Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dieppe, March 2008

Why don’t we do our weekend shopping in Dieppe? What a nice idea.
We would drive to Newhaven, take the car ferry to Dieppe, eat a lovely dinner, sleep in our accustomed room at the Aguado Hotel, do our shopping, lunch well, and be home by the evening. Perfect.
But, of course, we had not reckoned with the vagaries of this most pleasant crossing of the Channel.
Seldom in the past has the ship left or arrived on time. On occasion we have been re-directed to other ports, The engines have under-performed and we have travelled slowly at sea. The sea has occasionally been too rough for a crossing. And once we were telephoned before departure to be told that they had read the tides incorrectly and there would be a delay.
But off we set. And this time we half expected that there would be some form of trouble as two violent storms had just passed through and there was a strike at Dover – causing many trucks to converge on alternative Channel ports.
So it was no great surprise to be told on arrival at Newhaven that we would be going to Le Havre instead. Apparently, the car loading ramp at Dieppe had failed.
So we arrived in Le Havre on a dark and rainy evening without map or direction. But Dieppe was to be our unalterable destination (we had ordered wine to be collected there) and there was a motorway for much of the way.
Now, either we are very dense, French sign posting is dreadful (especially around road works) or the locals already know the way and, for foreigners, hard luck.
So instead of finding the motorway we found ourselves amid road works and on a country route – a pleasant one, no doubt, on a fine summer’s day with time to enjoy the countryside and coastal scenery.
Any sign posting in the countryside was difficult to see in the dark and rain. And without a good road map (I had torn out a cursory one from a ferry brochure on gardens of note in Normandy) made accurate direction a bit of a lottery.
But late in the evening, after a harrowing 100 kilometres, we arrived in Dieppe – somewhat shattered.
Even the restaurant of our choice was, for some reason, closed.
So we selected a new restaurant to us, one that had plenty of diners still eating there at the late hour. It was Le New Haven.
The meal and wine were exemplary, the pan-fried scallops the largest and tenderest encountered.
At last our projected sojourn of pleasure was taking shape. But it took much of the meal for us to unwind.
And we slept like logs.
Shopping the following day proceeded as planned – French, Spanish, Chilean wine from two supermarkets (the “foreign” wine having somewhat dusty bottles as the French do not think that anyone else can make it properly, so don’t buy it), garlic sausage, top class beef (probably chewy but tasty, being French) smoked chickens, bouillon cubes, Normandy cider, olive oil (mostly from Spain), Neufchâtel and goats’ cheese, Pont l’Evèque and Roquefort, paper handkerchiefs, sliced raw ham, leeks, apples and avocados, trinket presents and I’m sure other things, many unique to France or much cheaper than in England.
After an excellent lunch at the Bistrot du Pollet (I ate calf’s head) we drove (this time the 100 kilometres on the motorway) to Le Havre (one hour in the dry as opposed to three on country roads in the wet).
We had expected to have to wait a long time for our ship’s departure, but a large ferry was shortly due to leave for Portsmouth. So, thanks to a kind lady at LD Lines who arranged for us to transfer, we were on our way, and were at home when our arranged ship was still at sea.
Because of the inconvenience suffered, we were given a free return trip at some time in the future.
I think that we might do our weekend shopping in France again, and expect both pleasure and strife, as we always do on our crossings to Dieppe by ferry from Newhaven.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Chicken- Chicken on Swede

Here is a cheap, simple and peasant-like dish, elevated to dinner party status by a spirited addition. This dish is almost invariably a huge success.


You will need:
Swede (rutabaga)
Stock (optional)
Pepper and salt
Ouzo, Pernod or another aniseed spirit. Or star aniseed. Or other liqueur or spirit.
Boned chicken thighs (or legs)
Olive oil
Milled pepper

Pare away the outer skin of a swede or two, or more. Cut the flesh into smallish cubes Cover them with water or stock and boil for 20 to 30 minutes - or until soft. If you are using star aniseed instead of an aniseed spirit as the flavouring for the swede, add three stars to the water in which you are boiling the swede. Discard them when the swede has been boiled.
Pour off the cooking water for the start of a later-to-be-enjoyed soup.
Mash the swede with butter, pepper and salt.
Now stir in a measure (say, a dessertspoon) of Ouzo, Pernod, Ricard, or other aniseed spirit. Or you may have imparted enough aniseed taste from the star aniseeds used when boiling the swede.
Cover the bottom of an ovenproof dish with the mashed swede.
Take chicken thighs (better than legs) from which you have extracted the single, central bone (if you have done this earlier, tie together and put the bones in with the swede when you are boiling it to obtain extra flavour). Keep the skin on the thigh pieces and roll them into bundles before arranging them (one large or two small per person) on top of the mashed swede. If boning chicken legs, also discard the sharp bone lying close to the leg bone and use kitchen scissors to trim away the little white ends of tendon. Wrap in their skin, as with thighs.
When the thighs are in position, and just pressed down a little into the mashed swede, dribble or brush a little olive oil over each. Add salt, and give them a good milling of black pepper from the pepper mill.
If it is more convenient, the preparation can be done well before the dish is ready for the oven. Give it about an hour and a half at a medium setting (longer seems to make little difference, so it is an excellent dish might you be late or very late to eat). Anyhow, after the chicken skin has become crisp and golden, the dish will be ready for the table.
That's it. And it's a stunner. Serve on its own, or with baked or mashed potato, or beans, or a salad, or...
Perhaps you do not like the taste of aniseed. Then don’t add any. It will be almost as good. It is also possible to use any spirit or liqueur for this excellent dish. Use your favourite, or any at hand. Grand Marnier, for instance, is excellent.
I have also made this dish with slightly liquid mashed potato instead of swede, and it was excellent. I flavoured the mash with pressed garlic and de-seeded red chillies, finely chopped.
But start with swede, star aniseed and chicken thighs.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Beef - beef and orange

This delicious beef dish is best made when blood oranges are in season. But it is not necessary. It is a very special beef stew – ideal for a cold winter’s evening when served either with mashed potato or baked potatoes.


You will need:
Stewing beef, like shin
Red wine
Stock cube
Pepper and salt
Gravy browning (optional)

In an iron casserole put oil, chopped onions and chopped garlic. Just brown them.
Now add cubes of shin of beef and brown them. Sprinkle some flour over it all and stir.
As this has been going on, take six medium-size oranges (possibly blood oranges) and, using a sharp knife with a thin blade, pare the zest off three of them. Chop this rind into very small pieces. Squeeze all the oranges and place the juice and the chopped skin in a bowl. To this bowl add red wine measuring half the volume of its orange juice contents.
Add this liquid to the casserole. Add pepper and salt, a crumbled stock cube, and a little gravy browning should you want the final result to look more appetising.
Cook the stew on a very low heat for about an hour and a half – or even more. Test the meat to see if it has become tender, and add a little water as it is cooking if you think the sauce is too thick or beginning to catch.
Serve with mashed or baked potato.