ST PATRICKS DAY SUPPER CLUB

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We moved here fourteen years ago, and it’s been an interesting journey, especially getting to know different people from different walks of life. As funny as it may seem, we have met quite a few Irish people and some of our best friends are from the Emerald Isle. This always makes the Six Nations an interesting tournament - nothing like some healthy rivalry! After the excitement of the final three matches on Saturday 16th March, and an incredibly well-deserved win for the Welsh (I was happy about this as my Dad is Welsh and to say he is fond of rugby would be putting it mildly!), we thought it would be nice to celebrate St Patrick’s Day with a supper club, but making it a Sunday lunch affair.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any Irish decorations, but we brightened up the room with green and orange and we invited a crowd! It was a rather busy weekend as we had also celebrated the birthday of our beautiful daughter, Rosie, on the Saturday.

‘What would you like to do? Anything at all...’ we asked. She replied, ‘Ice-skating!’ Matt tried his damndest to get out of it, pulling more and more ridiculous excuses out of the hat as the day fast approached. Luckily, I managed to borrow our good friends’ 7 seater car which meant that we could all go!

‘Yippee’ from the children, ‘Grrrrr!’ from Matt. It was a lovely day out indeed and Matt did manage a few rounds of the rink. No-one fell over and we all left with ten fingers so a triumph in my eyes! 

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We were under a little more pressure with the Sunday supper club as we hadn’t had a day to prepare as we normally would have, and everyone would be arriving at lunch time. It is fair to say, we were a bit pressed! An hour before the guests arrived, Matt had the cooking under control and got stuck into building a bigger table, as one does! He quickly rustled up two pieces of plyboard, a few screws, a quick wash and dry later and sufficient table space had been created. The magic of a couple of white table clothes and flowers transformed the room into a pretty restaurant! Phew!

I think Matt and I were the first to sample the black velvet cocktails we were serving. After racing around since seven o’clock, we were ready for a ten minute break! What an interesting mix! Classic I know, but Guinness and Champagne? It was smooth and refreshing, light and tasty, I couldn’t pour them quick enough!

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Et voilà le menu!

Feta baskets
Beech smoked mackerel mousse served on pickled kohlrabi
Mousse de foie with onion confit

Scallops, courgette, burnt onions with leek purée and confit lemon dressing

Irish lamb stew, twelve-hour cooked lamb-shoulder, onion, potato, turnip, swede and sweet potato

Gambas cocktail with spicy wood roasted pineapple salsa and potato bread

Whole roasted sirloin of beef, roscoff onion puree, colcannon with garlic kale and pickled shallots

Walnut, honey and whisky tart served with Guinness ice-cream

Cheeseboard

Irish coffee served with Irish cream truffles

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Canapés are generally a lot of work. They take a while to prepare as there are so many elements and a while to serve, requiring care and a gentle hand. But I love them! They set the bar and get people talking and socializing together in a relaxed atmosphere. They give you the perfect opportunity to be colourful and creative - delicious little mouthfuls of punchy flavours!

Trying to do something a bit different, Matt wanted to do four smaller courses rather than starter, main etc. He always wows the guests with his innovative, interesting ideas, showstopper after showstopper indeed!

Each dish combined wonderful ingredients that sat beautifully on one’s palate. Seasonal vegetables, succulent meat/fish, elements of wood-fired cooking, all held together with a smooth sauce - making the dish stand out!

The Irish stew had the whole table in debate! What is a swede? a turnip? A parsnip? a sweet potato?? Do they have the same names in Ireland, Scotland and England - apparently not! How do you say them in French? I remember when we moved here I struggled to get parsnips! This interesting debate was settled when Matt brought the vegetables to the table in their raw state in order to give a quick masterclass in root veggies!

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The walnut, whisky and honey tart was sweet but not too heavy. It worked well to finish the meal. The Guinness ice cream was great! There was the delicate undertone of the Guinness, the texture was light but decadently creamy. I would recommend this - everyone loved it!

After the 7 hours milling away a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the guests and friends began to leave. We were left with plates piled high, a fridge full of delights for the next day, a hard day’s work, but well worth it! An eclectic group had joined together to enjoy a fabulous feast - both celebrating and show casing wonderful food and drink originating in Ireland. Tired out, I put myself to bed with my daughter at 8.30 pm, ready for school in the morning! Mange tout!

