Archive for month: March, 2012

Motor biking in the south of France

Easy passage to Spain from our biker friendly B&B on the border of Languedoc / Midi Pyrenees. 32 routes into Catalunya featured on Best Biking Roads. Plenty of garaged parking, hearty suppers and breakfasts.

 

A dish fit for ABBA

Duck a l’orange was an iconic dish at the time that Abba were pumping out the hits and we were all (well perhaps not all!) into disco and glamrock. Although a popular UK dish from the 70’s/80’s it is not really a classic dish. In terms of fruit accompaniments for duck the more classic way is with black cherry. However having experienced my first restaurant meals during the 70’s I do have a bit of an affection for duck with orange. The classic norm would be to cook the duck and then produce an orange sauce which in many restaurants was a thick and sickly concoction essentially put together by boiling up a bit of orange juice with some thin shred marmalade. From our B&B in the South of France I have two takes on this dish to share.

1 At this time of year vegetables are limited so put some leeks, potato and carrots in an oven proof dish and cover them in orange juice and the herbs and seasoning that appeal to you. At the same time slice a large orange and cover the veg with the slices of orange. Put the dish in the oven heated to approx 190c. Cook them for about 30-40 minutes until they start to go tender. The next bit depends on how you like your duck, well done or nicely pink in the middle. Place a duck breast, magret de canard, on top of the oranges, and cook for however long to suit your taste. Remove the duck to rest and thicken the sauce again to taste. Serve the duck garnished with the cooked orange slices and some fresh ones on a bed of the vegetables. The veg will have absorbed the orange flavours to produce a really citrus taste to accompany the rich duck.

2 Another one pot dish. Roast whatever vegetables you like in the oven, sweet potatoes, parsnip and squash work well. Again according to how you like your duck add it to the dish when the veg are starting to soften but this time also put in a couple of whole unpeeled Clementines or Satsumas.

 

Like the previous dish the essence of the orange combines with the juices from the duck to give a fantastic complement of flavours. When you serve cut the orange in half and lay either side of the duck. The taste of the cooked orange really complements the duck, delicious!

Like all of the dishes at Chez  Maison Bleue the principles are keep it simple, if possible use only one pot, allow the cooking process to fuse the flavours. Those flavours are vibrant and readily available here in the Languedoc but can also be found throughout the world. Don’t just follow the suggestions but innovate with your own favourite veg and flavours.

Another great review

Another fabulous review on our Holiday Rentals listing for our holiday cottage in the south of France…”Where do I start, everything about our stay was fantastic!…” We are looking forward to our first full season here in Languedoc. We are putting the final touches to our cyclist friendly B&B and will be ready to open for Easter. Loads of opening offers for the Spring!

 

Cycling to Lac Montbel

Summer has arrived in Spring in Languedoc. Set off from our cyclist friendly B&B this afternoon to Lac Montbel, 2 hrs round trip from Chez Maison Bleue, via Leran, along tracks and quiet roads, 1 car passed us in 2 hrs. The mighty, snow capped Pyrenees provide the backdrop.

Cycling in the foothills of the Pyrenees

Sandy beaches, sailing, swimming, Lac Montbel is a site exceptionnel, you can take the VTT  (mountain bike) route of 16km around its banks.

Sandy beaches of Lac Montbel

 

 

Opening offers for the B&B

Our lovely 18th century B&B in the south of France is almost ready to go. 2 very French bedrooms, 1 double and 1 family room look out over the ancient village square, Sonnac sur l’Hers. Open the shutters each morning and feel like time really has stood still for the past 50 years. Combine with a day out in Carcassonne for a fabulous long weekend. See our Special Offers for great deals in April, including Easter! 20 degrees in the square today and plenty cheap flights into Carcassonne (Ryanair). Why wait?

Re-use / recycle at the B&B

We needed a more robust barrier for the roof terrace at the B&B, especially as we wish to offer family friendly accommodation (!) and I think I have found just the thing, an ancient manger from the garage that in living memory was the barn where animals took refuge in winter. There is a debate about preserving the integrity of the building and we have done this throughout 6 years of restorations at our B&B in the south of France. However, in this case, this lovely feature was completely redundant. The wood is in good condition, despite the ubiquitous woodworm, and is so tactile – you can see where the cattle have worn the wood smooth when feeding. So do you like my authentic balustrade or should I have let something that is probably over 100 years old well alone?

