Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fresh off the farm: Local meat

Another visit to a local farm doing direct sales: this time a mixed livestock farm raising sheep, poultry, pigs and beef the traditional way, free range and well-looked after. You order on the internet when the farmers send you a list of what's available, from veal to ducks, suckling pigs to turkeys, and pick up the box of meat directly from the farm. Like the Bourdichou farm, this one prefers the direct sale method, and so do their clients who love that they can see exactly how the animals are kept and support the farmers directly. The meat's great, and the prices are excellent too!

Fresh off the farm: a visit to a goat cheese producer

Xavier Tissot explaining how he sorts lentils, with an old machine at back
We had a very interesting afternoon the other day visiting a local farm, Bourdichou, which specialises in one hundred percent organic goat cheese produced using traditional methods with goats fed entirely off the organic feed produced on the farm itself. Lucky goats--they get not only the usual kind of feed of barley, grass and sainfoin(a coarse hay type feed) but also high quality green lentils produced on the farm, of the Puy variety, of which the farm produces about 6 tonnes. (The lentils are also sold to humans and are delicious!)
As well as buying some excellent cheese and having a bit of a tour of the 30-strong goat herd, who were all very bright-eyed and bushy tailed and very friendly as they are handled a lot, we were also treated to a very interesting free 45 minute slide presentation by owner Xavier Tissot, who explained everything about the farm, how it's run, what crops are grown, what the programme of each day is, etc. This is an added bonus of a visit to the farm to buy cheese--call ahead of time and you can also assist at one of these presentations(best done in a group or family). By the way they have an excellent  and informative website with all contact details and info on how to get there,
The Bourdichou farm is situated in gorgeous rolling countryside in the Aude region, and consists of 102 hectares, supporting 30 high-yielding goats in constant milking. From those 30 goats, milked twice a day, the Tissots get 22,500 litres of milk per year, which converts into 34,700 cheeses a year, or around 120 a day. From the milk, the Tissots make only cheese, in different varieties: plain, flavoured with onions or rosemary, or oregano or thyme or lavender, and also rolled in pepper. (They also sell honey from their own hives as well as lentils). It's plain to see the goats are thriving; they are all extremely healthy, bright and curious and very productive. They also each have a name, as they are very much a part of the family and Xavier Tissot speaks of them with great affection and humour--one funny observation he made was, 'Goats are rather like adolescents; they can veer from endearing to very annoying in record time!' The goats are out in the fields grazing half the day (where they have to be watched)and half the day in their comfortable shed where they are given their hay, grain and lentils.
Of course it's a huge amount of work for the family for it is a never ending cycle. Market days are particularly heavy for the milking has to start at 4.30 am and does not finish till 7pm! Days where markets aren't happening are slightly less heavy--they get an extra hour's sleep and don't have to get up till 5.30 am! Then of course there is the crop work, which they do get outside help with, but still do most of it themselves.
The Tissots only do direct sales--from the farm gate, at local markets where they go several days a week, at special fairs and gastronomic events and occasionally from people who have been to the farm before ordering over the phone or online. They don't sell to restaurants, and most of their sales  are at markets. But if you are travelling in the region, I would urge you to go and visit the farm directly, for not only do you get the chance to buy the products at the very spot where they are made, but you also get an absorbing insight into how the life of a farm.
And the cheese? We bought a platter of it, about six or seven cheeses, in different varieties and it was all absolutely delightful, fresh, tasty and very very more-ish, with the platter being demolished very rapidly. And it was only 10 euros for the whole lot--an absolute steal! Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Victor Hugo markets, Toulouse

I always love going back to Toulouse, the city where I spent my early years with my grandmother and aunts. And whenever I'm back I love going to the famous Victor Hugo covered markets and having lunch there in one of the many restaurants above the markets which serve fabulous and very reasonably priced lunches made from market produce, all deliciously fresh. Today we were thee and took a menu at 12 euros 50---entree, main course and dessert--which for my part consisted of a lovely squid and mussel starter in a spicy sauce with a little puff pastry to go with it; guinea fowl in Provencal sauce, and a deliciously unctuous 'petit pot', a kind of baked cream, flavoured with salted-butter caramel(entree and dessert pictured here.) Fabulous!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Home cooking

Who does not love going home to their mum and dad for some great cooking? I certainly know I am going to be in for a treat as they all pull out all stops in their never ending campaign to never let anyone go hungry or dissatisfied at their table! And cooked with love and many decades of excellent experience, it is even more pleasurable...

A gorgeous roast duck the other day, brushed with a lot of honey--everything local and fresh and delicious! Starters are simple: charcuterie; salads(here grated celeriac and tomato). The only concession to their increasing age is the fact they usually buy in cake rather than make it. Or just give great cheese and fruit.

