Friday, 31 July 2015

Mussels in saffron soup

Probably the most popular soup in Brittany is mussel soup and this recipe is one of my favourites:
For 6 persons

1 kg fresh mussels
3 tbsp olive oil
1 bottle dry white wine
1 shallot onion
1 leek
2 cloves garlic
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
10 black pepper corns
Sprinkle of saffron
150 ml of fresh cream
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & Pepper


Rinse the mussels in cold water removing all beards and algae. Discard any lifeless mussels which refuse to close. Store in a cold place. Chop up the onions, leeks and garlic. In a large pot heat olive oil adding all the ingredients except wine and chives. Mix well but don't overheat. Add white wine and boil for five minutes or when mussels have opened. Discard any not opened.  Remove the mussel shells from the stock and then remove mussels from their shells discarding the shells. Set aside. Reduce the stock. Add saffron and cream, bit of lemon juice if necessary and salt and pepper to taste. Make some Julienne vegetables, blanch them and add to soup. Reintroduce the deshelled mussels to the stock and keep warm. You can then serve direct with home made bread and some nice white wine! 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Scallops Skate Wing & Turbot

One of the joys of cooking in Brittany is the amazing range of great seafood and fish available in the food markets. One of my favourite dishes is scallops in a curry Sauterne sauce served with a little spinach. The golden orange colour of the sauce complements the colour and texture of the scallops and spinach.
Scallops in curry Sauterne sauce

Skatewing is a delightfully easy fish to deal with once you have mastered how to remove the skin and prepare it. I like to pan fry in butter and garlic with lots of lemon and capers.

To finish dinner it is hard to beat a tiramisu with fresh strawberries. I have yet to meet someone who won't ask for more!! 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Confit de Canard

It's a wonderful dish for a green winter and today in Brittany and most of Northern Europe, the rain and the wind are doing their worst for our unfortunate visitors. So why not get your oven on and  prepare this warming duck dish which is so easy and so welcome on a stormy summer evening!! 

Ingredients for 4 
4 large duck legs
30g sea salt
1 tbsp black peppercorns, crushed
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 fresh bay leaves , sliced
4 sprigs of thyme, finely chopped
800g duck or goose fat, melted


Curing the duck legs
Lay the duck legs on a baking tray  flesh side upwards and sprinkle the sea salt, peppercorns, garlic and thyme evenly over the tray. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight. Next day rinse the marineade off the duck legs and pat dry with a cloth. 

Cooking the duck legs
Preheat oven to 140 degrees C. Place the duck legs in a large flameproof casserole dish. Cover with the melted fat and cook on top of stove on a gentle heat. Bring the fat to just below simmering point. There should be no bubbles breaking the surface (if you have a thermometer, check the temperature which should be 85 degrees C. 

Once simering transfer to the oven and cook uncovered for 2 and a half hours or until the duck legs are very tender. Leave to cool (in fact you could leave the legs in the cooking fat for up to three days in the fridge to further improve the flavour).

Finishing the duck legs

Remove the duck legs from the cooking fat. Over a medium heat in a dry frying pan, crisp and colour the duck legs on the skin side for 5-7 minutes, regularly removing excess fat. 
Serve with salad, fruit (oranges) lentils or beans.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Look what our students are cooking this week!

Chicken stock making for the week    
  Starter: Green pea soup “Ninon”
Main: Provençal salmon fish cakes fish cakes on a garden salad with Sauce Tartar
Cheese: Selection of French cheeses
 Bread making
 Starter: Oysters with apple and horseradish sauce
Main: Quails with morels sauce 
Cheese: Selection of French cheeses
Dessert: Panna Cotta with fresh fruits salad 

Starter: small pizza Alsacien
Main: Rabbit in Dijon mustard
Cheese: Selection of French cheeses
      Starter: Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce 
Main: Turbot baked in the oven with a saffron sauce
               Cheese: Selection of French cheeses            
 Dessert:  Strawberry tart

 Starter: Bruschetta
Main:Grilled goats cheese salad
 Cheese: Selection of French cheeses           
  Starter: Scallop mousse with spinach and a tomato sauce
Main: Cured duck breast with horseradish and summer vegetable
Cheese: Selection of French cheeses
  Dessert: Chocolate cake St. Remy with salted caramel ice-cream
Free to visit the Dinan, St. Malo, or a trip to Mont Saint Michel

Starter: Langoustines with a celeriac remoulade and langoustine sauce
Main: Blanquette de veau with rice
 Cheese:  Selection of French cheeses
    Dessert: Lemon tart

 Main: Rabbit salad 
Cheese: Selection of French cheeses

Starter: Foie Gras terrine with a pear salad 
  Main: Tournedos with Sauce Béarnaise 
Cheese: Selection of French cheeses
 Dessert:Almond & white chocolate cake with liquorice 
*menu can change

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Choosing the right cooking school

There is an abundance of cooking schools out there. Some are good. Some are great. Some unfortunately are a real rip off!! It makes sense to do some simple checks to ensure you get the best one to suit your needs. Here are some simple guidelines to help you decide which one to choose.

1. If learning to cook is your objective, then ensure you get an accredited school with a qualified chef in the kitchen! Is the chef a good teacher as well as a great chef?

2. Check how long the cooking classes will run. This is so important as many school just do a simple three hour demo per day and get rid of you asap! How long will you be with the chef in the kitchen and what skills will you actually acquire? Will you get actual hands on cooking experience? Time with the chef to reflect and ask questions? Will you eat together with the chef every day?

