Sunday, 27 February 2011


Quelle belle journée !
Tomorrow, the 28th february is the final day of the hunting season for gibier; deer and wild boar. No more hooting horns disturbing my Saturday morning lie-in, no more trucks passing on the road laden with bleeding carcasses of deer who perhaps barely a week a go had caught my eye from the field below. No more local men dressed in their fluorescent plastic overalls tramping through the fields accompanied by their rather silly, yapping dogs.
Hooray! Another year over....

Mr La Vie Cambot - a shooter at all that moves

No matter how long I live or have lived in the countryside, I will never quite understand the logic of hunting. I’ve heard all the arguments about how important it is to control wild boar numbers and the deer population so that their lives are richer ! Such a joke.
Every thursday at the market or every year, I hear the local hunters complaining that numbers are down so if numbers are so low why do they need to control them. Anyway what makes us human beings so entitled to control nature in the first place. Haven't we done a pretty bad job over the past centuries to prove it?
We perhaps are lucky here in Mailhos as the local Sauveterre hunting club is a little more respectful than others. Just think about the italians hunters, who killed 35 innocent citizens in their first four days of the season this year. At least the only people dying around hère are the hunters themselves who have a tendency to fall off trees with a respectable 2g/litre of alcohol in their blood or else shoot themselves. Imagine if hunters were not allowed to drink during hunting hours, i’m sure there wouldn't be many left. At lunchtime on a weekend, they manage to knock down a few litres of red and by 4pm are loaded again with their rifles and back on the beat.
Sweet little things in winter...

Jean Francois is constantly telling me that 25% of France is still covered in native forest not because the french love trees but because hunting is still a national sport. I suppose this is logical and I suppose its a good reason to not complain too much about their activities. I still can play the mad irish woman when required. If the odd hunter strays onto our land with his dogs, I have a spécial outfit of red dressing gown and Brown hand-knitted irish cap that I put on to go out to meet them in the fields. I can tell you the hunters don’t stay long when they see this red apparition arriving.
With the season ending I've once again been given 10 kilos of venison by the hunting club for being so patient with them or perhaps to keep an evil spirit at bay. Anyway close my eyes and forget the beauty of these animals and start cooking.

Filet of Venison with caper and sultana butter

1 saddle of venison
100g (3.5 oz) butter
12 garlic cloves
A small glass of white wine
1tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper

Caper and sultana butter
150g (5oz) softened butter
150g (5oz) sultanas
150g (5oz) salted capers
3tbs red wine vinegar

Four 200°C/400°F/6-7
Rinse the capers in water and blanch them for a few seconds in boiling water. Do the same thing with the sultanas. Put both ingrédients in a mixer and chop them with the softened butter and the vinegar. Once you have a smooth mix and have tested the seasoning, spread the butter on a small sheet of aluminium foil, roll it up like a sausage and keep it in the fridge until you need it.

Season the saddle of venison. In a oven dish large enough to fit the méat, melt a large knob of butter and when it starts to froth, add the méat and fry lightly on either side.
Surround the meat with the garlic cloves and place in a hot over for 20 minutes or less if you like it rare. Baste the meat often with the butter.
Put the meat, butter and garlic on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Deglaze the oven dish with the white wine and the Worcestershire sauce and reduce by half.
Strain this wine mixture and mix with the cooking butter. Check the seasoning.

Cut the bone from the saddle of venison and slice thickly. Arrange in a plate where wine sauce has been poured and place a équivalent size pièce of caper butter on each pièce of méat.
Place the dish in the oven to to just melt the butter and warm the meat through. Serve with a celeriac purée.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Confit de Canard

