One Day In Peyrebernède

Christmas Day is usually the one day of the year when it seems the rich food just keeps coming, you keep eating and drinking, all day, relentlessly. At some point you may feel you need some exercise and join in with a family backyard cricket match, but you’ve consumed too much food and possibly over-done it with the wine and champagne, so you’re not really match fit and prone to an accident.  As was the case with me last Christmas Day with a spectacular collision with a family member whilst both of us were trying to catch the same high ball and looking up at the sky and not around us. Thud, down for the count then a slow limp back to the couch nursing slight concussion and a packet of Panadol.

Recently while travelling around Europe and playing music, I had a similar day of eating, a true French Provincial Feast in the Hamlet of Peyrebernède, a small country town in France near Bordeaux at the home of some dear musical friends. The quantity and richness of the food we consumed this day reminded me of a Christmas Day eating experience.

Fois Gras, Duck Pate, Salami and Bread
Fois Gras, Duck Pate, Salami and Bread

Firstly the hors d’oeuvres are presented.  No meal in France is complete without a plate of Fois Gras, and there is a pallet on the table, along with more Duck Pate, olives, salamis, pistachios and the omnipresent crusty fresh baguette and this is all washed down with a lovely glass of Sauterne as we are in this region after all. I try to have little samples of each, as I know there is much more to come. Also bearing in mind that French Women are exposed to this kind of eating all year round, and remain slim because they ‘graze’ only.

Coq Au Vin and Ratatouille in Chasseur Pots
Coq Au Vin and Ratatouille in Chasseur Pots

Next the main course.  Here we have a divinely rich, succulent Coq Au Vin prepared by George who started assembling this the day before, so the flavour of the chicken and mushrooms are nicely infused.  Claire has prepared a beautifully baked classic ratatouille and golden baked new potatoes and I put out some Balsamic marinated and baked fennel with red onions. As an afterthought, a salad of rocket, raddichio and lemon juice is also presented along with even more crusty bread which is essential to mop up the Coq Au Vin juices. This is all washed down with a compulsory bottle of 2010 Chateau Balac Haut-Mèdoc, in other words a nice velvety, robust glass of local Bordeaux red.

Chateau Balac Haut Mèdoc
Chateau Balac Haut Mèdoc

Rather than participating in a game of cricket after all of this food, we are inspired to get the instruments out and have an impromptu jam session with our musical friends. I play the piano accordion today and it’s a physically demanding instrument so subconsciously I am thinking that will burn off a few Fois Gras calories after a few hours of pumping those bellows. We do consume more Bordeaux Red during this time, so it’s wishful thinking really.

Fresh Rosemary for the Gremolata
Fresh Rosemary for the Gremolata

Dinner is now on the horizon and this consists of a BBQ. Dave has sourced some rib-eye steaks which are in ‘Flintstone’ proportion and for someone like me who only eats two good quality steaks a year is slightly confronting, however I’m going in. I prepare a Gremolata from freshly picked Rosemary abundant in the garden and loaded with Garlic to accompany it. More ratatouille and potatoes are also served along with a selection of French Cheeses and more bread. And more Bordeaux red of course.

Claires' Strawberry Tart
Claires’ Strawberry Tart

Chocolates and a strawberry tart by Claire appear afterwards, but the computer says no at this point.

What About Celery?

Roast Vegetables

I’ve had a love affair with roasted Fennel lately, and tonight decided to go in a different direction. I look in my vegetable crisper finding ample supplies of eggplant, cauliflower, red onion, garlic and celery. Everything can be roasted and added to a salad, with the exception of the celery. Wait a minute, why not roast the celery as well?  I’ve never done it before or even heard of it, but am going to try it tonight.

A quick google search on the Celery family reveals it is a member of the ‘Carrot Family’, and the ‘Parsley and Carrot Family’, and also the ‘Celery Family’, all of who are related to the ‘Fennel Family’. I conclude if you can roast a Fennel bulb, you can also roast Celery in a similar fashion.

Roast Celery

Just to be sure, I keep it separate from the other well established roasting vegetables of Eggplant, Cauliflower, Garlic and Red Onion as I am experimenting here. The roasting tin is prepared with coconut oil, celery added with a sprinkle of Celtic Sea Salt and Black Pepper and cooked at the same time as the other veg. It works!

