically when I joined the Alliance Française a few years back and failed to comprendre  the  high level of French spoken  (way beyond my language skills). One day, I am sure, I will be effluent in French. I’m sure that’s the word.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sitting doing nothing

I make twenty bus journeys a week to work. That’s four a day, five days a week, totalling approximately 1000 minutes or 16.50 hours sitting doing nothing in order to get to work. Some days it’s early morning travel and late afternoon returning in the rush hour traffic. On a Thursday it’s midday travel to work and travelling home at night with a bus load of excitable semi dressed and semi pissed young folk heading into Nottingham to go clubbing and on a Sunday it’s a leisurely ride at 9am and a chance to pop for a pint after work when I finish at 6pm. Monday and Tuesday is my ‘weekend’ off.

Occasionally I will read whilst travelling but mostly I just people watch and mutter into my new recorder so that I can remember everything and amuse you readers. There are many more sights, sounds  and smells than I can fit into this blog post today but here are a few of the highlights of some of my recent journeys to and from work.

When it is still dark in the morning the interior strip lights of the Barton bus into town reflect in the front window of the bus and look like ghostly antennae stretching out into the darkness. It is like the vehicle is morphing into a giant ant on wheels. Outside the street lights glow bright orange and the tinny rattle and whir of the momentum of the bus travelling at an average of forty miles an hour sounds to the half awake me like someone is tapping wire coat hangers on the roof of the bus.

The Broadmarsh bus station.

Not an enormous amount happens on the route from my village to the main bus station in Nottingham. It is when I get the Indigo bus from the Broadmarsh bus station to Beeston that things become interesting. At the bus station itself I often see slumped individuals attempting to sleep sitting up on the cold metal benches and I wonder if they have actually been there all night and why. Some look lost and desperately trying to get a rest, some look like they have spent the night on the town and are feeling queasy and very hung over as they wait numbly for a bus home. Others are surrounded by personal belongings and travel bags and a black lady I saw at 7am one Wednesday morning was sitting encircled and hemmed in by over thirty items of luggage. The missing twenty-nine owners of this mass of pink and purple luggage were still nowhere to be seen as my bus left the station.

On a Sunday morning I occasionally witness some of the dodgier elements of society doing their edgy street-wise lope through the bus station. Most are be-hooded, gold teethed, gaunt individuals accompanied either by their trophy dogs, tattooed trophy girlfriends or slopping a can of Stella over themselves en route to the 24hour Booze Is Us store. I often score some class A drugs off them, pat their cute doggy whilst commenting on the similarity of the bling they are all sporting, even the dog. They have kindly invited me round to their gaff for High Tea and muffins (laced with crack cocaine) at my convenience. I feel we could all be good friends if we tried.
On weekday evenings the bus station is busy with commuters intending to travel by bus and from time to time I witness near death experiences of the travellers who race between the platforms in an attempt to get the ‘just leaving’ National Express to Luton, London or Brighton. As they frantically wave their arms and shout their frustrations at the departing bus they also neglect to see another speedily departing bus that violently hisses as it suddenly slams its brakes on to avoid crushing them. Thankfully I’ve yet to see a collision of human and speeding metal. Thankfully.

En route to Beeston.

This is where the fun starts. Often on public transport one gets a percentage of people, men and women, who have no perception that they can be heard on their mobile phones going on and on about nothing. I’ve heard quite intimate arguments going off with the speaker noisily remonstrating with the listener about the sexual and social failures of their relationship, so much so, that the entire bus load of travellers should (in an ideal world) stand up en mass and tell the odious speaker to “Shut the f**k up!”

Then there was the man on a quiet Sunday morning journey who got on the bus and no sooner had he sat down than he was on his mobile and chit chatting to all of his lovely mates about his night out on the town, his binge drinking antics, his sexual conquests, the fights he got involved in and football. I kid you not when I say that every second word was a variation on the expletive – fuck. This diatribe of fuck this, fucking that, the fucker who fucked up the game etc was appalling. It was as if he couldn’t speak without swearing and this went on for a good fifteen minutes until I got off in Beeston. When he wasn’t saying the F word he interlaced his chats with other niceties such as “couldn’t be arsed” and “it was shit”.  As I was getting off the bus I caught a glimpse of this potato faced  verbally challenged thug re-arranging his dangly bits with an exploratory hand groping down his baggy trousers. Charming.