Introduction to the best duck confit producer in the region or in the world for that matter. His name is Jean-Michel Berho and he and his wife Christine have installed their farm and farm shop in Domezain, in the Basque country, less than 10km from our home. Jean Michel is one of those crazy inventor type people who, if he was not raising ducks, would be sitting in some isolated room under a stairwell, inventing machines to heat up a bottle of milk without the use of electricity or something in that vein.
As a fat duck farmer, which is the literal translation of what he does, has invented a system for his ducks that lets him feed their livers until the foie is gras without the cruelty involved. The duck is not forced to feed because at any stage of the feeding process he can pull away as he is not held in place. The duck still continues to feed from sheer gluttony and the result is a purely delicious, nutty flavoured, foie gras that is almost digestable. His farm is one of the rare farms where they still raise the Kriazera or basque duck which is renowned for the quality of its meat and the tastiness of its livers but of course is not so common anymore as the bird takes far longer to grow to an adult and is therefore too expensive to feed.
The ducks are raised, from a very young age, in an apple orchard and fields of 10 hectares replete with duck pond and river and apart from the brief period of gavage in the final stage of their lives, are constantly in the fresh air. From where I stand in the heat of the summer months, looking down from the farmhouse to the apple trees, they look pretty happy and healthy and unlike like the duck farms that are springing up everywhere around the south west of France to satiate the chinese appetite for french foie gras.
The corn used for feeding the ducks is certainly not any banal GMO variety but his own selected, ancient corn variety which is naturally high in protein but low in fat. His crop is organic without having the organic label as he likes to remain free to grow his crops and feed his animals without text book ideas, rather like the mad professor under the stairwell I suppose but with a lot of humanity and awareness of goodness and taste.

Online shop on EYHARTZEA
His magret or filet of duck (sous vide) is marvellous as well as his confit and foie gras which I prefer mi-cuit…..

Sunday, 20 February 2011


Apart from my own mother, there are not many people I know who still make their own bread. Down here is the Bearn, I have to so as not to have to eat the tasteless baguette they call bread here. Its a little disgusting for my own personal taste as I expect bread to taste like bread or at least wheat. My mother has made a loaf of Brown soda bread every day for as long as I can remember and must be the most nutritious breads in existence. When we were young in Ireland, two buttered slices and an apple always felt like a good supper.
This recipe is inspired by Darina Allens recipe at Ballymaloe house near my home in Ireland and suits my tempérament perfectly well. Its easy and quick to make, needing no kneading or bread-making machines, rises in one go and as far as work goes, it takes less than five minutes of your time.

Remember yeast is a living organism and like many of us has a sweet tooth, likes to keep warm so its in your interest to be nice to it. A water température over 50° will kill it so keep your water just warm. Its possible to use, dried or fresh yeast but down here in the south-west, fresh yeast is in short supply so a good organic (non-OGM) packet version does the job.

I like to use a good rough, stone-ground wholemeal flour as I like both the texture and flavour but its possible to use finer flour.

Treacle or molasses
In Ireland they use treacle but here in the Bearn, a jar of dark molasses does the trick. The taste is a little less sweet but more bread like. Gives a slight caramel taste.

NB. Ingrédients and equipment should be at room temperature before using.

Brown Yeast Bread

Makes 1 loaf

500g (1lb) Stone-ground wholemeal flour
1tsp salt
1 tsp black molassses or treacle
500ml (3/4 pint) warm water
3tsp dried yeast
Sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 230°C/450°F/8

In a small warm bowl, mix the molasses with half the warm water and yeast. Leave to sit for 5 minutes in a warm place or until the yeast begins to work and develops a creamy, frothy surface..
Mix the flour with the salt in a warmed mixing bowl.
Make a well in the middle and pour in the yeast mixture with the remaining warm water. The mixture should be too moist to knead !
Turn the mixture into a warmed, buttered tin. Sprinkle a few sésame seeds on the surface if you like. Cover the tin with a tea towel (which prevents a skin from forming) and leave the bread to rise which will take 10-20 minutes depending on the kitchen température.

When the dough reaches the top of the tin, remove the tea towel and pop the tins in the oven. The bread will rise a little more in the oven.

