Amanda on January 2nd, 2011
Chocolate Cranberry Tart

Chocolate Cranberry Tart

All Christmassed out?  Up to your ears in leftovers?  Turn them to stunningly good account.

Cold turkey is of course old hat nowadays – to mix my metaphors thoroughly – and recipes for big bird leftovers ooze from every TV chef’s repertoire like icing from a bag.  But what on earth do you do with all those cranberries?  Are you one of those who makes three times as much as required – just in case – and ends up with half a kilo of delicious cranberry and orange relish that you can’t even sell with a roast chicken?  Or maybe you buy yours readymade, two jars – just in case – and end up using half a jar?

And then on New Year’s Eve your daughter drops a bombshell of nuclear proportions.  She’s off for a sleepover, everybody is taking a dish and she – which means you, in code – has been detailed to provide a pudding.  You have two hours and the shops are closed.  Got a couple of eggs?  Then this, my dear gastronomes, is for you. Read More »

Chocolate Cranberry Tart from French Life

Amanda on January 2nd, 2011
Game Pie

Game Pie

Serves eight hungry hunters

Boxing Day, and despite your massive efforts in the kitchen during the previous twenty-four hours, more food is required to feed your healthy-walking, out-hunting, let’s-all-get-fit outdoor types.  Game pie is the answer.  It is filling, beautiful, utterly delicious and makes a jaw-dropping centrepiece for the cold table.  You can – indeed you should – make it two or three days in advance.  Fill in the spaces with salad, chutneys and some baked potatoes and you’re all set.

Of course all game pies are made with that mysteriously tricky-sounding pastry, a hot water crust.  Well I’ll let you into a secret, it’s a doddle.  Follow the rules and you can’t go wrong.  Just one pointer – there is no substitute for lard.  It’s not common here in southern France, so I have to trot along to the butcher and winkle some out of him.  What a sweetie, he spent a good five minutes digging some out, putting it in a tub, sealing it, wrapping it and then asked if I wanted anything else… I didn’t of course.  He charged me sixty cents and I felt an absolute heel! Read More »

Easy Peasy Pheasant Game Pie from French Life

Amanda on December 24th, 2010
Cenac In The Snow

Cenac In The Snow

Dawn revealed a sparkling scene. The huge pines at the bottom of the valley were veiled in a delicate frost, junipers shook the icing sugar from their needle sharp leaves, oaks bowed under the weight of their snow overcoats and forest animals creeping ever closer to the warmth of human habitation. It was Christmas Eve in the Quercy.

Early that morning I visited the age-old Christmas market in Cahors, standing at the edge of the cobbled square I wondered how many Christmases have rolled by in that ancient place, how many market scenes almost identical to the one I was witnessing. Birds of every kind were laid out in thrilling abundance, delicate quail, boned and stuffed, caponed guinea fowl, half-plucked turkeys of every breed imaginable, hung head-down over the counters, wings spread to prove their breed, and of course the ubiquitous duck. But the goose has always been king here, and it is still. A fat Toulouse goose is the perfect centre piece for the Christmas table. Read More »

Christmas In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on January 10th, 2010
Frosty Walk

A Frosty Walk In The Woods

Welcome to the freezing Quercy in deep mid-winter. Today marks Epiphany and the end of the festive season. It’s the end of puddings and pies and Buche de Noel, the end of Bing for another year, and the start of a new life for our Norwegian spruce in the little copse behind the old orchard. Much as I look forward to the hustle and bustle of Christmas every year, I look forward even more to this.
Outside the temperatures are dropping, a scattering of snow ices the view from my window and more is forecast. The deserted vines are no more than marching ranks of tangled wire. The oaks have finally shed their leaves and a six-inch carpet swathes the forest floor. Morning walks have taken on an eerie quality, apart from the odd creaking bough, the woods are absolutely silent. Scarlet rosehips dangle like forgotten Christmas baubles right in my path and the acid-green of an early hellebore catches the eye. Read More »

The Cold, Calm, Hopeful Days of Epiphany from French Life

Amanda on December 14th, 2009
Frosted Juniper

Frosted Juniper

Strong northerly winds have swept the vines bare, the temperatures are dropping fast and outside my warm kitchen snow is falling. The prickly junipers and rosemaries on our rocky hillside, that in summer hang so grimly on to their precious water resources in searing tropical heat, are now half frozen and veiled with white. The Mediterranean pines are beginning to look like the marches of the Arctic Circle.

Winter has arrived in the Quercy.

In the fields sheep huddle in their winter woolly jumpers. A lone donkey watched me nonchalantly as I walked swiftly past – snowflakes gathering on his eyelashes – he stood there patiently waiting for the storm to pass, he’s a wise old beast and he’s seen it all before. I could spy a familiar figure toiling in the distance. Monsieur the elder was pruning his vines. Why now? I wondered for the hundredth time, why do they wait until the weather is cold enough to freeze a bowl of soup in thirty seconds? I really must enquire one day. As I neared his vineyard it rather looked as if I was going to get the chance, he spotted me, and came wading, waist-deep through the immaculate ranks.

‘Beh, ma belle!’ He greeted me affectionately, removing his beret and preparing to scratch my cheeks. As I gingerly pushed back my swathes of wrappings to receive his enthusiastic embrace I noticed his worn shirt and waistcoat, reinforced with just a light jacket. He wasn’t even wearing gloves. He is well into his nineties and as fit as any man around. They breed them tough in these parts.

Winter Has Arrived In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on January 1st, 2007
Thick Frost

Thick Frost

What a breathtakingly beautiful Christmas we enjoyed here in the Quercy. It wasn’t strictly white because it didn’t actually snow, but I’m sure if I hadn’t just allowed the secret to slip, you’d never have known. It was five degrees below zero, and the accumulation of over a weeks worth of frost on the landscape transformed our valley into a magical world of myth and legend. As we walked along the little lane, in a feeble effort to shrug off the lunchtime goose, we found ourselves in a tunnel of white. The laden trees bowed towards us, sharp rocks were slippery with ice and the only colour to be seen was the vermilion of the rosehips hanging like Christmas tree baubles in the frosted shrubs. Tantalising glimpses of the view revealed turreted farmhouses buried in frozen vines and dusted with icing sugar; witches castles from another world. Read More »

Frosty French Life from French Life

Amanda on January 5th, 2006
Winter Frost

Winter Frost

The festive season has arrived!  And here in sunny southern France the Quercy has been frozen into a Narnian landscape, enchanting and exceptionally beautiful but wickedly cold.  A wardrobe full of fur coats would be a definite asset.
The markets are winding up for Christmas, the geese are already fat and glorious and the Christmas Eve market in Cahors will be the centre of the commercial celebrations this Saturday.  Magnificent, be-ribboned birds will be laid out in all their glory. Ducks, guinea fowl, black turkeys and pheasants will all be jostling for position if you don’t fancy – or can’t accommodate – the traditional bird.  But the famous Quercy goose will take pride of place and comes away with all the honours. Read More »

Christmas in the Quercy 2005 from French Life