Sunday, 27 March 2011

Bouillabaisse


While we were in France, Tom made us a bouillabaisse fish stew. When in Paris.....
We ate it with fresh baked bread from the boulangerie and plenty of white wine to boot. 
I had never tried it before but the thin fish broth was very filling and incredibly fresh and zesty. Tom is an excellent cook and he pulled this one out the bag with style to match!
We all said how wonderful it was. Restaurant quality!



Method
1. Thinly sliced white onions and garlic fried up in butter.
2. Sliced red pepper and cubed fresh tomatoes added to the onion.
3. A quarter of a bottle of decent white wine and a cup of water.
4. Officially you are supposed to use saffron but he used fresh thyme.
5. Add the mixed fish and seafood when the sauce has come together and cook this for only 5 minutes more.
If you cook the fish too long it will break up so be careful.
6. Season to taste.



Sweet, warm, wholesome and almost 100% fat free, until you butter up your crusty roll to dip in wine and tomato stock!! Clever Tom.

Bon appetit!


Friday, 11 March 2011

The Champagne caves of Etoges

On our recent trip to France, we took the opportunity to explore and exploit the champagne cave tours hosted in the Etoges area of the Champagne region.


We drove down through the fairly flat fields in the cold but sunny air and worried that as we were a little out of season, we would be turned away. The holiday cottages organised a bus trip to the caves during high season, but we chose to make our own way in the car and take a chance.We drove the hour car ride to the Borel-Lucas caves and knocked on the door eagerly awaiting and anticipating the sight of a cave right there behind the front door.



Instead, a very straight woman answered the door with her 'sleepingbag coat' and she unbolted the door from the inside to reveal a lovely, lavish lobby area where I presumed you could taste the champagnes after the tour. She lead us through to the yard where she opened up the closed up factory just for us and we were met with stacks of boxed and wrapped bottles of local champagne. The first thing we saw was the huge grape press and storage vats below where the juice fell to be stored at the first stage. There were no signs of a single grape, but it was February so not too surprising. The smell of corked and thick wine funk was very strong and rustic in your nostrils and I was wondering where all the wine was!


She then showed us the stainless steel vats were the grape juice is stored in varying combinations. For example, when mixing a rose they add a 10% red wine mix to the champagne.


We headed down to the actual caves where tiny dim lights illuminated the rows of circular bottle ends all bottoms up and pointing downwards. She explained that champagne carbonates inside the bottle and this is how it is fermented in order to trap the bubbles. In normal wine, this is done in the bulk process so the carbon dioxide is released before bottling. When inside the bottles the mix is turned a quarter of a turn every day for a very long time!!! Then the fermented bottle is frozen in a machine and the very top frozen block in the neck of the bottle, once frozen is removed while retaining the air and contents. This way only the sludge and fermentation residue lying at the neck of the bottle is removed which is made possible after storing them at the 45 degree angle. The caves are very cold and so work to preserve the contents.






We were then shown the corking and labeling processes. We watched all this with interest and then we were led back into the lobby for a good old tasting. The woman opened three bottles of different champagnes for us to sample, a blend of three grapes, a chardonnay and a sweet champagne.




We decided to buy six bottles in total as this worked out quite cheap, so we came away with one of each available kind plus two more!! It was nice to feel like we were doing something with a bit of culture while also being educated on the trickery of Champagne!

Although the whole tour took only an hour, it was worth it. I do feel that maybe during the summer months it might be a bit more exciting. You may actually see the grapes being juiced in the big press or a few bottles being popped at once making for a good atmosphere. On this cold February afternoon however, there was just me, my two sisters and Tom. This just made it all the more special!


Friday, 4 March 2011

Bon Aniversaire



Before leaving for Korea for round two, Tom and I managed to fit in a family holiday to St Simeon in France, which is around an hour east of Paris. There were thirteen of us in total which made for some hefty catering encounters.