Thank you Roger Stowell for the amazing photographs!

VALENTINES DAY SUPPER CLUB

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What a lovely time to have a supper club - Valentine’s Day! We welcomed a wonderful group of people and spent a really lovely evening together.


The decorating was really fun for this special night. My six-year-old daughter and I had a really sweet afternoon together making rustic name tags out of corks and using little wooden hearts and red glitter to celebrate the theme. We bought oodles of red ribbon that we tied around the candles and vases for a sumptuous effect and then we were ready to go!

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Matt tries to make his menus interesting and memorable, packing lots of flavour into each element of the dish and carefully balancing the overall taste experience. The Valentine’s theme gave us the opportunity to be opulent and extravagant!


I saw a passion fruit martini from Merlin Griffiths @MerlinFCD4 and thought this was a really lovely idea. It has vodka, passion fruit liquor and lime juice mixed and poured over ice, then topped up with fizzy white wine; I used Prosecco. It is then served with a spoon and half a passion fruit. I sprinkled a few cherry blossoms on top. It was very sweet to welcome the guests with – and a good talking point! 

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Matt really went to town with the canapés, they were scrumptious! Toasts served with either sticky prawns, homemade mackerel pate or beef with chimichurri, and some griddled courgette rolls stuffed with feta and spices.


The starter was a juicy piece of ling, a delicious chunky white fish served with clam sauce and pan fried ling and clams, pickled beetroot, and black and red radish with ginger. Roasted cauliflower and aubergine purée from the wood fire gave the smoky element we love and all finished with a creamy clam sauce.


We managed to squeeze in a cheeky mise en bouche: scallops with a butternut velouté. Heavenly smooth and sweet!

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For the main, the star of the dish was duck. We had wood-roasted magret served with confit legs and thighs. It was then cooked in some thick homemade stock and oyster sauce with some other aromatics so it became really sticky and was a real crowd pleaser. This was served with glazed carrots and Jerusalem artichokes cooked in butter, white wine, bay and garlic. All on a bed of sweet potato and swede purée which was really colourful. We don’t eat duck very often so it definitely felt like a special occasion!


I had tried to use flavours that were romantic, hence the passion fruit cocktail! For the dessert, I made a raspberry and Prosecco semifredo served with raspberry coulis, fresh passion fruit and organic candied rose petals. This can be very rich, but the tartness from the berries and the tang of the passion fruit cut through the cream and the Prosecco lifted the texture.


The cheeseboard was devoured as always! When in France ...

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To finish, I had wanted to try improving my confectionery skills, so I had made several petits fours to go with the coffee (or rose tea – I took every opportunity to embrace the theme!) I remember making coconut ice as a child. It’s very easy and totally delicious. To go with this, I made some Turkish delight. Again, this was a childhood favourite of mine. I adore the rose flavour. I must admit this is a tricky process and took quite a bit of time. I am not sure I totally mastered it, but not far off. It was enjoyable having a go and would definitely do it again. Finally, I made some white chocolate and rosewater fudge with fresh rose petals sprinkled on top. This was really creamy and unctuous. It melted in the mouth and was so moreish, I was very happy with this!


We thoroughly enjoyed the evening and want to say a massive thank you to our guests for their great company. Looking forward to the next!

JANUARY SUPPER CLUB

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The supper club has proved to be a lovely idea. The process of deciding the theme, designing the menu, sourcing the products and finding appropriate decorations is such a satisfying thing to do. The theme is key, and helps the other elements to fall into place.

Having Burns night as our first theme went very well. Ninety percent of our guests were French and were fascinated by the idea of celebrating this classic poet. They had all been googling what it entailed and we found ourselves being questioned about haggis and other traditions that are often part of the event.We had decided to embrace beautiful Scottish produce and design a menu around this as inspiration.

It was a pleasure to use such delicious ingredients. The year before last we were lucky enough to run a cookery course with world-renowned chef Mark Greenaway, a passionate patron ofScottish produce and food. He helped to show us the importance of using seasonal produce. It’s the natural moment for that fruit or vegetable to be in its element, it tastes the best it ever will. Paying attention to what is going on around us and respecting the seasons is of utmost importance to Matt as a chef.

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Here is the menu, with lots of beautifulwinter vegetables to brighten up the dishes.

