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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The French eat burgers? Mais d'accord!! But of course! Just like us.

Written to help celebrate National Burger Day 25th August 2016.

The French obsession with Le Burger. By Phil Lowe.

On August 1st 2016 the American burger franchise Five Guys opened its flagship French burger restaurant at 42 Court St. Emilion (Bercy Village) in the 12th Arrondisement of Paris. By 2017 they are planning to open their second Parisian branch at the Gare du Nord. Compared to its competition Five Guys are high end offering menus from fifteen to twenty euros. Oh la la! Customers can even make their burgers bespoke. According to their promotions Five Guys offers simplicity with pretty décor, and the burger meat is fresh top quality product and definitely not from frozen. USA President Barack Obama once claimed that Five Guys make the best burgers in the USA. Could we soon be hearing they are the best in France?

Hang on une second. Surely the nation that prizes quality food doesn't scoff the same amount of burgers as in the USA or UK do they? Well, apparently they are rather partial to le burger these days. In fact in 2015 the French wolfed down around 1.19 billion burgers and burgers have become a feature of even the most renowned eateries. To think that once upon a culinary time the humble hamburger would have been considered malbouffe which means rubbish food.

Of this blog subject – the love of burgers in France - I read a recent article in The Telegraph online today which said 'For the guardians of French gastronomy, the prospect of being served something as unsophisticated as a slab of mincemeat with a bap and slice of cheese would long have been considered sacrilegious.' These days however, the report claims that the tables have turned. The Telegraph continues (sic) 'In a culinary revolution, three quarters of French restaurants now sell hamburgers and 80% of these say it has become their top-selling dish, according to a new study...' Further on the Telegraph report also claims that the average time spent on eating a lunchtime meal in France has dropped from an hour and 20 minutes in 1975 to less than half an hour today.

Burger fact: The French website for Burger King states that in 2014 they created a special burger for a Gay Pride day. The name? Le Proud Whopper!

Before looking into all this for a blogpost on National Burger Day (25th August) I had never heard of Five Guys nor the fast food chain Quick. Quick was originally a Belgian chain of hamburger fast food restaurants and founded in 1971 by entrepreneur Baron François Vaxelaire. They have over 400 restaurants all over Europe. They are similar in theme to Burger King and looking at their online ( French language menus for burgers there appears to be a lot of English styling to the names of the dishes. Here are some examples Méga Giant, Long Fish burger, Cheeseburger, Suprême Chicken Barbecue Bacon, Giant, Quick 'n Toast, Burger sauce à la vache qui rit, Giant Max, Long Bacon, Suprême ClassiQ. Yes that is the spelling on the website – ClassiQ. Académie Française alert!!!! They missed out a u and a e!

The buns (pictured above) for the Quick Dark Vador burgers are dyed not burnt to a blackened crisp and the Star Wars promo launch was apparently very popular. Saying that, it would feel very odd to me to eating bread this colour. A bit like contemplating eating blue food.

So, we have our Quick hamburger therefore what can we have as accompagnements then? Aaah, food with silly names like Funny Carotte & Kiri, Funny Tomate. If we want to go all adulte then we can order La Petite Salade or Frites Plus ou moins salés: à vous de décider" (you put your own salt on if you decide to) or Frites Rustiques. Should you feel very hungry indeed and want a full salad with your burger meal then they offer three salads La Gourmande, La Savoureuse or something totally irresistible such as the aptly named, L'irresistible.

Over to another burger business in France – Big Fernand – who call themselves a French burger bistro. On their menus they also say “Being French we want you to be able to enjoy your meat however you want it, be it blue, rare, medium-rare, medium or well done. And we'll even try not to judge you if you opt for well done. They go on to warn that the Food Standards Agency warn that 'undercooked' meat may increase the risk of food-borne illness in some.

I had a lick of their menu look at their menu. The burger meals did sound a lot more appetising than the Quick menu. Just a personal choice. And so at Big Fernand the selection of burgers are:

Le Big Fernand (dry aged beef) with Tomme de Savoie cheese, sun dried tomatoes, flat parsley and a home made cocktail sauce.