It was Jennifer's birthday while we were away so as well as a very delicious gold Casio watch from Urban outfitters, we prepared her a true French breakfast of fresh croissants and pain au chocolat. Victoria practiced her very best French with the bread man who visited our cottages daily and we laid out a spread of breads, pastries, butter, tea and juice. Seriously bad week for my waistline but hey, Tom and I are going to be faced with no decent bread or cheese for another year so I can lose a few pounds then! I also did not realise how much French I have actually retained from five years of study. I think Tom was sick to death of us naming and reading everything in French by the end of the week. Poor Tom :)








We enjoyed a day of relaxation which included animated ping pong, leisurely swimming and shopping at the hyper supermarche in preparation for Jen's birthday party in the evening. We planned to make Bouillabaisse but the fish counter was closed, apparently everything is in rural France on Sunday. So instead we settled on a goulash with couscous and planned to make the French fish stew later in the week. It came off pretty well not that I really contributed much, Tom and Jennifer did the cooking. They made a pork and vegetable goulash using tomato, crème fraise, paprika, onions, and wine, which they poured over roasted vegetable couscous. I was impressed with the veggie sweet potato version too.








We polished it off with two very beautiful French desserts, a continental take on a strawberry cheese cake and a traditional tarte tatin.

Tarte tatin
Here is a link to a very lovely looking tart tatin recipe, however I think the one we tasted was pretty unbeatable, there is a challenge!




Dad also purchased what he thought was a French dessert wine, but it turned out to be a Hungarian nail varnish remover wine!! Not too palatable. The red wine at 2 euros a bottle however went down very well. Other French encounters to follow.







Thursday, 3 March 2011

Ladies who lunch

I will miss all my lovely English ladies when I go back to Korea and I very much enjoyed a recent reunion with my uni pals Catherine, Hannah and Kat. We ventured into Leeds and spent the day half heartedly shopping but not really wishing to buy anything. What we really wanted to do was sit somewhere and catch up but as we all now live in different cities it is difficult to fit in a one day meeting to suit everyone. We had a nice browse and eventually settled in a lovely new café in the city center called...




It served lots of amazing looking cakes and gateaus so it was difficult to decide what to have. The young man serving us didn't really seem to have a clue what he was serving or to whom, but we forgave him in return for some pretty good cake and tea and a warm place to sit.
There was only one afternoon tea option on the menu which clearly stated it was for one person only! Lord knows why because who eats two huge scones and six minature pots of jam to themselves! Catherine and I decided to split it. Hannah and Kathryn had muffins and we nattered away for an hour or two. We had a really nice afternoon, I will miss you all so much!!!! Can't wait to see you in Korealand in May!

Me and Hannah

Catherine

Kathryn

Hannah


Baby food



My beautiful cousin Nikki is having twins, and as the first of our generation to be having one let alone two children, it is all very exciting. As I have been home with nothing much to do, I thought it would be a good idea to organise a baby shower for her. Although lots of people think that baby showers and their American connotations are a bit naff, I personally thought it was a good opportunity to get the family and a few of her friends together to spoil her as she well deserves.


We agreed there would be a tea party theme, we got out the china cups and plates and we made lots and lots and lots of sweet treats including iced fairy cakes, some of Mum's amazing fresh scones with jam and cream, and I even attempted quite successfully to make the aforementioned cinnamon yoghurt cake I sampled in India. Sheeba gave me her recipe which I will share with you only on a need to know basis :) We washed all this down with a variety of green tea, rose tea, builders tea, earl gray, and one coffee.

Sheeba's cake

Victoria made a gorgeous Delia Smith tomato and red pepper tart and my Nana made a cheese and onion quiche. What talented ladies we are. There were also plenty of meat, fish and cheese finger sandwiches to complete the table. Other guest brought along party snacks and we all tucked in after the present giving. The spread looked wonderful.






We played a few games such as ''guess the babies combined weight'' (which I hope to earn a tidy profit from). We also surprised our taste buds with a baby food quiz. We had to sample four jars of food and guess what the flavour was. This proved incredibly tricky as ''Fisherman's pie'' actually tasted like potted beef and the ''strawberry and cream'' smelled like apple! I think the texture, flavour and smell of all four were absolutely vile and if I ever had a baby, I would definitely be feeding them whizzed up normal food like my mum fed me!

We finished up with another game which involved moving cotton wool balls from one bowl to another with a wooden spoon. Not so easy with a blindfold on! We all felt well and truly sick after eating and laughing so much (not to mention the baby food aftertastes) but we got some cracking pictures.








                       I can't wait to meet the twins, even if it is only on skype for the first year!

Opium and potatoes



One fine morning during our stay in India, we went on a day trip organised by the Govind hotel in Jodphur. The guy who owned the hotel was really nice and appreciated how hard it was to be a tourist in India. His hotel was the most spacious and bright place we stayed the entire month and although the hot water was a little sparse the haven of quiet the room provided was very much appreciated after the rabble of the streets!