3. What is actually included in the course? Is lunch and dinner included? Do you have to pay for wine as an extra? How many courses are included for lunch and dinner?

4. Look carefully at the menu for the course. Does it include what you expect?   Is the food organic? Are wine tastings included? Food & wine pairing? 

5. Look at the reviews for the school. Trip Adviser can help with this. Feel free to email someone who has actually attended the school so that you can get an independent assessment of the chefs and the school.

6. Is the school a magical place? Do people actually enjoy their time there? There is so much to learning and the way cooking schools are managed. Are you included as part of the family or treated as a stranger? Again this is best gleamed by the reviews of previous customers.

7. How flexible is the school? Will they adjust their menu to suit your individual requirements?

8. What type of accommodation is available at the school? Do you get your own private gite or do you have to share a bathroom?! Check out carefully so that you are not disappointed. Ask for photos and again check out those reviews.

9. How easy is it to get to the school? Is it near an airport or a ferry port? Do you have to drive? Can you get a pick up from the local station? How helpful is your school with information and guidance about travel arrangements?

10. Does your chosen school offer any extras? Think about introductory dinners and celebratory graduation evenings with Diplomas! Are you given notes and menus covering your course and full support and after care when you try your recipes at home in your own kitchen?

11, What is available to see during non cooking times? Are tours arranged to places of interest, food markets, farms, vineyards  etc. Are there lots of interesting places to visit when not in the kitchen?

12. How many people will be on your course? Some schools overbook the kitchen and you wont find that very enjoyable. The best schools actually limit the numbers of students below 10 per class so that everyone gets time to enjoy each other as well as quality time with the chefs.

13. Ensure your cooking school is the genuine school. In this age of computer fraud, websites can be easily copied. Check the website browser. Make sure the school is real by checking the address and land-line. Call the land-line number. Don't pay any fees unless you are absolutely sure you are dealing with the genuine cooking school. How easy is it to pay? Can you get your money back if you have to cancel? Check out the terms and conditions carefully.

14. How accessible is the school and its environs? Is there disabled access? Can you walk or do you need a car or taxi to get around? What other facilities are there? Cycles to rent?

15, What about single person supplements? What about your friend who is not attending the school but would like to join at lunchtime and/or in the evening?

These are just some points to consider  when choosing a cooking school. If you are in a country with a strong currency vis a vis the Euro for example, you could save a substantial sum just by being careful where you decide to travel to! There has never been a better time to visit us at French Dining School assuming of course you have carefully done your homework!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015


Summer time has arrived and so it is time for the rosé and the gazpacho! This has to be one of the easiest summer soups to make as absolutely no cooking is required! There are hundreds of recipes for gazpacho but what you want to produce is something which has bite and body rather than a poor salsa. This is why the selection of ingredients is so important. Originally a simple Hispano-Roman dish of oil and breadcrumbs with salt, garlic and no tomatoes, it later developed in Andalusia as a peasant dish to quench both thirst and hunger. It is an ideal course to serve as you can make it well in advance and it improves with age if kept in the fridge! 

Ingredients (serves 10):

10 large plum ripe tomatoes deseeded and chopped
1 clove of garlic
1 red onion finely diced 
1 cucumber deseeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper deseeded and chopped
2 celery stalks chopped
2 tbsp fresh chives finely chopped to serve
Sprinkle of balsamic vinegar to taste
Lemon juice to taste
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Up to 6 drops of Tabasco to taste.


Combine all the ingredients. Blend to desired consistency. Place in non-metalic non reactive storage container (preferably glass) cover tightly and refrigerate for a few hours up to 24 hours allowing flavours to develop and blend. Serve the soup ice cold with chopped chives (if desired as well as a few drops of good quality olive oil on top).

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Faux pas ou pas faux pas?

France is so close geographically to the UK and Ireland that we often forget those little cultural differences which may cause our host embarrassment or show us up as a little uncout around the dining table. It can all start at the front door so here are a few tips to get you off to a good start as a dinner guest in France.

By all means bring your host a beautiful bouquet of flowers but never ever carnations as they are exclusively used for funerals in France!  Never bring wine unless specifically requested as this is often taken as an insult. Most good hosts will have already chosen the wine when deciding the menu. Having said that chilled champagne is always appreciated and home made personal gifts are on the up.

It goes without saying if going for a fine dinner to always dress smart casual and I mean never in shorts sandals and T shirts!! Jackets are usually required for restaurants. 

Be late but not too late. If invited for dinner at 7.30pm it will usually start 30 minutes later. However more than 30 minutes late and you are in serious trouble! Today if delayed you must call you host as quickly as possible if you find yourself arriving any later than the 30 minute rule!

Smoking is fine in most homes but not at the table. Most hosts are happy to let you hang out the window, step out to the garden or balcony. Cigars may still be smoked at the table however but check just in case with your host! 

During the various courses you should wait for guidance from your host in regard to handling back your cutlery. The same may be used for a number of courses. Always break your bread by hand not your knife and if adding butter, take it using the butter dish knife, from the butter dish to your plate, and then from your plate to your bread using your own personal knife! 

Never serve yourself twice from the cheese board as that is interpretated that the other courses were deficient! When cutting cheeses ensure you don't rob the best bits! Always cut from the top down vertically and never horizontally as that is often where the most tasty parts of the cheese can be found.

Never get drunk and don't go on about how good the food was! A discreet c'est délicieux aimed directly at the cook will suffice. 

There are always some people who never want to leave a good host. If you are served orange juice after your third coffee this is a direct signal to leave at once. A bit like being served oranges in a Chinese restaurant. Depart immediately!