Roast Eggplant, Cauliflower, Celery and Red Onion Salad:

1 Eggplant, halved, skin on and scored crossways

1/2 Head of cauliflower, cut into chunks

1 Red Onion, quartered

2 Sticks Celery, cut into chunks

1/2 Leek, cut into chunks

3 Cloves Garlic, skin on

1/2 Lemon, chopped in half

1 Tbs Olive Oil

1 Tsp Sea Salt

Drizzle of Olive Oil

1) Heat oven to 200 Degrees C.

2) Rub all veg in oil, arrange in roasting pan, sprinkle salt and pepper. Put in oven.

3) Turn after ten minutes or so, and keep a watchful eye on veg, remove ones cooking quicker than others and keep in a separate bowl.

4) Get your salad leaves ready of rocket, spring onions, lemon.

Dressing:

Lemon Juice

Roasted lemon, diced finely

Roasted Garlic, including caramelised skin that has formed in the roasting process. Chop this up and add to lemon dressing.

Mix all this up and reserve for dressing over roasted veg when done.

Serve on a bed of rocket and whatever greens are on hand, squeeze lemon over top.

Roast Fennel, Eggplant and Leek Salad

Roast Fennel, Eggplant and Leek SaladFennel is the new black and right now I am infatuated with this incredibly versatile vegetable. You can add it to almost any dish raw, roasted, steamed or sautéed and the flavour sensation any of these ways is a knock-out every time.  I particularly like roasting it as not only is the roasted texture of Fennel so sublimely good, but the aromas in the kitchen that accompany the process are truly magnificent, especially during Winter. Don’t be fooled by Fennel and it is also one of the worlds most healthiest foods loaded with Vitamin C, Potassium and Fiber.

Yes, I realise this is a ‘salad’ recipe for winter, but the roasted vegetables served on top of the rocket, spring onions and other assorted herbs is a heart-warming dish indeed.

Ingredients for Roasting:

1 Large Fennel bulb, cut into chunks with the core intact

1 Eggplant, chopped into juicy chunks, skin left on

1 Leek, washed, trimmed and cut into chunks

3 Cloves of Garlic, skin left on

Olive Oil

1 Tsp Ground Cummin

1 Tsp Paprika

Salt and Cracked Black Pepper

1) Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C.

2) Mix the olive oil, cummin and paprika in a bowl, then rub over all prepared vegetables and place in a roasting pan, then place in pre-heated oven and roast for approx 40 minutes or till when they smell amazing and the fennel is caramelising and eggplant sizzling.

3) Remove vegetables from oven, separate garlic cloves as these will go in the dressing.

Salad and dressing:

Bunch of rocket leaves (or any other salad greens on hand, I just love rocket like there’s no tomorrow)

Spring Onions, chopped

Dill, chopped (or any other fresh herbs on hand, the aniseed flavour of Dill or Tarragon goes well with Fennel)

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

Juice of one small lemon

Dash of Sesame Oil

Salt and Pepper

1) Put rocket leaves, spring onions and dill in a salad bowl.

2) Mix Olive oil, lemon juice, sesame oil, salt and pepper in another small bowl.

3) Squeeze roasted garlic cloves into the dressing bowl with olive oil etc and stir up with a fork.

4) Place roasted vegetables on top of salad greens, then drizzle the dressing over.

5) Top with 1 Tbsp of toasted sesame seeds and serve.

And there you have it, another great fennel moment.

Chicken Soup, Poached Mandarins and Ginger Tea

I’m sniffly, my daughter is too, everyone around us is also sick with the winter flus in Sydney that just seem to be relentless. I’ve spent a fortune on tissues, nasal sprays, panadol and other flu paraphernalia and quite honestly am a bit over it all. It’s time for action and some good old fashioned no-nonsense home cooked, flu-cancelling remedies. Now.

End Your Flu Chicken Soup
End Your Flu Chicken Soup

Chicken soup is the first cab off the rank. Now, there are chicken soups and there are chicken soups, and like a Spaghetti Bolognese, everyone has their own family recipe, handed down over generations, put into wills with a master stock, or just plain googled with thousands of results. Mine is a combination of all of these things, I have been studying chicken soup and trying many different versions for some time now.  There is no limit to what you can put into it, let your imagination run wild with ingredients, however I can only say this. The end result will weigh up mostly upon the quality of the chicken used in the stock and there is no doubt in my mind and many others, that this begins with an Organic Chicken. Oh it’s too expensive I hear you say, but there is no compromise here, it can only be organic so spend the extra dollars, make the great stock, taste the difference, and feel better and be over your flu. You’ll thank yourself as will your family.