Le Bartholomé (dry aged beef) with Raclette cheese, smoked streaky bacon, caramelised onions, chives, barbecue sauce.

Le Philibert (seasoned chicken burger) Tomme de Savoie cheese, grilled peppers, tarragon, home made mayo.

Le Victor (veal) Fourme d'Ambert blue cheese, caramelised onions, coriander, home made mayo.

L'Alphonse (lamb) Tomme de Savoie cheese, grilled aubergine, coriander, home made mayo.

Le Lucien (veggie) Portabello mushroom, Tomme de Savoie cheese, sun dried tomatoes, caramelised onions, chives and home made mayo.

The sides are fries or a salad of lamb's lettuce, sun dried tomatoes and chives. On top of all this you can also compose your own burger from all their ingredients!

Finally, if you happen to understand French you can follow two hip French guys called Dirty et Richie and their videos on Youtube. They appear to be going to lots of French hamburger joints in Paris and filming themselves eating burgers and commenting on the experience. They call the videos La recherche du meilleur hamburger de Paris. Each place they visit is named and hash tagged with a number comme ça #13.

Whatever you happen to be doing on National Burger Day (25th August) enjoy Les Burgers! Even if they are English. Lol.

Phil Lowe

Twitter: @PhilLowe7


Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Making Parmesan and Olive Biscuits from a recipe in Simplissime and practically burning them.

I think I may have just slightly over cooked them but I gave biscuit making a go yesterday. Most of the ingredients I had in the house anyway -excepting the butter. Using 20 de-stoned black olives (chopped), 100g of soft butter, 150g of grated parmesan and 100g of plain flour I mixed them all up in a glass bowl, rolled the mix into little sausage shapes and left them to set in the fridge for an hour. I found the whole mixing thing worked best if I melted the butter.

And, oh yes, I had to buy a roll of baking paper too. After they had cooled and set I squished the shapes into something resembling a rustic biscuit. Then I popped them into the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes as directed by Simplissime. The oven was set on 180 degrees (gas mark six) as also recommended. After fifteen minutes I had a look and they didn't look that done so I added another ten minutes until they were a crispy brown. This was my downfall I think and, although they were nice, (and I did rather pig out on them) they did repeat on me a lot that evening. Next time I will try the recipe for the correct cooking time.

Meanwhile Mr Harris the cat showed me his three clothes peg balancing act. I was very impressed and told him so. He smiled and knocked them over in a de-constructivist cat magician manner.

If you want to order a copy of the fabulous Simplissime book do use the Amazon link at the top of the page. The tag line about it being 'The Easiest French Cookbook In The World' by
François Mallet is spot on. I love it. The shop retail price is £20 but you can find some cheaper options through my Amazon link. That's where I got mine from. I cooked another creamy potato based dish from the book the other day. Do check it out ICI.

Phil Lowe

See too my comedy blog and if you like it do follow and share my content. Ta.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

"You mentioned a 'hand of pork' what is this? I didn't know pigs have hands."

Ah yes from the title enquiry I appreciate butchery terms do have some odd names outside of the business. A hand of pork is from the slightly leaner area just below the fatty shoulder where the hock (chunky bit before the actual trotter) is. A lot of English butchers sell it at around £3-5 a kilo so it is a really good buy. Although pork is generally one of the cheaper types of meat to buy I would still contest that this particular cut is an utter winner in the taste stakes. The minor downside is that you may possibly be required to purchase the whole joint but is only going to cost you around £9 max minus the hock. Much cheaper than the leg joint and in my opinion much tastier and less dry at the final part of the cooking. Stew up some cooking apples and add a small amount of cinnamon or nutmeg to taste. Brown sugar also helps accentuate the sweetness of the apples too.

Any road up, buying the pork on the bone is generally cheaper and with a bit of skill and a sharp knife it isn't that difficult to take the bone out. Even if you make a real bad job of it (without cutting yourself) you will be proud of your inner butcher. Stringing it up requires slightly more patience.

A hand of pork fresh from the local butcher.

Hand of pork boned and rolled and accompanied by voyeur cooking apples.

