Les Passeurs de Lumière – Rouen Salon de Tourisme


This week Rouen represents France for the International Convention of Tourism after hotly contesting and defeating all other cities in France to welcome thousands of Tour Operators from around the world and give them a taste of France. France is the greatest tourist destination in the world and it wasn’t surprising to see the city packed with people.The weather was glorious with crystal clear blue skies and the sun beating down on Rouen’s medieval streets; a far cry from the grey gloom of recent weeks. After a charged agenda of visits yesterday, for tour operators from as far afield as China, Russia,  Australia  and the US,  the day culminated in the Passeurs de Lumière and the Convention’s “Welcome” reception.It was only at 10 in the morning that I received a call asking me to be live interpreter for Hervé Morin, President of Normandy, and ex minister of defense under Sarkozy. Forty minutes before I was due to take the podium I received the printed French discourse , and in need of speed roped in my bilingual daughter to translate while I simultaneously rewrote it out in English. Armed with my translation at the venue, the beautiful abbey St Ouen, Herve decided to ad-lib and throw out his planned speech. Thankfully  we were two interpreters, and the speech went off without a hitch.Gradually the huge abbey emptied of people.The confederation were led through the darkening streets by six wonderful ethereal white lantern horses which stopped in front of St Maclou and the cathedral of Notre Dame,also coming up close and personal in rue St Romain.

Drummers lined the streets to the Vieux Marché where the many restaurants had all created an identical menu, and the 1000 strong Convention dined around the square, with tables spilling out onto the cobbles under beautiful colored lanterns. IMG_0609[1]

IMG_0605[1]A very French feast for all the senses!

A French Dinner and a Twice Baked Goats Cheese Soufflé.


When I was very young I had a terrible aversion to learning to ride a bicycle. In fact, once I finally mastered it I had reached the grand old age of eight. The problem was that I was terrified of falling off and scraping my knees on our gravel drive, and it was only, one day in deepest winter, when the thinnest smattering of snow scarcely hid the worst of the sharp gravel edges that I finally got my bike out of the garage, clearly believing that the couple of millimètres of snow would cushion me from a nasty fall.

Last week we headed off to the Alps to ski. Now, as ever, I take my time about things and had never tried skiing until I was 46. While my husband and children scream down the slopes at speed, my kind of skiing is rather more gentle, but I love it all the same.

Just before we left I joked to my friends that if I arrived back home with all my arms and legs intact that I would invite them all to dinner to celebrate. Our first day on the mountain was one of exceptional beauty with vivid blue skies and crystal clear air,  the type you can only find up a mountain, and coupled with a temperature ranging between 16 and 18 degrees. What I didn’t expect to happen was to be struck by terror in front of the first slope with an irrational fear of crashing headlong of the edge of the piste, especially when the slope in question was before getting to the first télésiège. The clarity of the view brought into focus the pitch of the slopes and momentarily I was paralyzed by them. Ultimately I fell back on skiing down an alternative slope and then removing my skis in order to reclimb the incline to have another go. By the end of the day I was exhausted though happier about my slaloming skills and determined to take myself to task the next day.The mountains of course have a mind of their own, and the next day dawned with even the lowest pistes shrouded in dense mist. It was however my eureka moment. No sooner on the slopes than I réalised that, much like with the smattering of snow when learning to ride my bike, I could no longer see the source of my fear. In fact the piste running down to the télésiège seemed to blanketed and softened, and definitely shallowed by the mist. So much so that I threw myself off the brow of the slope with abandon, up the télésiège moments later and never looked back. By the end of the week I had mastered all sorts of slopes that I hadn’t tried before and more importantly, I arrived home all my arms and legs intact. Dinner  with friends was the logical conclusion.I decided, as you do when flying the crest of the wave , to set myself yet another challenge. This time to cook something out of my comfort zone. After a week in the Swiss Alps thoughts naturally turned to melted cheese and mountain goats and I decided to tackle the dreaded cheese soufflé.

I found a wonderful recipe for Twice Baked Goats Cheese Soufflé. And what particularly attracted me to it was that by doing the first bake in advance you would actually know if it souffled effectively before doing the second bake when the hungry guests were eagerly gathered round the table.

