Tag Archive for: b&b

Vegging out in the South of France

At Chez Maison Bleue we are seeing increasing numbers of vegetarian and vegan guests. They commonly complain that outside Paris, France just does not cater for vegetarians and vegans who fare even worse. The most common meal that they are both offered is an omelette! The term vegan was coined in 1944 as a word to describe “non dairy vegetarians”. The principle is that man should live without exploiting animals. There is some debate within the vegan community as to whether products from insects are permissible, Vegan Action says that eating honey and wearing silk is a matter of individual choice and conscience.

The biggest difficulty we find here is sourcing vegan wine. Most wines are fined (the process which clarifies the wine) by using animal products. Some pragmatic vegans have decided that it is permissible to depart from strict interpretation if the culture of where you are makes it impractical and they use this to enable them to enjoy a nice glass of wine with an otherwise vegan meal. This type of pragmatic interpretation of rules is very typically French and it is no surprise that it is known as the Paris exemption!

The strange thing for me is that France has such an abundance of wonderful vegetables that it is really easy to produce fabulous vegetable dishes. Here at our B&B in the Languedoc we grow our own fruit and vegetables organically (and from next year will keep chickens) we serve vegetable dishes where there is only a matter of minutes between the vegetables being harvested and going into the pan. This means that they cook very quickly and are absolutely delicious. This area also produces large quantities of pulses from the wonderfully meaty haricot blanc, mainly used in cassoulet, to great puy lentils. Legend has it that these were introduced into France by Catherine de Medici, Comtesse de Lauragais when she was given some seeds newly brought back from America as a wedding present on her marriage to the Dauphin of France in 1533. I use them as the main ingredient in a great non-meat loaf. Other dishes on our menu include stuffed peppers. At this time of year the market in Mirepoix, the best in this part of south of France, has an amazing variety of squashes. Some of the larger ones are great for a vegetable roast. Slice off the top and take out the seeds and soft flesh from the middle then roast and fill with other roast vegetables. Pile them inside the squash when they are all cooked and serve. You have an edible oven to table serving dish!

 

Squash stall

So whether you are vegetarian, vegan or a meat eater who likes different fresh and tasty vegetables with your meat, Chez Maison Bleue, our 18th century holiday home in the south of France is a great place to veg out!

Celebrations at our bed and breakfast in the south of France

We were delighted to be part of a young couple’s very special day when they become engaged at Chez Maison Bleue in the summer. The bride to be knew nothing of secret preparations arranged by her [now] fiancee and which included a special meal on arrival at our B&B and champagne and rugs and cushions on the hill at the back of the house with moonlit views of our ancient village and church. This was where the question, along with the the champagne would be popped! Our engagement present to Caitlin and Thomas was a celebration meal on their return visit, which we hope they are able to cash in soon. It was a privilege to be part of their special time and we are pleased that our B&B nestling in the foothills of the Pyrenees, deep in the south of France, will always be a special place to them.

The happy couple on the village square, Sonnac sur l'Hers

Potter’s Fair, Mirepoix

The Potter’s Fair takes place each August among the medieval “couverts” of Mirepoix in the south of France. Mirepoix is 14kms from Chez Maison Bleue, our holiday home in Languedoc, a few minutes drive or around 1.5hrs cycle through lush landscapes – fields of sunflowers this time of year. The Fair is a colourful day out and offers some beautiful pieces, very reasonably priced, there are past purchases dotted all around the holiday cottage and B&B. We were there in the lunch hours so the stalls were deserted, the cafes and bars packed – the French philosophy of life is conducive to wellbeing.

Potter’s Fair, Mirepoix

For more photos see Facebook

Tour de France in Languedoc

A busy, exciting month in Languedoc when the Tour de France passed through Chalabre, only 3km from our B&B and holiday cottage in the south of France. This meant we and our guests from Wisconsin could avoid the traffic congestion and simply walk to take up our positions by the roadside. We offer cyclist friendly accommodation and so often welcome those who wish to sample the cycling terrain of Languedoc for themselves, including a family from Thunder Bay, Ontario who according to comments in our guest book, “…had a wonderful time, Everything has been beyond anything we could imagine. The gite was beautifully renovated, everything was perfect, beds, breakfast, wine, herbs, champagne, scooter, toys and books for the girls, it was just lovely.” And from Brooke, aged 8, “..I love the Bedrooms! The Scooter and Love the Restaurant next door!! Oh and the crossaint!!” How lovely, though please be assured we did give her more than 1 crossaint during her holidays.