Some whole spices added. Half a dozen cloves, star anise and a piece of Cinnamon bark.

After three hours in the oven gas mark 7. 210 degrees C. Smells fab.

Roast hand of pork. Gratin Dauphinois and home made Bramley apples sauce.

If you love French recipes the best book on the market is definitely this one. It is the best selling French cookbook in the word and now in English. This is where I got my inspiration for my accompanying Gratin Dauphinois.

Simplissime. The Easiest French Cookbook in The World? I think it is! I love it!

As an aside, thank you to all my lovely readers who have been using the Amazon banner link at the top of this blog. Your purchases big or small are appreciated by me and the little bits of commission I receive help to fund my cooking so that I can share some nice European cooking ideas with you.

Now to Simplissime by Jean- François Mallet. I had heard about this book and the appeal for me was in its very simplicity. I love cooking as you know, but often expensive ingredients or complex recipes put me off. This is now the best selling cook book in France and it is so easy and simply laid out it encourages you to give things a go. And it is now in English! It has over 180 French recipes and I tried one out just a few days ago. It was the Gratin Dauphinois, a creamy cheesy potato bake. It was totally delicious. Next stop page eight Parmesan and olive biscuits! All I need is some butter and I already have everything I need!

To order Simplissime (English translation) click the shop now link above.
Normal retail price £20                       

I cooked the Gratin Dauphinois as an accompaniment to a rather over large boned and rolled pork hand that I purchased from my local butcher. More about this in another blogpost.

Nice easy to understand layout.

The cooked hand of pork.

Cooked Gratin Dauphinois

Roast hand of pork, gratin dauphinois and home made apple sauce

This was one of the most delicious meals I have made in a long time and well worth having the oven on on a hot day for three hours for the pork! The gratin took only an hour to cook. Easy. As Jean- François Mallet author of Simplissime says in his introduction; " Combining simple flavours and ingredients makes it perfectly possible to cook nice little dishes or even large meals without spending hours doing so. Have a great time in the kitchen enjoying the results."

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Bouillabaisse at Cafe Rouge Leicester. How was it for me?

As seen in my last blogpost 'Pretending I am on holiday in France' I went over to Leicester recently to have a mooch around their lovely indoor market (voted Britain's Favourite indoor market) and to spend a free £20 Tesco voucher on a meal at a Café Rouge.

The Saturday market was as lively as ever I remembered from my last visit two years ago and I took lots of photos of characters in and around the market. When I went to find the fish and meat market however I found the Fish Market sign still above the door but, the premises had now turned into a bank!

I asked someone passing where a replacement venue might be and was enthusiastically pointed towards a building site at the side of which was the brand new Fish, Meats and Deli market. It was rammed full of shoppers on the run up to Saturday midday so I had a quick look around and went off to Café Rouge for lunch with the intention of returning later.

Understandably very busy at lunchtime on a Saturday.

Café Rouge at Highcross Leicester wasn't so busy around midday and I easily got a table for one inside and placed myself in the nosey person corner. I was eager to spend my £20 voucher and probably a bit more. The blonde haired Spanish waitress called Anca told me that alcohol wasn't allowed on the voucher. Fair enough.

I had been hankering after an aromatic Bouillabaisse dish after watching various TV programmes featuring this most typically French, chunky fish stew, style dish. So, that is what I ordered and to start I got some tasty mixed olives and gherkins to nibble on and then some oven baked potted snails (escargots) with Roquefort butter and potted with smoked lardons and lemon paprika crumble toppings. The escargots came in a tray of four small pots and were very tasty and not as mouth scolding - volcanically hot - as those I had some years ago at French Living. Not having your tongue blistered beyond repair by ultra hot olive oil cunningly masking the escargots is always a bonus. Back then, eating those French Living escargots felt like a particularly cruel task set Indiana Jones. Luckily I was pre-warned by the friend I was dining with. I mentioned to Anca that I would love one day to go to a fete de l'escargot ( a festival of eating snails). She said they have them in Spain a lot and eat the snails with cooked beef mince, fine herbs, tomatoes and garlic. Sounds yummy to me!

