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Picnic in the Dordogne

If you’re still following along with our travels in the Dordogne – thank you!  You are very patient, but I do hope that you are enjoying it or gleaning some information if you are planning a trip there yourself.  I find personal blogs one of the best ways to find information about a new place we are travelling to, they are so much more insightful that generic tourist websites.

So, every morning that we got ready to leave our lovely little gite, we had this little friend to help…

Holiday in the Dordogne

Hehe, isn’t she sweet?

Little French dog

A leisurely morning was spent finishing up spelt sourdough bread spread with local honey, and picking up provisions from the market at Excideuil.  This was a very good market, spread out along a long street and up to a square.

Market at Excideuil

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Dordogne

And back to France we go – the next instalment of our summer holiday to the Dordogne (you can catch up on part one and two if you like).

We had one proper day trip out, having done some research before we went away on places that looked nice to visit, we decided to head towards Sarlat. I’d heard there was a seriously good market here, and there were a couple of little places along the river that looked nice, so we filled our bellies with sourdough spelt bread spread with honey and strawberries and off we went.

Sarlat

The market at Sarlat did not disappoint.  It was incredible!  I always worry “are we going to find the market?” when we head somewhere new, but you couldn’t miss Sarlat market, even if you weren’t looking for it, you would stumble across it on a wander around the town.  It goes on and on down the narrow winding streets, tumbling out into squares.

Sarlat market

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French cheese

I am struggling.  Earlier this year we did a meat-free month (which I know, I don’t think I ever finished blogging about), which was a choice we made to stop over-indulging on meat and remember what we love about vegetables. We chose to do that.

Due to some health issues, I have recently been told I have a sensitivity to dairy (among a long list of other items).  So, for a month I am cutting dairy out completely – or almost completely.  It has been a week, and I am struggling.  I love to torment myself by watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with all the gooey cheese that goes with most things.

Homemade pizza

By some miracle I resisted a pot of burrata in the mozzarella section at Waitrose yesterday – AND it was discounted!  That is a sign that I am truly unwell, or more positively committed to spending a month dairy free to see if I feel better at the end of it.  I’ve had a good moan at my husband, so I thought I’d moan to all you lovely lot of grace my blog.

Italian ice cream

It really is terribly challenging – no milk, no yoghurt, no cheese, no chocolate (although I have found a delicious alternative that has no dairy called raw chocolate and the brand I’ve found is scrummy – but I’ve temporarily run out).  I utterly love all things dairy and I try to buy the best quality of all these items – organic milk (or even occasionally organic unpasturised from the farmer’s market), organic yoghurt, artisan cheeses, organic chocolate.

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marmite grilled cheese crumpets

Why didn’t I ever try these before???  They are one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in a long time, perhaps even ever!  A little while back I did a post asking you how you eat your crumpets, and a couple of people mentioned grilling cheese or marmite and cheese on top of them – to be honest, I thought the idea of a savoury crumpet sounded a bit weird.

marmite grilled cheese crumpets

But today, with not much else around and pretty bored at the idea of eating crumpets with golden syrup on for lunch, I thought it was about time I gave them a go.  I toasted my crumpets first – I am a bit particular about how I toast my crumpets, on my toaster I put them in on setting 6 first, then toast them again on setting 2 but on the bagel setting so only the tops get another toasting.

marmite grilled cheese crumpets

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Last weekend I went to Paris with my little sister Izzy – she turned 18 this year and for a long time I’ve wanted to do something special with her, and Paris at Christmas was what I decided on.  We went on Saturday and came back late Monday evening, we stayed in a sweet little apartment B&B in the 18th arrondissement on Boulevard Ney.

Highlights from our trip were sitting on the metro when a man with a guitar and amplifier began to play ‘What a wonderful world’, sipping hot chocolate at dusk outside Sacre Coeur and soaking up the Christmas atmosphere, and wandering through the organic market on Boulevard Raspail.

More details on what we ate and where to come, but for now, here’s my Paris at Christmas…

Best hot chocolate – chocolate on a wooden spoon stirred into hot frothy milk…

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mushroom ragout and soft polenta recipe

This weekend it’s been all about Hugh.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that is.  Hugh has to be up there with one of my favourite cooks, so I’ve been enjoying watching his new Veg Everyday series, albeit it a little slower than everyone else as I’m watching it online when I get a free hour in the evenings.