Once upon a journey, there was the terribly thin old man, with long silvery hair, dressed in a tatty overcoat and Russian hat who stood all through my bus journey and stared vacantly ahead of himself. There were plenty of vacant seats. He just chose to stand and at one point in the journey he moved to some other seats and stood behind those with his scrawny hands  holding tight around the top of the seat next to the back of some woman’s head.
Recently, a scruffy late middle-aged man in a shiny track suit and blue woolly hat got on near the Market Place in town. He had long grey/black greasy hair, the gritty repose of the constantly agitated, deep facial wrinkles and stunk of cigarette smoke as he abruptly pulled open the rectangular window above my seat and went storming off to the back of the bus. A few minutes later I thought that I heard the sound of an escaped snake some short distance behind me. I was about to ring the RSPCA when I realised that this bloke was liberally spraying himself with Lynx. The sickly sweet odour of men’s deodorant drifted down the bus and I think he must have used the whole can given the density of the smell. If I was a fly I would have been spinning my last gasping death throws on the bus gangway.

"For God's sake!!

Obviously it isn’t all men that travel on buses and the other night, as I took my journey home by the University of Nottingham and the professional tennis centre, a group of young tennis players got on the bus. This group included three strapping lads loaded down with large sports bags and two rather attractive young blonde women wearing tennis attire. The girls in the tiny white tennis skirts were possibly Ukrainian and their startlingly white knickers possibly from Next. Myself and a few shy and retiring fellows like myself regularly got flashed at all the way back to Nottingham.

Beeston has a large Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian population and often for the short ten minute bus ride between the Chinese supermarket on Beeston High Street and the Dunkirk area west of the University the bus fills up with polite Asian travellers and their many orange plastic bags of food. They always brighten up my journey as they seem to be very happy are always laughing amongst themselves. I like them so much I feel almost obliged to give them all a friendly wave  as they  gather their full to bursting bags together, giggle, get off the bus and head off in the opposite direction.

The Indigo bus from Nottingham travels past the QMC (Queen’s Medical Centre) and the massive Nottingham University campus and during term time there are a lot of students who use the bus service and the other day I got rather worried about any student’s eating habits. The reason is simple. En route I saw many a ‘eatstudent’ sign in the windows of the student accommodation areas and later on, on University Boulevard, a garish orange hand-made sign saying ‘Students wanted ‘ and a mobile phone number to ring. Do we have a Sweeney Todd of Nottingham I wonder?

Lastly, I would love to mention the lady bus driver I had the other day. She was pleasantry personified and when she wasn’t coughing her – fifty a day – cough whilst driving she addressed all her passengers joining or leaving the bus as Angel, Sweetheart or Darling. “Where are you going angel?” A return sweetheart?” “How’re you then darling?” Everyone on the bus was smiling at her dialogue.

That makes up for the sometimes gross fellow travellers I have to put with. Oh, did I mention the bloke two seats behind me on Friday making those constant snorting snot noises  to the point where I felt sick? No? Well... And then there was the time two dogs started fighting mid-aisle and owners just laughed and I got off the bus for fear of my legs being savaged. Not forgetting the weird young couple in front of me on a journey into Nottingham near Christmas that fought, bickered ,wrestled and fondled each other and he behaved like a baby and bully almost simultaneously.

Monday, 11 April 2011

a simple chicken dish

À la mode Nigel Slater I made a simple roast chicken supper dish this evening via a couple of bottles of Muriel Rioja. The chicken went in the pre-heated oven for an hour and a half un-adorned with any additives or flavourings. It was cooked on six degrees on gas. It was simply cooked with vegetable oil and I roasted some new potatoes and garlic with chives in the oven for the last half hour. A little bit of grated Parmesan cheese and a brown wild mushroom  (rescued from the back of the fridge) were added for extra texture.  For the last ten minutes I popped some haricot vertes in boiling water and added them last minute to the meal with a small amount of coarse sea salt.
Mdme Soufie et M. Harris
Drowsily and mid-Rioja I swear that Madame Soufie the cat nicked a bit of hot cooked chicken!!!! Naughty Soufie!!

I am looking after my neighbour's cats Harris and Soufie for three weeks and I spoil them rotten.

Mr Harris continued to lick himself and eyed up the chicken carcass from a discreet distance. Mdme Soufie was still licking herself from the earlier skirmish. Neither seemed interested in the Rioja.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

D'une Bonne suprise.

It’s amazing what you can learn from the side of a box or actually looking at your Google emails from time to time. So, a few days ago I thought I might have a look at my neglected gmail account and amongst the few mails that go there I found a charming email from a lady at Bonne Maman. She had been reading my blog, found it witty, it made her ravenous and she enjoying reading about my life in food and my love of things French. As well as this she wanted to know if I would be keen to try the new yoghurts produced by her employer, Bonne Maman. I love the confitures they produce and had mentioned them briefly on a previous blog post about breakfasts. See blog post about breakfasts

Of course I said ‘oui’ to this surprise invite and today I received a big chilled box of goodies and a tremendous breakfast treat of a Bonne Maman apricot yoghurt (very creamy with a summery hit of apricot), and some Bonne Maman buttery gallettes with my coffee that were so delicious I had to stop myself wolfing the whole packet. As I am working late today I am going to save the Bonne Maman crème brûlée ,prepared with fresh eggs, as a treat for tomorrow night.

my yummy gifts.
Once I have finished my stash of goodies I can always pop over to the nearest Waitrose where the yoghurts are available to buy (packs of 4 x 125g ) for £2.29. The samples I received were in three wickedly tempting flavours: rhubarb, apricot and strawberry.

