A great review for Chez Maison Bleue in the south of France from guests who stayed with a young baby…”A beautiful, traditional yet modern gite in the most peaceful and idyllic setting, a real home from home! Wonderfully accommodating and hospitable, we have had a fantastic week exploring Carcassonne, Mirepoix, and venturing as far as the coastal resorts of Argeles and Collioure, definitely worth the 2 hour drive.” Photos of the Mediterranean courtesy of our guests.
Tag Archive for: mirepoix
When catering for people it is necessary to ensure that you provide the right kind of food. That is a statement of the obvious. What is not so obvious are the solutions. There is increasing awareness of food allergies and intolerances and these provide a challenge to the chef.
An increasingly common condition is celiac disease. This condition is intolerance to gluten. This protein is found in wheat, barley and rye. Anything that contains these or their products cannot be eaten. This means that normal baking and pastry making cannot be done. Substitutes need to be found such as potato or rice flour, maize flour and chickpea flour. The properties of theses flours is however slightly different to wheat flour. The amount of liquid they absorb is different and the elasticity of the finished product is significantly reduced. To overcome this sorghum can be added. Here in the Languedoc life can be particularly difficult as the condition is not generally recognised. The supermarkets are not as geared up to supplying suitable products. At our local supermarket in Mirepoix maize flour is about the only product available. The traditional French petit dejeuner is therefore off limits so the most common breakfast that gets dished up is eggs but without the toast!
Another prevalent intolerance is dairy. Strictly this is intolerance to all forms and products of mammalian milk. Some dieticians however describe it as relating to cow’s milk only. The reality is that the lactose which generally causes the difficulty is present in all mammals milk and it is just present in greater concentration in cow’s milk. This often results in initially sufferers being able to tolerate such products as goats and sheep’s cheese but then developing intolerance even to these. The usual substitute in terms of milk is soya milk but over use of this can also cause difficulty and it is best to use a variety of vegetable milks.
On occasions people have both conditions which can make life really challenging for the chef. Let me share a fine dessert we created at Chez Maison Bleue that caters for this. First you need to make a small flan case from a pate sucre using a blend of rice and maize flour (many UK supermarkets stock gluten free flour) and substitute sunflower oil margarine for the butter. Bake this blind as if you are making a normal mini flan. For the filling use a standard crème patisserie but use the same gluten free flour and in place of milk use coconut milk. This gives it a nice subtle coconut flavour. Then top it off with pieces of fresh pineapple. The combination of coconut and pineapple is a classic and works really well. This is a good illustration of how with a little imagination those who have these conditions need not miss out on fine dining.
Our guests from the UK who stayed in our bed and breakfast in the south of France this week, “Wonderfully relaxing visit, we were made to feel very welcome. Thoroughly enjoyable time here, can’t wait to come back, you have a fantastic place. We had great food, great wine and great company.” Shopping at Mirepoix market with lunch in one of the pavement cafes, a day out to Carcassonne less than an hour away, and rambling in the hills behind the house and through meadows of wild flowers, were all enjoyed by this group of friends. Something for everyone in our holiday home, nestling in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
A group of friends staying at Chez Maison Bleue expressed an interest in taking art classes whilst in the south of France. There are a number of galleries in nearby Mirepoix so when shopping at the market yesterday, we called into “Association Art Mania” (determined by the sign in the window saying English spoken) and met Bob, one of the resident artists. The gallery is well established in Mirepoix and offers bespoke instruction in all painting media for all abilities. Depending on the season, classes are held in the studio or in the open air – at various, beautiful locations. Rates are more than reasonable, individuals and groups up to about 6 can be accommodated. If this is something you are interested in then please let me know, we can liaise with the gallery and make arrangements prior to your visit.
A major exhibition in July by Slawa & Viktoria Prischedko and in October by Marc Folly.
“Lovely house, fabulous hospitality, can’t wait for our next visit!” These guests were staying at Chez Maison Bleue while house hunting in the Mirepoix area. Our child friendly accommodation offers toys, books, games-scooter and fishing nets particularly appreciated by the 2yr old twins.
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.
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.
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.
Bird watching in the Aude is a popular activity. A family of black redstarts has nested in the porch of our B&B in the south of France since we came here. These birds are quite rare in the UK but are a common sight in Languedoc. Broods are large for such small birds, last year we had five very demanding chicks. The parents worked so hard, frantic in their forays for food and quick to let us know if they wanted to come into the porch and would rather we weren’t there. Occasionally they would be very bold and fly over our heads, careful not to drop the giant moth protruding from their beak. Usually we had to find alternative seats on the terrace or the square so they could raise their brood in peace – likewise we could enjoy our breakfast. The chicks got so huge we thought they were going to topple from the ledge. Eventually, one morning before we set off for Mirepoix market, one or two, after much coaxing from mum and dad, finally found enough courage to fly from the nest to the nearest beam. Oh, they were so sweet, such scardy cats, hopping about on the beams for most of the morning before venturing onto the terrace, already practicing the lovely bobbing habit of the adult birds.
Buying furniture for the B&B and holiday cottage has proved a challenge. We have a steadfast, left hand drive Volvo which has spent many lonely winters abandoned at Carcassonne airport and has never let us down but draws the line at transporting double beds, sofas and wardrobes. Delivery charges are extortionate; we are in a rural area but not far from major towns and cities such as Carcassonne and Mirepoix. I have been keen to avoid creating an English country interior in my French house and without being immodest I believe I have succeeded.
We have bought mainly old, often antique, French furniture, taking care to treat the ubiquitous woodworm before placing it on my lovingly restored parquet floors. The brocante (second hand, warehouse kind of setup) in Mirepoix and the Troc (same) in Carcassonne have been the main sources of often unbelievably cheap, solid wood furniture that the French no longer desire for their modern, boxy villas. However, my beautiful, intricately carved rosewood bed turned out to be completely useless as the mattress isn’t a standard size. Even so, Nick is most certainly not having it for firewood.
On a lower note, before our major purchase of a sofa in year 2 (delivery an eye watering 80 euros) we bought 2 sun loungers from Lidl that we used all summer on the terrace and all winter beside the fire – the plastic arm on one of them melted.
Hot and sunny in the Languedoc just now, lunch on the square every day this week. Flowers wilting in their pots, parched. There are 250 km of paths in the Mirepoix area, today we covered about 20 of them. Camon is a “plus beaux village de France” around 3km. Particularly lovely in May, June when the roses draped round all the houses are in full bloom; a gift from the municipality years ago. The bar closed, which is not unusual, probably closed for lunch, so we continued.
We often walk or cycle this path, the furthest we have gone is Mirepoix, another hour on the bike from Lagarde. There is good scrumping to be had from the hedgerows and we often see red squirrels scampering along ahead. They seem less timid than their English counterparts, maybe I have been sitting in the sun too long.