Sunday, 26 January 2014

Cooking and Shopping and Food....Glorious Food!

Oh, the trials of an Australian cook in France (byline: Val)

Of Self Raising Flour and Measuring Cups!!

The need arose before Christmas for me (Val) to cook (1) Christmas cake and (2) Christmas Pud.  Of course one needs self raising flour.  And measuring cups.  No measuring cups either in the house or the supermarket, or SR flour either for that matter. I looked in every likely shop we came across, including some very big hypermarches, but no measuring cups or SRF to be seen. Solution: email Kerry (our Exchangee) as she must have cups somewhere in the house, after all, every cook uses measuring cups, don’t they! The answer came back: “Oh, that’s an Americanism, they never caught on in England or France!” Google supplied the conversion of cups to grams.

Now, in the supermarches there seems to be a different flour for every conceivable cooking activity, stacks of the stuff….except self raising flour.         OK Google, what’s with SR flour in France?  The oracle advised that it’s called “farine de Ble pour Gateaux”, as every good Australian cook surely should know. Back to the local SuperU, check the shelves, and there at the very bottom….Flour for Gateaux!!

I spend a lot of time musing over labels, pictures, descriptions, the various cuts of meat (so different from "back home", especially the beef, but that's too expensive anyway) etc. And absolutely love it.

 So Christmas was looking good – ALMOST. 

For mains, I fancied “chapon”, the Charentaise traditional bird for Le Noel…(chapon: a castrated rooster. Just how do they do that? I ask myself…dear reader, your appropriate answers to this little conundrum in the comments would be most welcome).  Anyway, the smallest chapon was far too big for the two of us.  So it was back to boring old chook and seafood – (oysters are sold by the crateload outside the supermarkets– live and unopened) – we bought a dozen (shells not cases), plus fresh prawns and crab claws. We balked at the other little shellfish things, cockles and mussels and other odd sea beasties.  There’s also tons of foi gras pates available –very smooth and quite delicious on fresh French bread. 

Le Fromage and other good stuff

Of course, the French just LOVE their cheese!  Every imaginable cheese, too numerous to list.
(I’m drooling as I write this). Imagine the Maleny IGA Dairy cabinet – the whole length of it - all cheese, plus a couple of other fridges full (pictured). There is no way we can sample them all before we have to go home, after all we only have 11 months! Then there is the hugely long yoghurt/dairy fridge, not a lot of fresh milk nor cream, but there is plenty of UHT stuff. Plaintive cry: but I can't find any normal cream. Really, I’d kill for a bottle of fresh Maleny Dairies cream!

Apart from the dairy fridges, we have the charcute (cold meat) fridge.  Loads of different hams and smoke cured meats, sliced and prepacked, salamis, knacks (Knacks: an Alsace French delicacy which Bryan adores, similar to, but much tastier than, hot dogs and which go ‘knack’ when bitten). Not a slice of English style bacon to be seen, oh well, bacon and eggs aren't that good for one anyway!

Our Christmas menu: Entree of baguette and foie gras pate (avec champagne, Saumer brut):  loads of prawns, oysters and crab claws (avec a lovely Cadet Rousselle 2012 savignon): roasted chook with vegies (avec…by now can’t remember, probably local red):  said Christmas pud (errr…avec Charentaise pineau).  Fortunately the scales in our “chateau” read 4 kilo light!

Shopping with  Jeremy….
Shopping (les courses) is all a great adventure for both of us.  Bryan is over the “c’mon, hurry up” habits of old.  He pushes the trolley, checks the specials and pays the bill.  Quite the reverse of our Australian habits.

Jeremy runs the local Super U Deli (same as IGA plus cheese) in our local town of Montmoreau. Fortunately for us, he speaks English and already we are on very good terms with him (Me, cheek to cheek peck, Bryan, handshake). He comes out from behind his counter especially. 

We are working our way through his pates, firstly the gorgeous Terrine a Eschalote (pictured below centre with the colourful adornment). To-day we bought Grillon Charentais, only available in the Charent. Next week, it will be the Terrine De Forestiere (mushrooms). All sliced fresh from the whole dish.  Jeremy is also very helpful if we need a food translation (should have used him for the flour search).

We buy our fuel and gas at Super U, also have the car washed when necessary in their Euro 4 auto car wash.  Maybe I’ll buy some seed spuds and other veg when in season from the Bricomarche, next door to SuperU.  The two seem to go hand-in-hand.  Our veg garden is underway with garlic and onions already planted and up.  When in France……

One great delight on Monday mornings is to go around the local street market at Chalais, another nearby town. The market occupies three of the main streets of the town. As the streets are narrow, the old buildings three stories high and the sun low, it’s quite cold.  We look at everything, buy a few veg (I’m delighted with myself; this last Monday I actually bought my market vegies using only French) then go down to the local Intermarche, another big supermarket, to buy the rest of the days goodies. We have just found a LIDL supermarche in Chalais also, which has the same business concept as ALDI. Prices are high at the market compared to the supermarche so the pocket rules over romance!

Rue de Angouleme, Chalais, Monday market day
We usually stop for a coffee at one of the bar/cafes for fortification (non-alcoholic, we don’t drink ALL the time!)  We have learnt to order “deux café crème grande, sil vous plais” with some panache.  Usually get what we want. Bryan hasn’t made any more gaffs....yet!

Cheers to all our good's a lovely recipe for you...bon appetit!

Val and Bryan

Yummy Versatile Blackberry Sauce

               Put the blackberries in a pan, add about half as much water and a sprinkling of suger. Bring to the boil.
Add two or three tablespoons of good matured Balsamic vinegar (the original recipe calls for vinaigre de Banyuls…a French Pyrenees vinegar, perhaps a bit hard to find in Maleny)  and a little red wine or fortified wine, maybe muscat (now that’s a little for the pot, a glass for the cook, naturellement). Add two or three cloves, or maybe cinnamon, and simmer till the berries are cooked and there is not too much liquid left. Grind loads of black pepper over. Serve with blanc de canard (don’t be lazy, look it up), grilled over open BBQ coals.  Delicieux!

The cold sauce goes very well with haricot de vanille crème glacée.  Sans the pepper and vinegar of course!

Acknowledgement: Rosemary Bailey, "Life in a Postcard", Bantam Books 2002
Highly recommended read: subtitled "Escape to the French Pyrenees" 


  1. Im going to try me those receipies

  2. Oh Chalais looks wonderful takes be back to last year in France the wonderful villages, people, food and Vin!!!!!! As you would be aware you have hit The Hinterland Times!!!!! The article looks great. If you want a copy I will send or keep for you....let me know. Still very envious ....enjoy as I know you will. A' la prochaine xx