Over the years I have developed the habit of reading the side of the packaging that things come in and find it a good way to develop my language skills. They do say that you learn best the things you like/love and reading the French on the Bonne Maman packaging was no exception.

Yahourt à la confiture Rhubarbe

Yahourt à la confiture Abricot

Yahourt à la confiture Fraises.

Confiture de caramel.

Gallettes –butter crunch biscuits ou galettes fines au beurre frais.

Galletes – maple syrup and pecan gallettes ou galettes pécan et èrable.

Many thanks to L at Bonne Maman for this unexpected gift and the opportunity to try your superb yoghurts etc. The apricot one was so nice I might just pop to the fridge and try a strawberry one before I leave for work. Or maybe two… Would that be greedy? Oh pourquoi pas!

Monday, 4 April 2011

A day aromatically infused by chicken stew, a deep red wine and Jane Birkin.

me in my usual writing position on the settee.

Today wasn’t the best in the sunshine stakes and so, as Monday’s light rain hit my kitchen windows, I decided that I would go through all my enormous stack of France magazines and tear out all of the most interesting bits and discard the rest. My editing process graced me with some interesting articles on the French language and culture and a lot of exciting articles by Rosa Jackson about French food. I will put this collection of foodie articles in a file tomorrow for future reference. The action of doing this was, literally, food for thought – and should add to my ongoing education.

While I was doing this I put on some soporific music by Jane Birkin and later on, as I cooked my evening meal, I had my Rick Stein’s French Odyssey DVD on TV as background noise, all very very familiar after multiple viewings. As Rick’s vocals floated through my house and informed me of barbecued or grilled sardines, inspired salads, stiff fresh fish, meaty Toulouse sausages and cassoulet au confit de canards I was suddenly in the south of France in my head.

Madeleine cake and coffee
Meanwhile, après un visite à mon Co-operative local, I gathered enough food items to make a chicken stew avec lentilles. I have become used to using a lot of natural flavours in my good, honest , dishes. So with the quartered chicken I added lots of chopped lemon, and lemon rind, black pepper, fresh thyme leaves and cooked it through for an hour in vegetable oil. I have used super fresh sage in the past but couldn’t get it from my local greengrocer this time so I used a small amount of freshly picked thyme leaves aux jardin. Whilst I cooked I had a good cup of Carte Noire coffee and a couple of my fragrant home-made Madeleine cakes. They were so delish that they could have been shipped in directly from Commercy. These too had been made with a generous amount of sharp and fresh lemon rind a few days ago.

Slightly later on, the Côtes de Rhône, a robust and beautifully rounded, deeply coloured red wine, got opened and the imbibing of a couple of deep glasses added to the mood and fun of cooking. This wine was a bargain half price (£4.99) offer again from the local Co-op store.

The chicken had been cooking in the oven for just over an hour on a middle heat (gas mark 7) and after I took the foil lid off the dish and returned the lemony aromatic chicken to the oven I started to prepare the potatoes and carrots and leeks. Now it was just a case of peeling the carrots, cleaning the spuds, chopping the leeks and par boiling the lot before adding to the stock pot with some chicken stock. I got rather carried away watching Rick Stein and within half an hour I was aurally confused by a remote rattling sound coming from the kitchen. On inspection I discovered the potatoes boiling madly on the stove and the lid dancing a manic dance to its own crazy bubbling tune. I turned it down and checked the carrots and leeks in a separate pot. Another ten minutes and they were perfectly done.

lemons and lemon rind

chicken with lemon and thyme

cooked chicken pieces

I use an old 1970s alarm clock in case I need to time any cooking. It's the only clock I have and perfect for the rough timing methods I use and I estimated that the chicken stew would take about an hour and a half to cook. Originally I had dissected  the  whole chicken into two boneless breasts, two thighs and legs and skinny wings for the dish. If you just follow the joints and muscles on chicken they are easy enough to joint yourself.

In the latter stages I added eight cloves of Lincolnshire garlic (finely chopped) to the casserole to add yet more flavour.

Finally the cooked chicken got drained of the little bit of excess fat and the meat was added to the stock pot (the lemon pieces got thrown away) and I popped in a packet of Merchant Gourmet lentils and a generous shake of some sea salt and another few grinds of black pepper for flavour. I left the whole dish to warm through on the stove for another ten minutes and enjoyed a hearty bowlful with another sumptuous glass of red wine and some Dijon mustard. Parfait!

me in the kitchen.