Cook for 20 minutes. Redude the oven température to 200°C/400°F/6 and cook for a further 40 minutes until the bread is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped.

You can remove the tins from the bread 10 before the end of cooking and put them back in to oven to crisp. If you like a softer crust, there is no need to this.

Saturday, 19 February 2011


First pots of aubergine and peppers sown.
I always overdo this and once again I have sown 12 aubergine plants (2 varieties) and an amazing 32 plants (15 varieties) of sweet pepper, hot chilli, very hot chilli and one apparently very very hot chili which will burn the socks off the toughest indian.
These seeds take the longest to germinate and even when the time comes to plant out the plants in early May, they are still very small despite the three and a half months of time they have spent lazing in a pot in the greenhouse. They need a good 20° heat to germinate, so right now the pots are nestled together in a mini greenhouse within my big greenhouse and despite the damp conditions outside, the thermometer within hit 26° today..... Now we just have to be patient ! piperade, harissa and goulash - here we come....

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Seville Oranges

Its at this time of the year that the local markets get their delivery of Seville oranges or oranges améres in french. For some unexplained reason, organic produce is always later in the season than the conventional ones. Perhaps all those nice tasty pesticides make the fruit ripen quicker.
These Seville oranges, are very different to their sweeter cousins that you find all year round. They are only available in January and February and marmalade makers await their arrival impatiently. Under the thick, elephantic skin of the orange, the flesh is tart and packed with seeds. The high acidity makes it perfect for preserves or for a meat sauce that cuts through the rich and fattiness of duck and some meats. I also like to use it as a replacement for lemon or lime juice in ceviche or a little bit of the peel left to infuse in a bottle of olive oil makes a tangy oil dressing for more bitter leaves such as dandelion or roquette. They are even great for making ice cream or sorbet but maybe later in the year. Its possible to freeze them whole and keep them for sunnier days when their juice will be even more appreciated.
But right now I have to make marmalade for my man who just cannot wait for the first pot. I myself am not a big jam lover but as you will see I am often bound by marriage vows to do so.

Deborah's Seville Orange Marmalade

(makes about 5kg (11lb)

700g (1.5lb) Seville oranges
700g (1.5lb) other citrus fruit - grapefruit, tangerine, limes and lemons
2.3kg (6lb) granulated sugar

Put the fruit in a large saucepan or jam pan with 2.3 litres (4 pints) water and simmer gently for about six hours.
Remove the fruit from the water and cut each in half. Scoop out the pips into a small saucepan, cover with 300ml (1/2 pint) water and simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool, then strain this liquid into the jam pan with the water the fruit cooked in.
While the pips are simmering, cut up the fruit by hand or by food processor. Put the fruit back in the the water in the jam pan. Add the sugar and cook on a low hear, stirring occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved. Then boil furiously, and after 10 minutes pull the pan off the heat to test whether the marmalade is setting. Do this by dripping some marmalade on a cold saucer. Leave it for a few minutes and if the skin on top of the marmalade wrinkles when you push the surface of the sample with the tip of your finger, you have a set. If it is still runny, put the jam back on the heat, boil vigorously for 5 minutes and test again. Always pull the pan off the heat before testing.
Pot while still hot into warmed jars.

Vin d'Orange

8 Seville or bitter oranges
1 Lemon
1 Lime
half a litre of eau de vie or vodka
700g cane sugar
2 litres of a good rose wine
1 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick

Cut the oranges, lemon and lime into quarters. Mix the sugar in a large recipient (I use an old ceramic jar) with the alcohol and then add the fruit, vanilla and cinnamon. Cover. Leave to macerate in a cool place for 3 weeks stirring every few days. Strain through a muslim cloth into clean bottles and cork. Keeps in a cool place for over a year.

Start the year

Violets, apricots, almond flowers are in bloom. Even the red vine anemones that normally grace our gardens in April have appeared. Its all very strange this year and 2011 has just begun. I'm just hoping they will survive without a big frost so that we may have jam!