Sunday, 6 September 2015

A punchy peppercorn sauce

One of my (non-pescatarian) husband's favourite meals is steak with pepper sauce. A few years ago we were in France for his birthday. As France is home of the sauce I decided that I should make the it properly for his birthday meal. I didn't have a recipe so I just played around with some basic ingredients and after some experimenting I have settled on my favourite way. It only takes 15 mins and the majority of that is just the sauce simmering. Once you have made it yourself you won't go back to a packet version, they are seriously lacking in punch!

Peppercorn sauce recipe - serves 4 (or 2 very hungry people)

25g butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 shallot - finely chopped
1 tablespoon of ground peppercorns (a mixture of colours looks really nice)
1 tablespoon of flour
1 litre of vegetable stock
50ml of double cream
Squeeze of lemon juice

  • In a large saucepan heat the butter and oil over a low heat, add the shallot and cook for 2 minutes until softened. 
  • Stir in the ground peppercorns and then add the flour.
  • Once the floor and butter mixture has made a paste add the vegetable slowly, stiring constantly.
  • Once all the vegetable stock has been added leave to simmer for 10 mins until thickened.
  • Stir in the cream and then the lemon juice.
  • Check the seasoning of the sauce and add more pepper if you would like it hotter.
  • Serve with a steak of your choice (mine was tuna) or veggies or just chips :-)

Friday, 4 September 2015

A Dapper Bow-Tie

This summer we went on a cruise with my family to celebrate my parents' retirement. It's not that often as a family that we get to be really dressed up but as there was a captain's dinner on the second night we all agreed that we would go all out and my dad and husband would wear their tuxedos.

My husband doesn't have any bow ties of his own and has always borrowed one if he needed one, so wanting to practice my sewing skills I suggested I make him one. At this stage I only had a few bits of material, all of which could be described as 'jazzy', especially for a bow-tie! However the thought of wearing something jazzy has never worried him before (unfortunately!) and he especially liked the idea of having rabbits on it - to remind him of our bunny back home.

I googled how to make a bow-tie and there were a lot of websites with instructions . The one I found the easiest was this one. We didn't have a printer set up then so I made my own pattern based on those instructions using tracing paper and masking tape and measuring his neck.

 The first time I made the bowtie I made it in two different pieces (the bow and a long straight piece) but this made it hard to conceal the joins and looked messy.  The photo below is from the first attempt but in the second try the bow and the longer piece of fabric were joined together. The second time around I cut out four pieces of fabric and two pieces of interfacing.

 Here is it on. (Sorry for the clashing t-shirt. I promise he hasn't worn it out like this!)

 I was please by the shape of the bowtie and my husband said he would be happy to wear it but as it was for a formal occasion we thought it might be nice to have the option of a smarter one. So after browsing around a material shop nearby I made him a second one in a grey material which he ended up wearing on the cruise. 
For someone who  had never worn a proper tie-up bowtie I think he did a good job. It would be unfair of me to say how many youtube tutorials and hours spent tying and retying it took him!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Pesky Food in France

Two of my favourite hobbies, if they can be called that, are cooking and eating out. Despite being a lover of food and trying to push myself to eat new and interesting food, especially on holiday, I am what some people would class as a picky eater. This is because I don't eat meat, just fish. I gave up meat when I was 13 and so have been pescatarian for over half my life. I hadn't heard of the term pescatarian until I went to Uni but I quite like it and most people seem to have heard of it if you mention it.

When we decided to live in France for a few months some people said they thought I would struggle with eating out. The French after all are notorious for their love of meat! It actually hasn't been that hard because I eat fish and almost every restaurant we have looked at has had fish or seafood options.

The only time it has been difficult has been in Carcassonne. At least the first 5 restaurants we saw had the choice of Cassoulet (made with duck and sausage) or confit duck, nothing else. My husband was determined to try the Cassoulet as it is a speciality of the region and so luckily we found a restaurant which had that and some fish on the menu. If I had been vegetarian I am not sure what I would have eaten!

Rural France is not really a place that caters to vegetarians. In the major cities there is much more variety but in smaller towns like in most countries you are more limited. Regardless of that, I love the French attitude towards food in general. They seem to have a much better appreciation for locally sourced, freshly made food which isn't always the case in Britain. One of the things I like most about French food culture is the 'la formule' which every restaurant has (I think by law!). This means that they have a set menu for lunch usually at a very reasonable price. For example the restaurant in a town 10 mins drive from us has a 3 course meal with 2 or 3 choices at each course and 250ml of wine per person for €12.50! And the food is really good. That isn't unusual value either and even eating in touristy places, you will be able to find excellent food at good value. The French believe in good freshly cooked food for everyone, not just for people who can afford to pay a lot of money which is refreshing.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Cycling the Loire

A few weeks ago we went on our first cycling holiday in the Loire Valley. We drove to Azay le Rideau where we left our car and over the next few days cycled through to Rigny Usse, Chinon, Crissay sur Manse and then back to Azay le Rideau. The whole place was stunning and it would take so long to describe everywhere we went so instead here are the highlights of our photos.

 We didn't want to wear a backpack in the heat and so all of our things were packed into panniers. This made my bike slightly unbalanced and much heavier!

On our way we stopped at Villandry Chateau which had stunning gardens.

The view as we cycled into Rigny -Usse, the chateau is claimed to be the inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty.
 And a closer view.


 Riding into Chinon.


Chinon Chateau 

The view from Chinon Chateau.

 Chinon Chateau at night.

 Cycling through vineyards. 

 Tasting some local wine.

 ...Tasting some more local wine.

Visting vineyards 

The ruined chateau in Crissay which looked over the swimming pool at our b+b 

 A beautiful old ruined abbey which we came across on our last day. 

Back at the car!