Friday, 17 July 2015

Tour de France Food and Drink Stages 4 to 9

So, leaving the Low Countries behind, the Tour headed into the heartland of French cycling: Brittany.  On the way it passed through Normandy as well, presenting a few key characteristic culinary highlights.  I looked at some Belgian fare for Stage 4 but the stage actually crossed the border and finished in France.  To accompany my second helping of stoofvleesas I had drunk all my Leffe the night before, I had a pint of Landship beer, as what could be more appropriate for a finish ending in Cambrai?  This was produced by the Dorset Brewing Company for the Bovington Tank Museum and matched the stew perfectly.

Anyway, Normandy means Camembert.  Unlike medieval Gouda, which I looked at last time, Camembert has a rather more recent history.  Traditionally being first made in 1791 by Marie Havel, who worked at the Manor of Beaumoncel and learned the secret of soft cheese with an edible rind from Abbot Charles-Jean Bonvoust, who had been a resident of Brie.

Camembert (on the left) fuelled French troops during World War 1

Although the story may be apocryphal, Havel was a real person and her descendants certainly made Camembert the world-wide commercial success it later became.  It wasn't until 1890 that the typical wooden box was devised, by one Eugène Ridel, which enabled it to be shipped all over the globe.  Its position as a symbol of Frenchness was cemented in the Great War when Camembert formed part of the standard rations of French soldiers.

As it was in Trinity Square

I sought in vain for my favourite Normandy cheese, Livarot, especially as Stage 7 began in the town.  A cheese with  a longer history than Camembert, I remember eating it regularly with my friend HMS in Chez Gérard in Trinity Square.  At one point they had such a fetching French waitress working there that we went every week just to hear her pronounce "Livarot"; to which she managed, delightfully, to inject several extra syllables.  Fortunately, the manager ensured we were always sat at one of her tables. She earned a lot of money in tips from us.  Sadly, the chain is no more, going bust in 2011 and the eight Chez Gérard restaurants were sold to Raymond Blanc, who has re-branded them as Brasserie Blanc, in which guise the Trinity Square restaurant (overlooking the Tower of London) still exists.

Anyway, to provide some variation I added some French paté and, of course some cornichons which I first had with paté in a restaurant in Normandy on a holiday in the early eighties.

Normandy means cider, of course (I decided that buying a bottle of Calvados shortly before having a regular blood test at the doctor's was not a wise idea).  A few years ago it was relatively easy to get Normandy cider in British supermarkets but that was before the cider explosion of the last few years which has seen many more British ciders on sale but also Irish "modern" types and one ubiquitous Swedish brand.  These have all squeezed out the Normandy product. Even our local Waitrose branches didn't have it but I did get some, eventually, in the Waitrose in the basement of John Lewis in Kingston, which has a specialist wine and beer department.

Stages 7,8 and 9 were all in Brittany so I decided a nice generic Breton chicken dish was called for.  This involved cooking chicken separately in one pan and then gently sauteing cubes of apple, onion and leeks in another pan.  You then return the chicken to the pan and add enough cider to cover everything before letting it bubble away for forty five minutes or so.

Before serving, I added a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and some cream and let it simmer for five minutes.  It went very well with more cider.  Finding Breton cider really was impossible!

Next time the Tour reaches the Pyrenees, a part of France the Legatus remembers from his childhood.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Tour de France Food and Drink Stages 1 to 4


n the last year or so I have taken to trying to match some of the regional food and drink to the stages of the Tour de France when I watch it on TV.  This year, as I am no longer working from home, time is a little short, so my approach has been much more impressionistic (appropriately) than, say, last year when I managed a different beer or wine for every stage.  An added complication this year has been that the start of the tour has been entirely in the north of France, Belgium and the Netherlands which means no wine regions at all.  Last year, at least, after a beery start in Yourkshire and Flanders we travelled to the Champagne region and Alsace. 

Stage 1 and 2 took place in the Netherlands, a country with as interesting a cuisine as its landscape.  Try as I might I couldn't seem to find a typical Dutch recipe other than the fact they eat meat and vegetables.  Great.  No wonder the most interesting food in the Netherlands comes from Indonesia.

However Stage 2 went through the town of Gouda which, apart from Edam, is about the only Dutch food product you can buy in a UK supermarket.  Not all Gouda has to come from Gouda but Tesco's mature Gouda does and very good it is too.  A long way from the mild Edam substitute most supermarkets sell.  Strong and nutty.  Gouda was first mentioned in the twelfth century which makes it one of the oldest recorded cheeses in the world.

Getting a Dutch beer also proved quite tricky (compared with obtaining Belgian beer, for example) but I went for Amstel, not because it is particularly interesting (still better than Heineken, though) but because it has a strong link to cycling in that the brewery is a long time sponsor of the Amstel Gold classic cycle race.

Stage 3 was entirely within Belgium and here I was rescued by Tom Murrath with  a link to a Belgian recipe for stoofvlees.  This was a beef stew with beer and was a very straightforward and delicious recipe, although I simplified it somewhat.  I cooked a chopped onion (the recipe says not too finely chopped) in a casserole and browned the beef in a heavy frying pan.

Once the meat has browned (it needs to fry, not stew, so a reasonably high heat and continuous turning is called for) put it the casserole with the onions and some salt and pepper.  Belgians will add local apple-pear syrup at this point but I left it out, due to its unavailability and the sugar content.  Then deglaze the frying pan with brown Belgian beer.  I sued some Leffe, a beer, I confess, to never having had before.  Once the beer has reached boiling point, pour it into the casserole with the meat and onions.  I added a bouquet garni and topped it up with more beer.

You then need to spread mustard on two slices of dark bread (I used rye bread as I am not supposed to have too much wholemeal) and put it mustard side down on top of the mixture. Then cook on a low heat for three hours.  You can leave the lid off the casserole until the sauce gets thick enough. Belgians add a dash of vinegar at this point which, with the syrup, gives a sweet and sour effect.

In Belgium they serve this with chips and mayonnaise (inevitably) but I don't have a deep fat fryer and, anyway, I'm not really allowed chips, so it was just peas for me.  In fact the recipe is rich enough that it doesn't really need anything else.   This was a really delicious recipe which I will make again.  The meat, after three hours cooking, is really tender and absorbs the bear.  The bread disintegrates nicely and infuses the sauce with the mustard.  I drank the rest of the Leffe with it which was a very fine beer indeed, dark brown with a beige, frothy head; very malty, chocolatey and quite sweet.

Normandy and Brittany next!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Free glass at Waterloo station!

A new Battle of Waterloo monument, dinosaurs and summery young ladies.  It's been all go at Waterloo Station over the last month.  Today we had ladies handing out special Wimbledon Stella Artois glasses.  Well worth taking advantage of!  

Fortunately, I left work early today so I could get home and eat before seven o'clock, as I have a fasting blood test tomorrow.  I suspect they may have run out by the real rush hour.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Food and drink for the Tour de France 2015

This year's tour is going to be a culinary challenge, given its peculiar route.  Starting, as it did today, in the Netherlands and then going into Belgian and French Flanders before travelling across Normandy and Brittany for the first ten days, Stages 1 to 9 take part in beer and cider regions.  No wine until stage 10!   Even worse the wine regions the route does go through are rather esoteric, starting, for example with Jurançon and, because of the high number of mountain stages this year, lurking in places like Haute-Savoie.

Added to this is the fact that I am now commuting every day so will not have time for extended cooking.  I think it is going to be more of a wine (and beer) and cheese Tour this year!  At least tomorrow is easy as the route goes through the town of Gouda!