I am pleased to say that making a souffle really isn’t as difficult as people make out, although I attribute a certain amount of my success to Arnaud, the excellent pâtisserie chef that I worked with all last season who gave me a good training on the various principles behind beating eggs, egg age and temperature when it comes to giving things “lift”.

For the recipe click here!

The recipe is simple enough. If you can make a decent smooth white sauce, crumble goats cheese and gently fold in soft whipped egg white then you shouldn’t have any problem making a cheese soufflé.

First simmer milk with bay, fresh nutmeg, onions and peppercorns.Next select a strong tasting goats cheese. I added some mature cheddar and some grated Parmesan for good measure.Have old eggs at room temperature.Weigh out all ingredients in advance, lots of fresh chives are perfect for this recipe.Simmer the milk and then strain out all the bay, onion and peppercorns before  adding to a roux of butter and flour. Simmer stirring all the time until a thick creamy sauce is produced.Let cool slightly before adding the chives and beat in the egg yolks on at a time.Then add the cheese and stir thoroughly. The warmth of the sauce will begin to melt the cheese. As the cheese mixture cools, whip the eggs to soft fairly firm peaks. If the egg white are whisked into too hard peaks they impede the raising process. Fold very gently a spoonful of the egg whites into the cheese mixture, and then fold in the rest making sure to not lose the air.Place into ramekins which have been buttered with an upwards motion and ensure there are no dribbles. Both glass and ceramic ramekins work equally well. I used a mixture. Place in the oven at 180 degrees for 15 minutes. Both fan ovens and standard ovens work equally well.And watch them rise!And start to fall – they only hold their shape for a minute or so out of the oven!I hope you remembered to lay the table!

Once the soufflés are cooked you can eat them after the first bake, a light and fluffy goats cheese fork full of heaven. Or you can let them cool, and gently turn them upside down out of their pots onto a sheet of baking paper covering a metal tray. These can be kept covered in the fridge a day in advance of when you want to serve them.

15 minutes before the guests come to the table, bake for a second time for 15 minutes at 180 degrees, or until nicely risen  and golden, with a slightly crispy shell.

Delicious served with a crown of tender lettuce leaves, a few slices of fresh fig, parmesan shavings and a salad dressing of fig vinaigrette.

Enjoy!

For the recipe click here!

Ou Se Trouve Le Canard Perdu? Le Canard Rouennais, or Rouen Duck.


“Husband à l’Etranger” has been repatriated this autumn after many years of working internationally and as you can imagine this necessitated a measure of celebration on the home front, as well as enjoying the  rare opportunity to get together with friends and especially our very dear neighbours who are always ready to come to the rescue in moments of need with pots of cream, bags of emmenthal râpé and cups of sugar.

Yesterday the perfect moment arrived to “fête” our friendship which started not long after we bought our house – a jolly conversation from balcony to street in which we discovered two of our children had been in the same lycée class for a brief moment in time.

All that was missing from this pre-Christmas bit of fun was the venue. But it didn’t take long to resolve that minor issue. Our neighbours had a friend staying who suggested we all went to try ‘Le Canard Rouennaise’ at the smart Hotel de Dieppe a few minutes walk from our home.

The ceremony behind Rouen duck is quite an experience. Prepared in the dining room in front of the diners it is not for those of delicate disposition, the cracking of bones and extraction of blood being only part of the visual experience. But this is France and the French are renowned for their ability to eat the most extraordinary ingredients and products that are gruesome enough to make your toes curl.

So what of this extraordinary duck? The breed itself is the product of the amorous relations between the migrating wild ducks taking a brief “séjour” in the cliffs above the river Seine at Duclair and local farmyard ducks they spotted from overhead. The resultant canette is medium sized, big breasted, small thighed, blood rich and succulent, and waddling about the farmyard was historically the perfect bird to spit roast in the event of the arrival of an impromptu guest. Not having time to bleed the duck, this impromptu meal necessitated the suffocating of the bird before roasting it on a spit for twenty minutes over a wood fire. The breast was served with a sauce rich in blood, liver and bone marrow.

Inevitably in order to protect the recipe, the “Ordre des Canardiers” was founded, and the confection of the Canard Rouennaise rests on the fundamental premise that the duck be a “true Rouennaise duck”, suffocated and not bled, the commercialisation of which is permissible under the title “exception culturelle”. The breast must be removed, spit roasted for 17-20 minutes and served with a sauce made with the pressed extraction of its own blood.