We made two meals this weekend that he’s made recently and both were delicious – I hope they become part of our cooking repetoir.  The first one I wanted to share was his Mushroom Ragout with Soft Polenta, which we made for tea last night.  I’ve only tried cooking polenta once before and it was a disaster – it didn’t taste of anything and we ended up dumping the lot.

This time the polenta was delicious – I think maybe last time I was too shy with my seasoning – a nice loose texture spiked with chopped rosemary from the garden and finely grated Parmesan.  The mushrooms too were to tasty – I added quite a bit more red wine than the recipe asks for because the liquid kept disappearing (we were doing half the recipe) but it didn’t seem to be a problem!

We ate it with a pile of peashoots and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

hugh fearnley-whittingstall mushroom ragout

Do you ever see a photo of something and just desperately want to eat it then and there?  I’ve been trawling through old pictures of food we’ve made and came across this one of a fish finger butty filled with homemade tartar sauce…

Oh how I want to scoff the lot right now.  Maybe with a cheeky slice of plastic cheese that’s started to melt from the heat of the fish fingers.  Hmmm…

When it comes to pasta bakes, I’m usually pretty unadventurous – favouring a simple tomato sauce and lumps of fresh mozzarella or the grated version.  Cooked until the cheese top is golden and crisp.

Last night I decided we needed a bit of a shake up.  Still featuring lots of cheese, of course, I made a cheesy broccoli pasta bake.  So simple, and yet it tasted nicer than I thought it would.

Heat your oven up to about 180 – 200°C.  Cut the broccoli up into bite-sized pieces.  Pop a pan of water onto boil and add your pasta. 

You want to just undercook the pasta (it carries on cooking in the oven), and add the broccoli for the last few minutes to cook a little.  Drain the pasta and the broccoli. 

While the pasta is cooking, make a cheese sauce.  I use equal amounts of butter and flour to make a roux, then add hot milk a bit at a time, and stir like mad with a whisk to keep it smooth.  Bring to the boil and keep whisking – this was my job when I was growing up. 

Add lots of grated mature Cheddar to the sauce and stir in until melted.  Pour the cheese sauce over the drained pasta and broccoli and mix together. 

Put the whole lot into an ovenproof dish, sprinkle over an extra bit of grated cheese and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and bubbling.

I would pop this firmly in the category of ‘Comfort Food’.  Good for cold wintery nights or when you’re feeling low.  This is food that hugs you.

I’ve made chopped salads before and love the simplicity of the concept – chop a whole load of salad ingredients together with a splash of dressing.  Yup, that’s it.  It appeals to me when I’m working at home and want a quick but healthy sort of lunch. 

It may seem daft to sort of mush up all those lovely ingredients into one pile of finely chopped salad, but I think it actually does something to the flavour.  By chopping things together the flavours begin to mingle to create something new and wonderful.

For this green salad, I started by chopping together lettuce (a crisp crunchy lettuce like cos or baby gem work best – soft leaved lettuce will just disappear into nothing), cucumber, spring onions, and parsley (but you could use herbs and a mixture would be lovely).

Then I chopped up an avocado and mixed everything together in a bowl.  Next, I made a hollow in the salad and added my dressing ingredients – a place of mustard (I used Dijon), vinegar (I used red wine vinegar), extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. 

Then give everything a really good mix together so that all the ingredients and flavours can start to mingle.

At this point taste it and adjust the dressing flavourings to taste.  You can also add in other bits and pieces – I crumbled in some Cheddar cheese.

Finally, I mounded it into my bowl and topped with a generous sprinkle of crumbled Cheddar.  A fantastic way to eat a lot of vegetables – in this case a lot of green ones – and a different take on the salad.

What do you put into your chopped salad?  Pieces of crispy bacon appeal to me.

It seems unlikely that I’ll be making cheese this year.  Perhaps not one for my New Year’s Resolution list, with barely enough time to do all the things I’ve already committed myself to, I think cheese making will stay firmly as a long term ‘to do’.

I have, however, been enjoying reading this blog by somebody who does have the time to make homemade cheese – and I’m extremely jealous.  I can also dream of the day when I might have the time…!

If, unlike me, you have plenty of time to spare, and cheesemaking takes your fancy, this blog is the place to start.  They’ve been making everything from blue cheese to ricotta, Cheddar to halloumi, and even Camembert style cheese!  Plus they give loads of details on how to do it yourself.

Image: the handyface blog

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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