The morning of the trip there was a power cut in the entire street and as we were meeting at 8am there was no natural light in our room, I was very glad I had brought a torch and we had to go out looking a bit rough and ready.

We met our driver and introduced ourselves to the two Australian lads we were tripping with. The guide spoke enough English to explain things as we drove out into the remote desert, but he could not understand us if we had an actual question so it was a bit like an audio guide- no interaction allowed. We stopped the car several times to look at wild deer and other bouncy and leggy animals. It was a gorgeous clear morning and the silence was our reward for getting up so early. We also visited the burial site of some 300+ villagers. He told us the sorry local tale (from hundreds if years before) of the deceased villagers plight to save the forest. The Maharaja had ordered the trees to be cut down and brought to the palace for use as building material. The people had protested and were beheaded as they clung to the trees and refused to allow such a tragedy against nature. Only after the men had decapitated so many men, women and children, did they decide it was probably not a good idea and the Maharaja told his men to leave the forest alone. The guide explained that the villagers still hold a high respect for nature and remember the villagers cause.



A view through a window of the new temple being built in the burial site area

This made us a little sad as we drove on to one of the traditional Bishnoi villages where this story is remembered. We met a woman and her 2 semi naked, unashamed and very inquisitive little sons. The woman looked up at us very warmly from her work to show us how she ground millet using a huge stone hand wheel. She used the millet flour to make chapatis which seemed to be the main part of their diet. Although the buildings were incredibly simple, they were very clean and the woman obviously took pride in her home. She showed us the kitchen which was just a small pile of stones with a pan on. Hardly even a room really! We sat on a straw mat while she prepared sweet chai.


Very much to our surprise, the tour guide randomly pulled out a big lump of opium. He explained that after a hard days work laboring, farming, mining or such like, the men and women of the village relaxed by munching on a nugget of this brown chalky substance. I was a little shocked when he added that opium is given to the little boys too if they have a stomach ache or tooth pain. He insisted that we try some of the ''opium'' which did not seem like something I should do in a foreign country if at all, ever. Especially, as I have to take a drugs test to get back to Korea. But I was also torn by the fact that this guy (in India) was offering me something which actually looked like a speck of dirt. I took a tiny grain and put it in my mouth, needless to say I felt absolutely nothing but the Australians joked with the guide that we were now hooked!

We drank our spiced and sweet chai which was made with milk and boiled on a fire fueled with cow dung. Presumably the dried pats came from the cow and calf tied up near by. When we had finished the woman led me into her one roomed house. She took of my glasses (I was not wearing contacts due to the power cut dressing limitations earlier on) and she proceeded to wrap me up in the traditional red dress over my normal clothes. I literally felt like an oaf next to this tiny woman as she promenaded me outside to stand in front of the boys. I was  completely blind without my glasses but she clearly felt they didn't go with the outfit. By this time another old man had come along and was putting his hat on Tom. So we all played dress up and it was all very surreal but we got some good pictures.






We spent the rest of the morning watching potters and printers make various local crafts which were then pushed  on us with a hard and guilt riddled sale. Of course we succumbed and bought  a number of items.


The best part of the day though was the second village we visited. We were taken into a terracotta hut which was filled with smoke. There was another tiny woman inside mixing millet flour and water to make dough. She asked me in a round about way using lots of gestures, if I was married and which of the three men if any were my husband. I explained they were all my friends. ;) We watched her expertly pat and flatten numerous dough balls into chapatis very quickly and as each one cooked on the dung fire, she placed them around the flames to keep warm.

We sat down in another hut, where we discovered delicious buttery bombay potatoes which were thinly sliced and spiced to perfection. There was also a sweet vegetable curry and a pile of the chapatis. It was really very good food for our surroundings but I had the feeling they had gone all out for us. We did feel very humbled and the children were peeking in at us as we ate. A village man joined us and asked us lots of questions about England and Australia. He wanted to know if it was possible for him to get a working visa in our countries which was a bit weird. I wondered if he was after a sponsor! He was however incredibly welcoming and ensured we ate until we were full.




It was really nice to see a bit of rural India, although I am sure there were elements of the usual tourist trail in our experience, as we were definitely expected to purchase from the people we met. What a seriously strange day!