A France-shaped cheese in Lyon

Can’t beat a descriptive title.

I was in Lyon last weekend with my friend Anne. She knows that I’m really into my food, and that it was the first time I’d visited the city (in 16 years of living in France, shame on me). So she took me to Les Halles, the city’s indoor market, filled with 48 different food stalls, many selling regional produce, including a France-shaped goats cheese.

This particular Halles (the name given to covered food markets in France) is associated with Paul Bocuse, a multi-Michelin starred chef from the region. I’m not sure why to be honest, whether he financed the total refurb 2 years ago, or if it’s just an advertising deal. In any case, it gives quite a high-level feel to the market’s image, confirmed by the quality of the produce.

We bought a Saucisson brioché for lunch. As the name suggests, this is a cooked sausage in a brioche casing. Sounds bizarre but is delicious. I was unable to resist the quenelles, so I bought 2 types, plain and with morel mushrooms.

Quenelles are a traditional dish from Lyon, kind of like elegant dumplings made from a flour or semolina mixture and often some kind of fish (the traditional recipe uses pike). I had them for tea this week, heated in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and served with some green beans. They came out of the oven very light and fluffy and had lots of flavour.

Next stop was the bakery stall to buy a tarte à la praline. This is also regional speciality, basically a short crust pastry with cream and pralines. The one we bought was much thinner than usual (see picture) with a very fine, nutty base containing brown sugar.

It was one of those markets I love, which attracts groups of families and friends to the bars and oyster stalls for a lunchtime glass of wine. There was a huge amount of atmosphere, and that inimitable French mix of adults chatting and laughing amongst themselves while their children occupied themselves nearby.

I don’t think many French people realise it, because it’s so ingrained in their culture, but this Sunday-morning experience is what makes France such a great place: a glass of wine or two and a plate of oysters, shared with friends and family, over a random discussion about the day’s news. That’s what living is about.

You can still eat me if I’m out of date

There’s a big drive in France right now, as in other countries, to cut down on food waste. And rightly so.

I have a massive guilt trip every time I throw away unconsumed foodstuffs and try and do this as little as possible. I will regularly buy 5 new ingredients to create a dish using just one other ingredient that I’m loathe to bin (see Prawn & mango salad). My husband, whose Serbian grandmother would recount stories of WWII when literally nothing went to waste, is capable of toasting a breeze-block like baguette at the end of its 3-day life.

So I was interested to see this infographic entitled You can still eat me if I’m out of date go past on Twitter the other day. It suggests you can still drink milk 2 months beyond its best-by date (the UHT kind only I assume…), and frozen food and pulses up to several years later. To put it to the test, I’m about to make a soup with split peas which supposedly went off in October 2015, and were hiding at the back of the cupboard. We’ll see how that turns out.

It’s difficult to know if the reportedly inaccurate best-by dates are linked to some evil conspiracy by supermarkets to force us to consume ever more, or just a means of covering their backs in a society plagued by supergerms and food scares.

In any case, I think it’s a good thing to encourage consumers to push the boundaries and use good-old common sense when it comes to the foodstuffs they buy, store and consume.

Pulled lamb and jewelled couscous

The lamb in this takes a while to cook but the whole recipe is dead simple. It’s worth making a fair bit so that you can get a couple of meals out of it.

Ingredients (makes 4-5)

The lamb
1 shoulder (or leg) of lamb
Couple of dessert spoons sunflower or rapeseed oil

The couscous
½ litre vegetable stock
300g couscous
1 pomegranate
A few mint leaves
Handful of pine nuts
Handful of watercress
3 dessert spoons olive oil
Juice of ¼ lemon
Salt & pepper

1. Rub the lamb with the sunflower or rapeseed oil and a bit of salt and place in an oven dish. Cook at 140° for 3 hours. Remove from the oven and the lamb should pull off the bone easily.

2. Pour the vegetable stock over the couscous, add some salt, pepper and a dessert spoon of olive oil, and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

3. Finely chop the mint leaves and bash the seeds out of the pomegranate (see here for method). Add the mint, pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and watercress to the couscous.

4. Mix together the lemon juice and a couple of dessert spoons of olive oil with the salt and pepper, correct if necessary with more/less olive oil.

And that’s it!

Ode to the countryside

The house

Great weekend in Burgundy. One of those that revolves around catching up with friends (and sleep) and eating great food. On the latter, I’m pretty sure we spent more time at the table than not.