Ultimately one such duck was presented to King Edward the Seventh by the maître Chef Louis Convert of the cruise liner Félix Faure, and it is this recipe, recreated in 1933 by the chef Michel Guéret who was his young intendant, which the “Ordre des Canardiers” present today as the authentic.

Within minutes of being seated at our table a silver mobile preparation table was wheeled into view. The bird, recently having undergone its spit-roast was relieved of its carcass in front of us before its bones were ceremoniously carved into pieces small enough to fit the enormous silver press. The loud cracking of bones must be imagined as an essential part of the process.

The “Maître Canardier”, complete with blue ribboned medal around his neck, set to with aplomb the process of extracting the blood and bone marrow into a waiting gravy-boat by authoritatively turning the enormous wheel of the press.

The secret base of the sauce, a confection of duck liver , “vin de Beaune” and spices was brought into the dining room, which Monsieur Le Canardier flambéed with a glass of cognac before adding the extracted blood, 20 grammes of pure Normandy butter, lemon juice and a glass of port.After the great excitement of the preparation, there was only one thing left to do… déguster! (Taste!)The copious breast meat of the “Rouennaise Ducks” was quickly polished off. It wasn’t long however before the men at the table noticed that for three birds there was scant thigh or wing meat. At 50€ a head the conversation soon fell to the subject of the “canard perdu”-  or the lost duck.

As we poured uproariously out of the restaurant into the frosty misty night, we were still searching for the “canard perdu” all the way home!Bon appétit!

Big Jobs Hanging Over Our Heads.


When we first moved into our house it was 10 days before Christmas two years ago. The house was barely habitable but we made the best of it, and somehow we didn’t notice the peeling wallpaper and paint just metres from our dining table. The first new year I set to task to repair the one wall and boxed-in beam where a burst pipe had left ugly paper and plaster hanging by threads. A year later I patched and finished the remaining walls with lining-paper but never got round to painting them because hanging over my head was an even bigger problem, a problem which didn’t easily give itself to a solution – the ceiling!

Our house had only been owned by one family before us, and when we bought it the resident was 87 years old and known by many to be miserly. Certainly he had never made any repairs or upgraded the decor. When the dresser was pulled away from the wall, the paper behind it came off the wall in one entire sheet. Often closed up, the house had suffered from the damp and neglect, and gradually the paint on many ceilings, and especially that of the diningroom, had quite literally bcome unstuck and dangled in curly peelings above our heads.

WP_20140906_046

For two years the ceiling laughed at me from above and I wondered whether it wasn’t time to call in the professionals as only a month or so after scraping off one lot of peeling ceiling paint, the previously solid edges in their turn would decide to peel.

But then suddenly with another Christmas around the corner, I reasoned that if I took the matter to task, and simply in turn failed to do a decent job, well then was the time for the plaquist, as the french plasterer is called. It seemed worth having a go and trying to turn the dining room around for this, our third Christmas in the house.

And so suddenly, last week, with the lull that comes at the end of the tourist season, and with the christmas season hot on its heels, I hauled myself to the top of a ladder and braced myself for what probably is the most unpleasant renovation job, because the one thing about repairing a ceiling is that the only place for the dirt and detritus to fall, is on you!

wp_20161119_0041

There were two huge cracks nearly the full width of the room!wp_20161119_0031

Large chunks of plaster pulled away when touched!wp_20161119_0071

More paint came off the ceiling than stayed on as I scratched at it!wp_20161119_0011

and even the moulded coving paint was crazed and loose!

After several days of sanding and filling the ceiling resembled something like this…

img_00021img_00031

After filling all those holes in the ceiling and all the crazing in the coving, there was only one thing to do – sand it all smooth. I ended up white from head to toe with plaster dust and there was only one place for me at the end of all that – in the shower!

What “husband à l’étranger” wasn’t expecting however was a call to arms, because I reasoned that the only way forward, to seal those nasty little  paint edges from peeling in their turn, was to wallpaper over the lot. French wallpaper has one major failing, it is a metre wide, far wider than english paper, and when you have a three metre strip of 1800 grade heavily covered in wallpaper paste, it becomes extremely unwealdy and extremely heavy. “Husband à l’etranger did try to persuade me just to paint the ceiling, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.