Stopover in Pithiviers

Back in France now and on our very first night, on the way to Gascony and the home of my parents, we stopped at the little town of Pithiviers, famous throughout France and beyond for its lovely almond tart. We stopped at an excellent hotel called Le Relais de la Poste in the very centre of the town, one of those traditional French hotels where you get a good room and a good dinner and breakfast for a very reasonable price. The restaurant was excellent and for 18 euros we had a delicious three course menu. I had a salad of mussels and artichokes and lardons, or bacon dice, for a starter, then a succulent piece of steak in mushroom and green pepper sauce with veges for a ain course and of course a Pithiviers tart for dessert! David had a salade campagnarde, ie with ham, goat cheese, tomato and more, for a starter, roast guinea fowl for main course and two types of Pithiviers cake for dessert(the second one was called a fondant and was more of a thick paste inside and cakey rather than the classic mille-feuille tart). And my brother Louis had duck pate with salad, a blanquette, or stew of lamb and fresh fruit salad. all very delicious!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Food in Warsaw, part 4

For our last night in Warsaw, we decided to head up to the Old Town and have something in one of the many restaurants that are scattered just about everywhere there. They have the reputation of being tourist traps serving indifferent food but the one we happened on certainly wasn't like that. Pod Samsonen (literally means 'under Samson' or 'at the sign of Samson'--lots of restaurants in Poland are prefixed by 'pod')is a lovely place with a great atmosphere and a good list of Polish and Polish Jewish food, much more varied than many of the other restaurants around there, friendly, efficient staff, and excellent prices too. To start with we had 'herring Samson', which was a delicious herring salad in sour cream, and an equally lovely smoked salmon tartare, with vodka; and then, for a main course I had fried Galician trout seasoned with garlic and plain boiled potatoes, with carrot and cabbage salad on the side; and David had roast pork medallions in plum sauce with home-made gnocchi-style noodles(not pictured.) This time we managed to have dessert--peaches cardinal(with alcohol that means!)with icecream and whipped cream, and David had little cheesecakes with whipped cream. Beer and water as well, and the whole thing only came to 105 zloty(about $32). A great note to end our dining out experience in Warsaw on!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Food in Warsaw, part 3

A bit of a change tonight, we happened on a Georgian restaurant in our wanderings around near our hotel and had a lovely dinner full of spicy flavours and the sharp rich tastes of Mediterranean vegetables--eggplant, capsicum, tomato. For 110 zloty for 2 people, we had what they called a 'set': a plate of of various starters, a main course of stuffed eggplant and capsicum and salad, and a glass each of Georgian wine. Delicious, and a nice diversion from Polish food for once.

Food in Warsaw, part 2

Lunch today was in a place recommended in just about every guide, a place simply called 'Pierrogeria', perched in a little street in the Old Town, which specialises in the Polish food par excellence, the pierogi, similar to pelmeni in Russia and ravioli in Italy and dumplings in China--little pasta parcels filled with various things. Pierogi come in boiled, baked, roasted and fried varieties. We shared a plate of boiled sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi and a plate of baked meat, cabbage and prunes pierogi, both served with onion sauce and a mixed salad of carrot, cabbage and spring onion. The pierogi were delicious, much better than the ones we had the other day in Krakow at Raspberry Grandmother's, which were too heavy because fried. These were lighter, the pasta thinner, the fillings very tasty and very freshly-made(we had to wait a while for them.) Good value too, even though it's in the Old Town which is normally tourist trap central--75 zloty for the whole meal including drinks, or about $25 or so.
We've been doing a lot of walking which is just as well as Polish food is not what you'd call light!

Food in Warsaw, part 1

Last night, our first night in Warsaw we went restaurant-hunting in the area near where we're staying, in the lovely Art Deco hotel, Hotel Rialto, in the southern part of the city, and happened across a most cosy and friendly one called Radio Cafe, named after Radio Free Europe for whom the owner used to work for in the mid-50's, when doing so meant risking ten years in prison. The resto's decorated with photos of Radio Free Europe personalities and the food's traditional Polish mostly with a few international dishes. Craving vegies other than brassicas and carrots, I had an avocado vinaigrette for a starter and then a nice plate of 'golabcki' or cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice, and David had the bigos, or hunter's stew, a characteristic Polish dish made of different meats and sauerkraut, the whole of which has been simmered for ages so the sauerkraut is very soft. It's a bit of an acquired taste--and I'm not sure we did acquire it! Both dishes were very well-made though and the place had a great atmosphere as well. Value for money as well--109 zloty for two courses each(David had dessert,a prune tart, instead of an entree)plus beer and vodka(bison-grass one) and water.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Food in Krakow part 4

Cheap lunch today at a little restaurant called Jadlodajnia, a classic 'self-serve' restaurant in the area just over the river, near Schindler's factory musem, serving traditional Polish food, simple and nicely cooked. And amazingly cheap, too--we had beetroot soup, carrot salad, sauerkraut salad and kompot(a drink made from stewed fruit, in this case plums--it's common in Russia too)for 19 zloty for the two of us--ie about 6 bucks! The soup itself, which was beetroot with some beans as well, was only 4 zloty a bowl--ie just over a dollar!

