Tag Archive for: holiday cottage in the south of france

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!

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.

Chez Maison Bleue, gluten & dairy free

More satisfied customers at our holiday cottage in the south of France. These guests were gluten and dairy intolerant and so provided quite a challenge to chef…”Thank you for accommodating our dietary requirements so graciously and deliciously. Warm hospitality, glorious food, wonderful to meet you both.” See chef’s blog for more information on what this means, particularly in the south of France where the condition is seldom acknowledged.

Restoration of our 18th century gite

The restoration of our holiday cottage in the south of France was undertaken by our team of artisans exceptionnels, headed up by our French architect Sophie Baby of Mirepoix. Much angst, zillions of euros, and a few tears* have resulted in a beautifully restored, very French holiday home. The same team is now working on our B&B next door to the gite on the village square, Sonnac sur l’Hers. Our maçon is missing from the photograph, now there’s a surprise, he’s been AWOL for weeks since taking all the tiles off the roof in fact. Hope he shows up soon, opening date for the B&B is fast approaching. *The towel radiator in the bathroom is not where I wanted it to be, a metre thick stone wall was in the way – seems so trivial now but last summer I wanted to kill someone.

Artisans exceptionnels

 

Carcassonne Festival

The extensive programme for the Carcassonne Festival has been announced. The beautiful medieval citadel provides the backdrop for many events which run from 22 June – 5 August. Classical, opera, ballet, circus, dance, concerts, comedy, this year’s eclectic programme ranges from Alice Cooper and Duran Duran to Aïda. Our B&B and holiday cottage in the south of France are an easy drive from Carcassonne. Vist Festival de Carcassonne (en Français)

Snow in Sonnac sur l’Hers

Not many takers for our holiday cottage in the south of France this week. We are a step away from the high Pyrenees and usually avoid the worst of the weather. Not sure we will make Mirepoix market tomorrow.

The ancient square, Sonnac sur l’Hers

Furniture restoration

Our latest brocante find, a school locker that is being transformed into a petit wardrobe for our holiday cottage in the south of France. Seems a shame to wash away the schoolgirl (boy?) graffiti, will leave the love heart at least.

Jean loves Marc

We tread lightly at every opportunity at Chez Maison Bleue in terms of environmental impact. More natural products such as oils and bees wax are used to restore old, wood furniture. The piece here was sanded with coarse then fine sandpaper then wire wool, cleaned with a solution of water and vinegar (Grandma’s way and so economical – vinegar costs 19 cents, white spirit 3 euros). A wax based polish was then applied to achieve, I hope you agree, a very pleasing result.