I apologised to my co-worker in advance for any expletives that might be uttered in the course of the undertaking and explained that any directed insults should be seen as “heat of the moment” and not taken to heart. He was quick to concur!

So it was we found ourselves straddled between several step-ladders, long-handled brooms propping the renegade corners, and covered with liberal dollops of glue, desperately guiding and  coaxing the unwilling paper to stick to the ceiling and then to ensure that the subsequent pieces lay alongside without gaps, overlaps or bubbles. Several desperate and frantic hours later the job was done.

img_00061

It took a night to dry, and gingerly the next morning I opened the diningroom door to see the result of our efforts. I’m happy to say that the ceiling was smooth and bubble-free!img_00161

There was just the question of painting  the walls…img_00341

in The Little Green Company “French Grey”.(…of course!)img_00411

img_00551

and all we have to do now is decorate it for Christmas!

Tarte aux Pommes -Celebrating Autumn!


WP_20160321_014

Down at the farm, Domain Duclos Fougeray yesterday, the trees were bare of their apples. Only last week the orchards were heady with the scent of thousands of apples, Yesterday the you would have been forgiven for feeling drunk with the scent of them all in the cider sheds. Production of cider, Pommeau and Calvados was underway!

WP_20160321_001

Pommeau is a smooth blend of 1/3 Calvados (apple brandy) and 2/3 apple juice aged in oak barrels, resulting in a sherry/port-like alcohol at 18% and is for me “normandy in a glass”!

Totally delicious!

From the cosy warmth of the “degustation”(tasting) barn the conversation soon became passionate about the  perfect marriage of those drinks with typical Norman specialities, and it wasn’t long before we succumbed to the heavenly combination of a traditional Tarte aux Pommes (apple tart) with a smooth warming glass of Pommeau.

Having tried the farm’s hand-made bite-sized apple tarts, I knew I would have to learn how to make them. And then a wonderful neighbour taught me all I needed to know about this not so humble desert, and from so few ingredients, the sublime taste is worth its weight in gold.

wp_20160902_003

The farm makes its own organic apple and cinnamon purée which is heaven in a jar, but it’s easy to make back home.

Follow the recipe below to make a traditional Tarte aux Pommes with crispy caramelized pastry.

Take a pie sized circle of puff pastry, 5 Royal Gala apples or similar for the tart, and another 5 sweet apples and cinnamon to make a purée of apples. Enjoy a french moment at the local market buying some rich creamy normandy butter and reserve about 4oz for the tart. (The rest of the butter you can enjoy on a warm crusty baguette whilst you wait for the tart to cook!) and prepare a spoonful of demerara sugar.

Take a sheet of baking-paper or baking parchment. Cut to a size just larger than the size of the apple tart. Evenly brush over the surface of the baking paper some melted butter and sprinkle with some demerara sugar. Roll out the puff pastry to the size of a large dinner plate, and lay onto the buttery baking parchment. Spread over the uncooked puff pastry a generous helping of apple and cinnamon purée, and overlay with very thinly sliced sweet apples (desert).

wp_20160902_002

Glaze with a small amount of melted butter and place in a medium oven, approximately 165-170° and leave to cook for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven, and sprinkle (optional) with a little more sugar if desired and cook for a further 4 to 5 minutes. just enough to melt the sugar.

wp_20160902_005

Enjoy with  your friends, family and a dollop of thick farm cream…

or secretly by yourself at midnight in front of the glowing embers of the fire!

Don’t forget a little glass of Pommeau for total apple heaven!

wp_20160722_002

La Fête de Ventre – The Celebration of the Stomach!


“Finished already”, said my favourite cheese-monger this morning handing me a bag with a large wedge of oozing brie, for which he shook his head at any idea of payment. It was just 11, and I had already passed his market stall earlier in the morning with twenty americans in tow. He’s such a nice man that when he sees me approaching, he always lays out on the counter top the four “appelation controlé” normandy cheeses for me to talk about to whoever I may have with me. I grinned at him saying how hard it was for me to get up to meet today’s group having been enjoying myself at a dinner with friends the night before.

Even more unusually, there was no queue at the fruit and vegetable stall either, so after a shake of the hand and a cheery chat with the owners, I walked away with another bag on my arm and passed into the side road where all the real action was. Today is the annual “Celebration of the stomach”, and as always hundreds of local producers arrive in the town at the crack of dawn on saturday for the two day long festival. Not only was there every imaginable food and locally produced alcohol available, but an excellent 5 man band were wandering around filling the air with fabulous and cheerful music.