We had a light lunch so as to be able to indulge in another Krakow pasttime, cakes and coffee at one of the many wonderful little places scattered all over the city where you can order tea, coffee, wine or vodka with your gorgeous cake or lavish icecream concoction. And wasn't it well worth waiting for! I chose a cake called 'Angielski'--I think it means 'English' but I've never tasted a cake like it in England! It was a glorious concoction of layers of chocolate sponge, coconut, walnut and coffee butter cream, perfectly made, rich and luscious yet also light in feel and not too sweet--that's often the problem with shop-bought cakes in Australia I find: too sweet. These were more like cakes in France or Austria or indeed Russia where the cakes were also delicious(the best cake I ever tasted on an aeroplane was on our Aeroflot plane from Moscow the other day--a lovely crumbly base and delicious blackcurrant mousse on top--amazing! But I digress.) David had a beautiful raspberry and strawberry tart with a silky custard underneath. All the cakes in that cafe looked wonderful as witness the photos. And not too dear either at all--8 zloty each, or about $2.40!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Food in Krakow, part 3

Last night we went to the cutely-named U Babci Malini, or Raspberry Grandmother, restaurant in Krakow. Raspberry Grandmother means sweet and kind grandmother, indulgent no doubt to her grand-children, rather the same idea as 'grandmere gateau' in French. It's a gorgeous place, totally quaint and cosy and stuffed full of things--photos, dolls, wall hangings, in short decorated in a totally 'raspberry grandmother' way! And the food is nice too, and very good prices--we had two courses plus a drink for 98 zloty, or about   $28(and that's for two people!)

We shared a mixed plate of pierogi for starters--variously filled with cheese, mushroom, meat, fish--it was served on a big flat loaf of bread, very pretty. Far too many of them of course(portions are big here in Poland, much more than in Russia!) so David had to finish off most of them. Then I had a 'Transylvanian-style fried carp and potatoes' which was pretty nice except that the carp, though tasty firm white flesh had heaps of annoying little bones--you have to work for your supper! David had roast pork in a tomato and wine sauce, with kasha(buckwheat). Washed down with beer for him and a lovely honey vodka(and water, I hasten to add!). Too full for dessert again but am determined tomorrow to go to one of the lovely cake shops we've seen around here and indulge in some serious dessert!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Food in Krakow part 2

Last night we went to a famous restaurant in the Jewish quarter, called Klezmer Hois. It's in a lovely 19th cent building and the decor inside is very charming, lots of memorabilia, mirrors, etc. There's music there every night too, of the lively, melancholy traditional variety known as klezmer. And the food's great, all kinds of nicely-cooked traditional Polish Jewish food.
For starters, I had a clear beetroot soup while David had a thick hearty soup fetchingly called Yankiel the Inkeeper's Soup, which had mushrooms, meat and onions in a thick soup flavoured with cinammon. The soups were accompanied by delicious little crusty caraway-flavoured bread rolls. Then I had some nice but a little bland chicken knedlach matballs in a good dill sauce, and David had some great goose livers done in onion and apple sauce, over mash, which he washed down with beer. To finish off, as we were too full for dessert, a yummy little honey-flavoured 'Krupnik' liqueur as a digestif!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Food in Krakow, part 1

Arrived in Krakow now, enjoying it very much. And great to see the large variety of food for sale, both in restaurants, markets and shops. And it's so cheap! Last night had a lovely three course dinner for 32 zloty(about $10 AU), which consisted of traditional Polish sour soup, chlebie, which is made like kvass from fermented rye bread and then sausages, mushrooms, chicken are added--totally delicious and very nourishing! This was followed by breaded pork cutlets with horseradish soup, sauerkraut and buckwheat, all very nicely cooked, and for dessert a lovely, refreshing blackcurrant sorbet with fresh mint sauce. We waddled back to the hotel afterwards feeling a 'most elegant satisafaction!'
Today for lunch, a speciality from the markets--zapiekanka, or enormous sub-type sandwiches, on toasted fresh bread, with mushrooms and sausage or mushrooms and chicken and garlic sauce. Beat the Subway type stuff by a country mile, and very cheap--8 zloty, or about $3.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lunch at My-My(pronounced 'moo-moo'), Moscow fast food chain

My-My is a famous restaurant chain in Moscow that serves cheap and cheerful traditional Russian food--it's a system where you queue up with your tray and choose from the many yummy things on display--soups, salads, hot main courses of all sorts, also pelmeni, piroshki etc and cakes of various sorts, as well as drinks of course. The restaurants are always packed and for about 400 roubles a person(about $12) you can have soup, a main course and a drink. Pretty nice and very fast!