A highlight was cooking in and on a La Cornue, the French equivalent of an Aga, and the crème de la crème of ovens. Named after the industrial versions that were the pride of the French steel producers at the turn of the century, it is said to be made in a way that enables heat to circulate uniformly. We did make a great roast chicken with it.

The house is situated in the  Côte d’Or département which produces most of the best Burgundy wines (“Grands Crus”). Part of it was built in the 11th century, the rest in the 15th. Aside from the beautiful property, there is a great wine cellar and a huge garden containing several vegetable patches, the whole lot enclosed by a moat (a moat!).

The fab wine cellar. This bottle (which we drank and which I would highly recommend) is propped on the bar. I loved the fact that there is a bar in there!

Lovely rainbow chard in one of the vegetable patches

The last of the season’s apples

The funny thing is that I spent my teenage years in England moaning about the fact that we’d moved to a village with a one-bus-a-day service. And now there’s something about the clean, crisp air, the absolute silence at night, the rosemary growing a couple of feet from the house, and the apple trees visible from the living room, which makes me want to be here all the time.

I’m sure the irony will not be lost on my mother is she reads this. Mum, I’m sorry for all the grief I gave you!

Great weekend nonetheless.

Burger mon amour


I find the current Parisian obsession with burgers completely baffling.

Like the mushrooming of crappy steak chains in the 90s (see previous rant on Hippopotamus et al), they seem to have sprung out of nowhere and in huge number.

I know that French cuisine has been criticised internationally for not innovating or evolving enough, but surely this isn’t the answer. I also get the whole “really-need-a-grease-fix” thing, but do we really need burger restaurants in such huge number?

There are at least four burger joints (five if you count McDonalds) within a square mile of where I live: Bio Burger, Big Fernand, Le Camion Qui Fume and Mamie Burger.

The latter occupies a large space on the corner of rue du Faubourg Montmartre and rue de la Grange Batelière in the 9th district. I walked past it for about six months on the way work while it was being built, naively expecting something exciting and original to materalise, only to have my hopes dashed. And why “Mamie Burger” anyway? Is the name supposed to evoke the traditional beef patties that Granny used to put between two pieces of bread? Because if your Granny is French it’s pretty likely she never did that.

Anyway, rather like the fish and chip fad that has swept Paris (see Perfidious Albion), I reckon this latest burger obsession is just a flash in the pan (ha ha).

While it lasts though I will continue my one-woman crusade against all things burgerly. And probably found the Parisian Anti-Burger Front (PABF). Or maybe even join forces with the Anti-Burger Front of Paris (ABFP).


Les Pâtes Vivantes (Paris 9)

Les Pâtes Vivantes is one of a few places in the Richer / Montmartre neighbourhood in the 9th district that makes their own noodles on-site and within full view of passers by.

This particular restaurant has had good reviews in various magazines, and as it turns out, deservedly so. Although I have to say that if I hadn’t read any articles about it I wouldn’t have bothered as it looks completely crappy inside and out, and forces you to assume that they serve up the same mediocre, monosodium glutemate-fuelled fare found in many similar looking places in Paris.

I got the traditional noodle dish with crispy duck, which was amazing, and washed it down with a Tsingtao beer because I was feeling reckless (that’s about as reckless as it gets nowadays).

A total of 16 euros for both, and that delicious feeling of not needing to eat for another month thanks to a ridiculously generous portion of noodles.

Valençay cheese

This weekend’s cheese is a Valençay made from goats’ milk. It hails from le Berry, a region in the centre of France which is impossible to find on a map because it’s not a constituency (or equivalent), however all French people seem to know exactly where it is. If you’re talking to a Parisian it’s usually because they have a country home there. The cheese’s distinct shape was apparently inspired by the bell tower on the church in a village called Levroux.

I got this one from the usual place, Julhès on rue du Faubourg St Denis. They give you a choice between a dry, crumbly texture and a softer, fattier one. I’m partial to the latter. The outer casing, which is unappetisingly referred to as “mould” in English (after all, that’s pretty much what it is) is called a “flowery crust” on the official French website. The floweriness is quie apt as it definitely adds to the flavour, as well as providing a contrast to the smooth and silky white cheese inside. And is lovely with the last of this season’s grapes.