I already had a couple of spit-roasted chickens under my arm, and so what I really needed next was some freshly baked bread. There is no presarvative in french bread, and so it has to be bought fresh every day. Today there were at least three boulangers baking bread on the street in portable bread ovens and the smell was heavenly.

wp_20161016_004wp_20161016_005

But you can’t buy bread without thinking of cheese, and the local normandy cheese called Neufchatel, traditionally in the form of a heart, was not far away!

wp_20161016_001

The Neufchatel comes in varying degrees of ripeness, young smooth and white or older white with little slits in the surface. But then suddenly I noticed some brown hearts and couldn’t resist asking just how old these cheeses were. The stall owner declared that they were four months old and had the flavour of caramelised cheese. “Were they dry in the centre” asked another person. Not at all, rich and gooey in the centre, these are not cheeses for the faint-hearted!wp_20161016_002

Well only moments later I passed a stall where a huge pan of Tartiflette was bubbling away. Potatoes, onions and bacon cooked in white Savoy wine and fresh cream with a generous helping of Roblochon, a soft rind soft “appelation controlée” cheese also from the Savoy region. There was enough to feed an army.

wp_20161016_003

Having got all that I really needed, there was time just to wander through the stalls and savour what was available.

wp_20161016_030wp_20161016_011wp_20161016_009

fresh squashes and pumpkins, and fresh garden herbs.

wp_20161016_028wp_20161016_026wp_20161016_024wp_20161016_023

abundent fresh fish and shellfish.

wp_20161016_022Roast pork,wp_20161016_020

and hot, fresh crèpes with chocolate sauce.

wp_20161016_015Macaronswp_20161016_016choux puffs of every possible flavour,wp_20161016_017and mini cup-cakes.wp_20161016_013And then, if you weren’t already overwhelmed for choice, freshly made chocolate truffles!wp_20161016_010I passed a few more stalls selling handmade cured saucisson, some flavoured with goats cheese and others with camembert,wp_20161016_007and abundent coquilles St Jaques, (scallops)wp_20161016_006and more mussels than anyone could possibly eat!wp_20161016_031And while all this was going on all around, a chocolatier was quietly carving this chocolate sculpture.

Though judging by her grimace, the poor chocolate woman is clearly agonising about her waistline in the face of all this abundence.

And i’m not suprised really – are you?

Bon Apetite!

wp_20161009_001

Bon Apetite -Choux buns and Chouquettes


For the recipé click here:

For a few moments this morning I thought I was going to have to deal with a double booking. Not the kind where you find you are booked for two different tours in two entirely different places at the same time, but one you turn up to your destination and find that another group is already there.

This morning I led an eager group of Australians to the Atelier de Sylvie, a cookery school where they were programmed to create a profusion of profiteroles. But when we arrived, we found an equally sized group already crammed into the little cooking class. For a couple of seconds I wondered how I was going to deal with it, until the head of the first group heaved a camera onto his shoulder and with a wink and a grin called:

“Action”.

It turned out that our cooking class was going to be televised and I was dammed glad that I had thought to wash my hair this morning. Five minutes later I was miked-up and ready to translate the charming Sylvie, the owner and chef of the atelier.

WP_20160717_002The morning turned into a riotous affair, doing what the french do best, (and australian TV presenters do worst apparently), cooking and tasting delicious patisserie. In fact the presenter’s choux buns were so bad that we had to take them out of the oven twice in order for the  camera to effectively film the astonished expressions on the assembled cooks, and the grimace on the face of Sylvie!

“Il est le plus mauvais client que j’avais jamais eu dans cet atelier” she exclaimed, and the camera trained back to me to capture the translation. Struggling to contain my laughter I explained that perhaps that was better left untranslated, but no-one was having any of it:

“He’s the worst client that i’ve ever had in my atelier” I explained, and once the the camera man had finished snorting, he demanded we re-run the whole sequence. The presenter bravely bore the ridicule!

As the morning drew to a close we left the atelier, each holding a box laden with choux buns and chouquettes. (some more professionally looking than others!), calling

“Bon Apetite”, to the cameras as we went!

atelier des eclairs 083

For the recipé click here, and for the method, click here!