The Bouillabaisse was presented in a somewhat smaller casserole dish than I was expecting in my hungry head. My expectation was probably founded on seeing huge steaming tureens of luscious fishy brothy stew over flowing with seafood to die for on the telly. The smaller side container I initially thought was a very yellow butter for the fresh baguette pieces, turned out to be mustard.

On enquiry I was told that one should spread some of the mustard on the bread like butter then add some of the grated cheese provided and dip it all into the fish stew. This was supposed to enhance the fish flavour. I tried this but frankly, to me, it just tasted like a weird combo of bread, mustard and fish stock. The taste was not unpleasant but no big food revelation either.

I enjoyed my Bouillabaisse but for a hungry traveller like myself the overall contents were relatively thin on the ground especially as it cost nearly £15. There were certainly some mussels (in shells) in the Bouillabaisse and sea bass or sea bream fillet sections, squid rings, possibly some shelled prawns swimming in a rich fish stock. I hope I haven't missed anything out. The contents were fairly limited I have to say.

For a chain French style restaurant I normally enjoy going to Café Rouge and seeing that there is no longer one in Nottingham I am stuck between choosing Leicester and Birmingham. Both are nice enough places especially the Birmingham branch at the Waters Edge venue. However, Leicester, half an hour's train journey, replete with a carriage full of London bound travellers, is certainly closer to home. The Waters Edge venue (around the basin of the canal) is certainly more convivial and I seem to remember a branch on the High Street at Solihull that had a lot of low beamed charm and a wood burning fire to give a very homely atmosphere. That was in the late 1990s however when I used to frequent the area in a previous job. From a quick search on the internet I see it is still there and the décor has taken on some subtle vintage inspiration from the nearby Motorcycle Museum. Cool.

Back at the Leicester branch the staff were very friendly and helpful and I amused myself by people watching as I drank my glass of pre-dinner lager beer and was grateful to Tesco for my free £20 voucher.

How I imagined my Bouillabaisse might be.

I will be curious to see how a Bouillabaisse dish at a classic French restaurant differs from the Café Rouge chain version. Any offers to review, East Midlands restaurateurs? Email me at

Interestingly, I was stopped by an overly officious yellow jacketed security guard (Highcross shopping centre) as I tried to take a photo of the outside of Café Rouge. He was a whiney small man with big poorly researched opinions. Apparently taking a photo of the restaurant is a gross security risk. I smiled politely and assured him that the photo was just for enhancing my food blog not for some radical pro Basque anti - baguette terrorist cell or even the Khmer Rouge. He very kindly allowed me (how gracious) to take the picture but would be reporting my action to one of his superiors. This would be someone with an IQ above 0.30 I expect.

Later on I returned to the indoor Fish, Meat and Deli market and checked out all the fab fish (including snappers!) on the Trawlerman fish counter. Interestingly, the weights for the fish on the counter are shown larger in the imperial (pounds) weight than in the metric (kilos). It was almost French in its variety too! Almost. The clean lines of the two year old indoor market are a blessing to the eye and to hygiene matters. With this high standard market coupled with the fresh vegetable and fruit market next door I sometimes wish I lived in Leicester.

Thomas Cook statue Leicester with my bag!

Pretending I am on holiday in France

As I can't afford a holiday in France right now and I have two weeks leave from work I had some fun in the last few days pretending I was in France at various locations around Nottingham and Leicester.

At Cote Brasserie Central Avenue West Bridgford Nottingham

Looking French with a baguette at a deli

Bouillabaise at Café Rouge
French style rooftops in central Nottingham.
Café Rouge Leicester

Eyeing up the Puy lentils

Coffee and cake at French Living Nottingham

Lavender sniffing


Belgian bier at Belgo

People watching at a café

Dreaming of the south of France

"Palm Trees!"

Vibrant food market (Leicester sur Mer)

Café Rouge Leicester

French Living King Street Nottingham.

Interior (part of) at French Living.

Café society in West Bridgford

M. Fishstu poisoniairre at the Victoria Centre. Notts.

Moules from M. Fishstu

See also my latest blogpost about a brilliant French cookery book that is ridiculously easy to use. I love it.