Saturday, 29 November 2008

A Still in Brittany - Turning Cider into Calvados - with Theatre

When our Woodsman,Gabriel Herve (Gabby), invited us to the annual Alambic Lunch, we knew we were in for something special. Some of our neighbours had expressed concerns and even hinted that it could be dangerous. However we trust Gabby and his friend Shrek and enjoy very much being in their company.

Although we knew this event would take place before Christmas we only had one days notice! We had hoped to bring along a few friends from Kerrouet but things got complicated when we realised Gabby's mother was busy preparing galettes for lunch. Galettes are famous buckwheat pancakes which are very popular here and can be served as healthy fast food in a variety of wonderful ways!

As is customary in Brittany, a quick round of pastis was consumed at home and then we were whisked away to the local bar in the village of St Giles de Mene where Serge, the proprietor, again supplied us with more pastis while our host Gabby purchased lots of goodies for what looked like a real French lunch - 6 x bottles of Claret, bread, Camembert, sausages, foie gras , Brittany cookies and coffee.

Following the purchase of another few rounds of pastis , we were soon back in the vehicle and on our way to Gabby's parents home. Well I naturally assumed we were eating there so when we entered the house and introduced to his mother, I did the expected thing and kissed her and the other ladies present (each one four times on the cheek), took off my coat and smiled at all those present around the dining table.

A delightful aroma of fresh galettes filled the air. As I took my place at the table there was a scream from Gabby and it became clear we were not eating at this house!! We quickly took our leave, scrambled back into the vehicle as Gabby explained that he had collected the galettes and we were now on our way to the Alambic!

The countryside of the Mene is famous throughout Brittany and indeed France due to the numerous little hills and hideaways which traverse this beautiful terrain. Although we have cycled all over the place we were soon completely lost amid old oak forests and stream clad valleys and it began to rain. All of a sudden, the four wheel drive took a sharp turn to the right and we found ourselves in what appeared to be an abandoned granite quarry. There were a few vehicles present and what looked like an old steam engine under a compactor like shed. Smoke was bellowing out of the underbelly and the sweet smell of what can only be described as apple poteen arose into the damp air. We were at a temporary distillery!!

The scene came direct from a mad max movie! Here we were up to our ankles in mud; in an abandoned quarry standing close to the largest still I had ever seen in my life; smoke and steam spurting from its entrails (or Madam Thatcher as the locals called her); being introduced to all the farmers as they came to exchange their barrels of cider for casks of calvados! As each farmer came to do their exchange, they brought wine and food to share! There was a genuine festive feeling in the air! Without further ado, sausages were placed into the furnace of the still and within minutes, we were handed wonderful barbecued sausages wrapped up in galettes! Glasses of wine and Briton whiskey were offered around as the fumes of the calvados gradually consumed us all. The charming banter and brusqueness of the locals was captivating. These farmers and woodsmen have known each other all their lives and it is evident that they share a common culture and history which enhances their sense of fun and mischievousness.

Next thing I heard Gabby calling for theatre and La Fables de la Fontaine! He was busy directing Poul who was now standing upon a chair with a large camembert hanging from his mouth. Gabby was trying everything to get the crow to sing and it was some of the best drama I have ever seen! Gabby rolled on his back in the dirt like a fox,threw his feet high up into the air, cursed and twisted and courteously sang the praises of the crow. He charmed, bedazzled and surprised us all with a powerful and evocative performance. Needless to say he did not get the camembert as Poul swallowed it in the heat of the performance almost chocking with laughter along with the rest of us as he did so!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A Wonderful Time for Borsch

Not everyone is as lucky as we are to have Marcel and Edith living nearby. Not just because they are wonderful neighbours. Marcel and Edith are organic farmers and yesterday Marcel arrived with a big bag of beetroot along with an enormous white cabbage! When I saw the beetroot I knew immediately what I was going to do today! Yes folks with fresh beetroot it has to be borsch!

Funnily enough when I mentioned this to Marcel he seemed unaware of this wonderful Ukrainian dish. Many of our neighbours grow the beetroot as a staple food for their rabbits! The rabbits thrive on this vegetable and the result is the most wonderful rabbit pate on earth but that is a story for another day!!

Anyone who has been to Ukraine will know that everyone has their own special recipe for making borsch. Not only that but each one swears by their dead grandmother that their recipe is the most unique, the most superior with secret variations and processing methods. This is because beetroot, despite it's dramatic blood colours, cooked on it's own is rarely a treat. Fantastic as a salad. As a soup it demands time and treatment. However with the addition of a few basic vegetables and herbs it can become the king of soups! The texture and taste of borsch will vary depending on the cooking time.

I am making borsch for four people the traditional way. I learned the recipe from a lovely Ukrainian lady we know called Elena who lives in Chernivtsy - a beautiful historic town in the south west of the country about four hours drive from Kiev.


5 x fresh beetroot
1 x white cabbage
3 x onions
4 x smoked sausages
4 x carrots
2 x potatoes
1 x garlic
1 x bunch of chives
2g x horseradish
1g x black peppercorns
1 x teaspoon of salt
1 x home made stock (half litre)
2 x litres of water

First place a large saucepan containing water and the home made stock on the stove. Cut and peel and dice five large fresh beetroot. Cut peel and dice two potatoes, four carrots, 3 onions, 1 garlic and shred one small white cabbage. Have some grated horseradish and cut chives prepared for addition later. Add the smoked sausages and diced vegetables to the saucepan and allow to cook slowly. Add salt and peppercorn. Add the shredded cabbage and horseradish once the soup has come to the boil but turn down and allow to simmer slowly for one and a half hours. This will bring out the delightful taste and wonderful colour of the beetroot.

Serve direct to the soup bowl with a sprinkle of chives and a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche.

This is a great winter soup. It is not only exceedingly tasty but the colour being a deep red is probably the most dramatic colour you can have on a plate. Coupled with a sausage and the dollop of cream or crème fraiche, it certainly deserves to be called "Soup of the Tsars"

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Learning to live without Roellinger

We hear reports of doom and gloom from the resturant businesses of London and Dublin caught up in the crash of the world's financial markets. With vacant tables galore they would cast an envious eye at Les Maisons de Bricourt, Olivier Roellinger's 3 Michelin star restaurant in Cancale, Brittany which is fully booked up for lunch and dinner every day until the 15th of December when,very sadly for us, it will close. The restaurant would be fully booked up till St Patrick's Day 2009 and well beyond, so it is certainly not a lack of customers which are to blame for the closure. Running any restaurant is hard work and a 3 star Michelin restaurant even more so. While Mr Roellinger has decided to take a well earned rest we propose you give it a go cooking great food in your own home.
To help you we are running the following short courses at Kerrouet House which will enhance your cooking skills and give you a taste for some of the best food Brittany has to offer.

Sample Dinner Course

Brittany Escallops with Fleur de Sel de Guerande marinated with an orange and lime fructose

Grilled Red Mullet with toasted cauliflower puree and chive mousseline sauce

Quail with figs and apple

Gruyere cheese with selection of winter fruits

Almond and apple pie with poppy seed ice cream

Sample Lunch Course

Brittany Oysters with red onion and apple.

Salmon fish cakes with chives and tartar sauce

Selection of Cheese