After serving up the chicken soup, make a desert of poached mandarins in red wine, sugar and cloves.  Serve this with a boiled Ginger Tea, Lime Juice and Honey.  The Vitamin C hit in this combination of foods is immense and should single handedly eliminate your flu.

Chicken Soup Ingredients for initial stock base:

1 Whole Organic Chicken

Water to cover the chicken

1 Brown Onion, quartered

1 Carrot, peeled and chopped in fours

1 Parsnip, peeled and chopped in fours

1 Stick of Celery, chopped in fours

2 Cloves of garlic, halved

Coriander Stalks

1 Tbs Black Peppercorns

3 Bay Leaves

Celery Leaves

1) Bring all of these ingredients to the boil, then let simmer very gently on low heat with a lid on for two hours. Don’t worry about skimming off the fat and froth, as you will do this when you are straining the stock.

2) Remove the chicken and place in a separate bowl and let cool so you can handle.

3) Strain the stock, and discard all of the cooked vegetables.

4) When the chicken can be handled, remove all meat from bones and place back into the strained stock

The fiddliest part of this recipe is now done. Here is where you can get inventive and have fun.

Rest of the Soup Ingredients:

1 Leek, sliced

1 Stick Celery, chopped

1 Carrot, diced

Half a Fennel Bulb, thinly sliced

1 Parsnip, diced

Coriander Stalks, chopped

Coriander Leaves

Bean Sprouts

Toasted Sesame Seeds

Lemon Juice

1) Bring everything to the boil again, just briefly, then back to a simmer.  The soup is ready at this point, but if you aren’t ready to eat, just turn the heat off and keep covered till you are. The longer it sits, the better so all flavours infuse nicely.

2) When you are ready to eat, here is the clincher. Serve up in bowls, then add bean sprouts, coriander leaves, toasted sesame seeds, black pepper, squeeze of a lemon and just a tiny, tiny splash of soy sauce. As no extra salt or other dreaded stock cubes have been added up till this point, a dash of soy sauce is allowed.

Mandarins

Next the Mandarins for Desert:

2 Big Juicy Mandarins, peeled and segmented (You can de-pip them if you like, or just not bother)

2 Tsp butter

1/4 cup red wine

2 Tbsp caster sugar

2 Star Anise

Juice of one orange

1 Tsp Cinnamon

Splash of water

Dash of sweet Sherry

1) Marinate the mandarins in all ingredients for half an hour except butter

2) Bring to boil then simmer for 15 minutes till fragrant and mandarins are turning slightly mushy

3) Turn heat off and let cool

4) Serve on top of vanilla bean ice-cream with a dollop of Greek Yogurt on top and dusting of cinnamon.

Ginger Tea

1 Knob of Ginger, sliced thinly with skin on

Honey

Juice of 1 Lime

1) Boil ginger in 4 cups of water for twenty minutes.

2) Strain into mugs

3) Add 1 tsp honey to each mug, stir

4) Squeeze Lime Juice into each mug, stir

So there you have it. A Flu-Elimination meal, chocked full of Vitamin C.  Have an open fire going whilst preparing and devouring all of this to combat the Sydney Winter Flu Blues.

Open Fire for added Vitamin Hit
Open Fire for added Vitamin Hit

Mexican Strawberries

Young Strawberries
Young Strawberries

At fifteen dollars a kilo, I could not pass up these strawberries for sale on the side of the road at Freemans Waterhole spotted on the drive back to Sydney from the Hunter Valley.  I had purchased them on the last trip, but had opted for the cheaper half kilo for $10.  For an extra $5, the bag was brimming with these succulent morsels and a wise purchase.

I already knew what I wanted to do with them when I got home.  They were going to be marinated in Balsamic, brown sugar and cracked black pepper.  My last minute addition/afterthought is a splash of Kahlua and spinkle of chilli flakes into the marinade for good measure.

An hour at room temperature is enough time.  Then, spoon into bowls with vanilla ice-cream and crumble some wafer thin Lindt white and dark chocolate wafers over.  If there is any left over marinade, spoon over everything as the balsamic and brown sugar have now formed a lovely syrup.

Mexican Strawberries
Mexican Strawberries

Ingredients:

2 to 3 cups strawberries, cut into wedges

2 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

1 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 teasoon cracked black pepper

Chilli flakes

Dash of Kahlua or Vodka (or both)

Greek Yoghurt

Vanilla Ice-Cream to serve

Chocolate, any favourite variety, grated.

Method:

Marinate strawberries in all ingredients in a bowl at room temperature for at least one hour.

Serve with Ice-Cream, yoghurt, chocolate and pour over any left over marinade syrup.