Tour de France, Chalabre, July 2012

Pudding at our B&B

I have been surprised at how popular pavlova and other meringue based desserts are here at our holiday cottage in the South of France . Most of our guests seem to love them but say that they could never make them. The reality is that provided you take some simple precautions they are very straightforward, but I’ll come back to that.

Many people suggest that meringue was the creation of Italian chef Gasparini when he was working in Mehringyghen in Switzerland and it is the place that gave the name. However there is a reference to meringue in Massialot’s book “Nouvelle instruction pour les confitures, les liquers et les fruits” published in 1692. Although not called meringues there are earlier references in English cookery books to “white bisket bread” and the cooking ingredients and method are the same as for meringue. The Pavlova is named after the Russian Ballerina Anne Pavlova. The invention is the source of dispute between Australia and New Zealand but on balance it was probably created in Wellington New Zealand during her 1926 tour.

There are essentially three types of meringue. The first and most basic is Suisse where egg white and sugar are whipped together in proportions of 1 egg white to 50g (2oz) of caster sugar. Second is Meringue Cuite (cooked) This is not actually cooked in the preparation but it is whisked over hot water and icing sugar is used in a slightly higher proportion. It produces a firmer meringue. The third is Meringue Itallienne. This is the meringue used in professional patisserie work giving a similar result to meringue cuit but is a lighter finer mixture. It is made by making the sugar into a syrup before adding to the egg white.

So what are the key pointers to successful meringues?

1 Make sure the bowl and whisk are completely grease free, clean and dry.

2 Make sure there is absolutely no trace of yolk in the whites.

3 Eggs should be at room temperature and a few days old, but not stale.

4 The shape of the whisk and bowl can affect the quality of the meringue. The best is a balloon whisk in a rounded copper bowl and although it gives the best volume it takes a long time and a strong arm! I use a slightly narrower bowl and an electric whisk. It is important to use a constant speed and not to stop until the whites are stiff ready for the sugar to be added.

5 Use fine sugar. Caster sugar or icing sugar. Granulated is not suitable.

6 Dry the meringue rather than cook it! Low oven temperatures are essential. If the oven is too hot the meringue will lack crispness and be tough, you will also see beads of moisture oozing out. Some chefs will even say you should do meringues at 90o for about 3 hours with the oven door ajar to allow the steam to escape but that was before we became energy conscious!

 

Birthday Pud

Recently at Chez Maison Bleue we had a guest with a birthday and as a special dessert we produced a strawberry pavlova using lovely local strawberries from Mirepoix market. I like to beat some of the strawberries in with the cream to give the toping a nice light pink colour and then decorate with the whole or cut strawberries. Summer is the perfect time for making meringues with loads of delicious fresh fruit. Apricots and cherries are in season at the moment here in the Languedoc and peaches will be coming at the beginning of July. If you are worried about having all those egg yolks left over use them for lovely rich custards.

“Wild” swimming in Puivert lake

Château de Puivert provides a stunning backdrop to a day out at the lake, 8km from our holiday cottage and B&B in the south of France; borrow our mountain bikes or an easy drive along quiet roads. On a Saturday afternoon where the temperature tipped 31 degrees it was a popular spot for the kids having tremendous fun diving from the jetty. Go early to have the lake to yourself before returning to Chez Maison Bleue for a leisurely breakfast on the terrace. Puivert Château built in the 12th century is one of the Cathar castles, the open countryside more hospitable than the wild crags of many of the Cathar sites. The very lovely, typically French town, houses a small museum and of course in these parts, the ubiquitous medieval church.

Puivert Chateau, a most magnificent backdrop for swimming in the lake

 

 

 

Another lovely guest book comment

“Delicious food and very warm and welcoming hospitality, amazing house – great work on the restoration and decorating.” A young couple from Canada who stayed at our B&B in the foothills of the Pyrenees at the end of April. We are just loving what we are doing here at Chez Maison Bleue in the south of France!

Tour de France in Languedoc

2 stages of the Tour de France go through Languedoc in 2012:

Stage 13, July 14, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Le Cap d’Agde 215 km (road stage)

Stage 14, July 15 — Limoux – Foix 192 km (high mountain stage).

Limoux is half an hour from our holiday cottage and B&B, although the race comes much closer – through Puivert only 7km away. The Tour is a great spectacle and cause for many celebrations in the towns and villages, lasting long after the riders have disappeared round the mountain! We offer cyclist friendly accommodation and  whether you wish to follow the riders up the twisty cols, or prefer cycling for softies through vineyards and along forest tracks, Languedoc has something to offer. If you wish to follow the Tour or any other route, we can provide short distance support (transport, food, etc). Bike hire is available locally and can be arranged prior to your visit.

Detailed routes of the Tour in Languedoc on Cycling Languedoc website.

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.

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?