Worn smooth over the centuries

Auction bounty

I didn’t come away from the Vente aux Encheres Publiques (public auction) in Pamiers with what I intended, but the car boot was fairly laden nonetheless. The bidding rose furiously on the lit de coin (corner bed) reaching 250 euros, no doubt still a bargain but more than my budget. I bid 1 euro (!) for an ostentatious soupier, 5 euros for the range of coloured glass and 15 euros for the prints in the pastiche frames.

Just right for the B&B

Best of all, the old luggage (5 euros) was very heavy when picked up and was I discovered, stuffed full of old French linens, some of which are the coveted monogrammed sheets, lots of bolster pillow covers in candy striped colours, and baby clothes and pram sets which are just delightful.

Lovely old French linens

It’s a delicate process restoring the old linens which are often discoloured and stained from many years in musty attics. Who knows how long our cases had been lying somewhere with their hidden bounty. I am loving my foray into buying antiques in France. If you want to pick up lovely old French linens at bargain basement prices, then come and stay in our lovely 18th century holiday cottage or bed and breakfast in the south of France on a weekend that co-incides with the auction – and bring an empty suitcase with you.

Another great review

A comment from our guest book at Chez Maison Bleue, “Wow! what an amazing place…a long lasting impression was made. Beautiful decor, vintage yet modern.” A young couple who stayed at our holiday cottage to ski at Ax Les Thermes, the largest ski resort in the Pyrenees, and where they had the powder snow to themselves!

Popeye and Olive Oil

You have to be of a certain age to really remember these cartoon characters. For those too young to remember and those who are suffering senior moments Popeye grew huge muscles by consuming copious quantities of spinach, and Olive Oil was his love interest (a female character not just the pressings of the olive)! Needless to say it is the culinary ingredient, particularly spinach that interests me.

One of my hobby horses is that people are put off foods simply by them being served badly cooked. Spinach is a classic for this. Many associate spinach with a bitter tasting green mush. It does not have to be like this. At this time of year it is plentiful and cheap to buy at Mirepoix market, the lively, weekly market a few minutes from Chez Maison Bleue. I love to cook with it for its vibrant green colour and the knowledge of the richness of the iron and vitamins it contains. The secret is do not overcook. Spinach is perfectly edible raw but lightly cooked it is delicious.

One of my favourite ways to cook spinach at the B&B is not to boil it at all! Simply melt some butter in a saucepan on a low/moderate heat, add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon or if you prefer grated nutmeg and allow the butter to absorb the flavours for a minute. Then add the freshly washed and drained spinach and toss in the butter and cook over a gentle heat for 1-2 minutes until the spinach “wilts” then stir again and serve. The spinach should be soft but not mushy.

Spinach and grilled goats cheese starter or light lunch

The main drawback to this dish is it uses a separate pan! If you want to stick with the Chez Maison Bleue theme of one pot suppers you can add the spinach to a pan of roast vegetables for the last minute or two, the key here is to make sure the spinach is still wet from washing and I like to add a knob of butter too. For those who are dairy intolerant, for the butter substitute olive oil.

Which brings me back to the cartoon where we started. Whilst I can’t promise that the spinach cooked as I do here in the Languedoc will give the muscles it gives Popeye, it  will certainly preserve far more of the goodness than cooked to death the way it usually was in my school dinners.

Cycling Languedoc

A network of tracks and quiet roads lead from Sonnac sur l’Hers. Today, in glorious sunshine, we set off at 4pm to cycle to Chalabre, our nearest town, in time for the boulangerie to open for its tea-time shift. However, Chalabre is only 3km, not nearly far enough on such a beautiful early March afternoon, when the sun is skimming the hillside turning everything a pink hue. We continued as far as Rivel, another astonishingly beautiful bastide village, so typical of our region of Languedoc.  Returning on the road, the plateau is open and wild, tamed by the warm wind tangling your hair. The mighty Pyrenees keeping vigil, the buzzards circling on the warm thermals, another landscape, another world.

Easy cycling in the foothills of the Pyrenees