Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dieppe Travel 2010

It’s an age thing I suppose. Travel enlivens and freshens the mind and, when in France, fills the stomach as well. Travel means change, and change is a restoring stimulative.
But having to use airports is “out of bounds” for travellers like us if humanly possible. I find nothing at all to recommend them, despite having flown and still being fascinated by aeroplanes.
Which leaves holiday breaks in the UK as a possibility. But here, good restaurants tend to be over-expensive and their cooking often still horribly Nouvelle Cuisine. And English hotels and B&Bs, when last we tried them, would charge per person, not per room. The French are more sensible in this respect, and thus encourage return visits.
This leaves long voyages on liners as a possibility, where you might not like your fellow passengers (or those who want to make friends with you), put on weight, and possibly contract whatever virulent viruses are doing the rounds.
At least we are lucky to have France, Belgium and Holland in mainland Europe near at hand. All are foreign and well worth a visit without too much hassle or difficulty.
The tunnel to France, despite the occasional blockage or fire, is an ideal way to experience “abroad”. But Paris is now becoming prohibitively expensive, as is the more restrictive Brussels.
By ferry to reach nearby mainland Europe leaves Dover as the quickest crossing port. But it’s a long drive from London, and we are not enamoured with Calais.
Crossing to mainland Europe via Portsmouth and ports beyond, involves much longer sea crossings.
Which leaves “our” crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe as a good, all-round, best bet.
Formalities in Newhaven are minimal. There are no “Micky Mouse” approach roads to contend with, and four hours later you are in France – in an ancient port (which we once flattened and where we were flattened in turn more recently by the Boche). It is a port/seaside town where one hardly has to proceed further.
This maritime town is “walking” size. The restaurants are plentiful and good – with fish dishes superb.
The hotels are comfortable and far cheaper than in England. (I have written extensively on most aspects of Dieppe earlier in this blog and try not to repeat myself.)
So, in a word, that’s where we go – for short breaks and the re-stocking of larder and cellar.
Now, this wine re-stocking is not, as you may think, with French wine (though we do buy our “house”, Pays d’Oc, wine there) but mainly bargain-priced New World wines which the French discount, thinking that by being produced outside France they are undrinkable. These wines are often distinguishable on the shelves by the layer of dust on them.
We also return with cheeses and other foods, though with the present exchange rates, this is becoming less financially beneficial. But many foods are cheaper than in England. Endive is one. Dijon mustard is another. Smoked chickens are good value and delicious. Paper goods are to be recommended. Garlic and shallots are always on our list, but were very expensive the last time we bought them (out of their season). Fruit and vegetables are so fresh that we invariably “top up” the car with them for our return journey.
We were there in the spring, and will return in the early winter (when scallops are in season once more) when children are in school again and the tourist season has subsided.
And anyhow, where in the world in 2010 can one eat a splendid four course meal with aperitif, unlimited cider and red wine, with coffee included. Of course you will lunch at shared tables with newly scrubbed-up workmen, and eat in a shed. And all this would cost you £10.80 per head. Where in the world could this happen? Surely only in France.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cheese and garlic pancake for drinks

Margaret Costa, the well-known cookery writer at the time, was coming to dinner and my then girl friend decided to make a gougère. It was not a success, being rather flat and solid. But our culinary guest loved the result. There must, I thought, be an easier and quicker way of making such a delicious failure. A taste-alike, quick-to-make equivalent was needed for times when people were invited for drinks on the spur of the moment. The following was the result. Everyone loves it - especially children. It is not just a Shrove Tuesday treat, but one to be enjoyed at any time of the year.


You will need:
Plain flour with baking powder or self-raising
Salt and pepper
Egg or eggs
Dijon mustard
Chilli sauce (like Tabasco)
Cheddar cheese (or a stronger kind)
Olive oil

Sieve some plain flour with baking powder or self-raising (say 3 ½ heaped dessert spoons) into a large bowl. Add pepper, salt. Stir.
Break a large egg or two small ones so that their contents fall into a depression in the centre of the sifted flour. Add a good dollop of Dijon mustard and a shake or two of Tabasco sauce (or another kind of chilli sauce).
Break the eggs with a whisk and start to stir from the centre outwards, adding milk (1/4 pint). Keep stirring and beating until the mixture is thick, yet smooth and free of even the smallest lumps. Or I’m sure a blender would do the same job.
Add some grated Cheddar (done beforehand), or blue cheese to make a stronger taste (too much cheese may make the pancake oily). Stir again.
Put olive oil in a frying pan to coat the bottom and sides. Add at least a couple of garlic cloves, squeezed from a press. Spread these morsels evenly around. Cook them until they are about to brown.
Now pour in the mixture to coat the bottom of the pan evenly. Reduce the heat to very low and wait until the bubbling mix begins to dry out on its upper surface. This will take about 20 minutes (depending on the heat and the pan),
It is now time to toss the pancake - or turn it over as best you can.
Tossed, with its brown and garlic side now uppermost, with the point of a knife cut slits in the surface to allow moisture to escape from within.
Lift a corner to inspect the under side (cooking will take a further 10 minutes or so). When cooked and golden brown, turn the pancake on to a board. Offer it to your guests cut into small sections.
With my frying pan and gas heat source at just above its very lowest, the whole cooking process takes 30 minutes. So half an hour before guests arrive for drinks I start to cook the pancake.
It is a good idea to make quite a lot of the mixture if guests for a party will be arriving over the period of an hour or two. Then, as you leave the kitchen with the first hot pancake, add some more garlic and mixture to the frying pan - and so on. The success of this delicious pancake will surprise you, and delight your guests. Children love it, too. But don’t tell the young about the garlic, as some don’t like the sound of it.
Get children to hand around these pancake squares. Reward them. Like dogs, if given a job to do, they (and you) are happy.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Winter Socks

As with most people in cool climates, I like my feet to be warm in winter.
Ever since visiting Holland some years ago and discovering socks, called SKI Socks Extra Soft, my feet have been as warm as toast throughout the cold months.
Being woven in a soft, wooly kind of way, made for skiing and not daily walking, they are inclined, after a while, to get thin at heel and holey at toe – two pairs (darned a bit) surviving one winter.
Discovering in early springtime that I was now almost out of these miracle socks (sort of stockings, really) and finding my last two pairs to be near the end of their days, with next winter’s warmth in mind, I wrote to my sister-in-law, Henny, who lives on the Dutch/German border, asking if she would kindly look in at a Hema store to see if there were any left in my size.
Her husband, Bert, found that none were available, so contacted the manager of the shop, who very kindly telephoned the supplier (United Sox of the People’s Republic of China – with the slogan “We Knit for Europe”) to assess the position. Having obtained the number in China, the telephone was handed over to my brother-in-law.
The English/Chinese spoken from so far away was somewhat difficult for him to understand, but the gist was clear.
These particular socks were bought by some of their most revered Dutch customers, one by the name of Pates Lobbels (which, funnily enough, sounded a bit like my name) and also an Honellable Clown Plince, who used them the year round at his lodge in the Alps during the European winter and the mountains of Patagonia in summer (their winter).
Unfortunately, annual production ceased on Chinese New Year’s Day, leaving only four pairs available, as His Loyal Highness the Clown Plince had bought the rest. He was velly solly.
But because we were velly honerlable customers, the cost of these four remaining pairs would be – nil.
This was wonderful news, tempered only by me noticing that the date of my brother-in-law’s email was the 1st of April.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Beef, Coriander and Carrot Stew

This simple but very distinctive and tasty stew demands shin of beef and long slow cooking (three hours anyhow on top of the stove). In a cold winter its coriander taste offers a hint of spring. I believe that two Oxo cubes are better than a beef stock cube, and chopped coriander stems better than its leaves. But that’s a fine point of judgement, the differences being slight. This is as good a beef stew as any.


You will need:
Olive oil
Shin of beef
Oxo cubes (2) or beef stock cube (1)
Pepper and salt

In a saucepan or iron casserole fry chopped onion and garlic in olive oil. When this is just turning brown, add chopped up shin of beef.
Carry on cooking, stirring all the time, until the meat has turned colour (but just whether this browning makes any difference in sealing in the goodness I don’t know, and somehow doubt).
Now sprinkle over a dessert spoon of plain flour, some pepper and salt, and two crumbled Oxo cubes or one beef stock cube. Stir well.
Add water to well cover the meat. Then put in plenty of cleaned and chopped carrots.
Lastly, add chopped coriander stems (wash them well) or plenty of chopped coriander leaves.
Bring the ingredients to the boil, stir well, and leave the pan on the lowest heat for three hours.
Then eat, or leave the stew until the next day when it will taste even better.

Note. To add a small chilli or a shake or two of Tabasco sauce may be to your taste. And if using a stock cube instead of Oxo, add a little liquid gravy browning. The depth of colour the browning imparts is much to the benefit of the look of the stew.