Aperitif
Whisky with marshmallow syrup and roasted marshmallow

Canapés
Whisky-cured gravlax with horseradish cream on toast

Smoked duck and crispy shallot andredcurrant jelly on toast

StarterButter-poached langoustine, scallop, roasted fennel puree, beetroot, baby salad with dill oil

Amuse bouche
Shellfish bisque with parmesan crisp

Main
Filet of venison, winter vegetable tower, greens and roasted bone marrow sauce

Dessert
Chocolate, whisky and orange mousse with crème fraîche and whisky shortbread

Cheese course with Scottish oatcakes

Coffee served with homemade pistachio, whisky and chocolate truffles/vanilla fudge

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Something we have recently become aware of is exactly how much the Frenchlove whisky! Apparently, after China, France is the biggest worldwide consumer of the malt delight. Who knew? 

It was an obvious choice to get whisky into the menu, and we started with the delicious whisky aperitif served with a marshmallow syrup. I’m not a whisky drinker myself, but this was sweet and homely with the toasted marshmallow and reminded me of bonfire night. It went down well and people enjoyed the drama! People were coming back for seconds!

Of course, Matt couldn’t miss the opportunity to cure the salmon in whisky to make his own gravlax. The fish was so tender and succulent, with a tangy kick from the alcohol: it is always a crowd pleaser.

I love being asked for my input with the menus as I make sure that a few of my own favourites are featured. Literally from heaven, this starter was divine. The fennel purée is rich in flavour and texture. It brings a sense of luxury to the dish. To inject some colour, which we feel is very important, beetroot is the best! Such a blast of red to excite the guests! People very much appreciated the interesting flavour combinations that made Matt's food stand out. The presentation was very delicate and people were very happy with the evening ... so far!


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I am afraid the shellfish bisque being on the menu might be my fault too, it’s just scrumptious! Such a lot of the depth comes from having good stocks and consequently good sauces. A beautiful broth made with prawn shells, butter and cream for a touch of decadence and a nice juicy langoustine! I really can’t take any more credit for the food than a small input with the menu. It is all down to Matt’s skill, passion and flare.

One of the delights of having seasons is the variety that awaits you with each change in the weather. Beautiful winter vegetable towers are such a wonderful accompaniment for most meats. They take the dish to the next level, bringing anintense depth of flavour, rich with the different root vegetables coming through with lashings of butter. The venison was cooked over the coals of the wood fire. It melted in the mouth and the whole plate came together with the glossy, concentrated bone marrow sauce. Plating is paramount as there are strong flavoursand bold ingredients that must be balanced together. After all, we need a little room to squeeze in some pudding!

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I kept it small, and we went the English way of dessert followed by cheese. It was interesting for the French guests to have a sweet in the middle of two savourycourses: I think they think we are a little bit crazy! But I love having the cheeseboard left on the table to keep coming back to,Maybe this is one of my downfalls! The Scottish oatcakes as accompaniments looked pretty and rounded off the meal with a final flurry of Scottishness. I decided to spoil our guests with some cheddar on the cheeseboard. Perhaps predictably, they all preferred the French cheese and we had to agree to disagree. In my book, cheddar is outstanding!


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One of our generous guests, a native Scot, revelled in an impressive delivery of a poem from Robert Burns. What a wonderful end to our first supper club!

The fires were roaring and the wine flowing. Pots of coffee to spark a last blast of energy as the guests, determined not to be beaten, tasted the whisky pistachio truffles and home-made fudge. A final farewell at 4 am sent us to bed with a smile on our faces!

Thank you to our friends, new and old, for their support!

A happy guest
‘I was lucky enough to be there and I have to say that the food was fantastic and the ambiance and the theme were absolutely spot ON. One of the best nights out in a long time. Thanks to Emily and Matt who are brilliant hosts 😀’

We will be running a supper club each month and would love you to come. The next will be the 16th February and will have a Valentines theme. We are also planning to celebrate St Davids Day and St Patricks Day. Please do get in touch if you would like to join us!

emilyclark1978@gmail.com

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WOOD-FIRED COOKING (ITS NOT JUST ABOUT BANGERS AND BURGERS!)

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My husband Matt has always had a passion for cooking. He is a very intuitive person and he is driven by his emotions. The way he cooks is a beautiful way for him to express himself and he thoroughly enjoys it.

Finding ourselves both hitting the big 40 in the past few months has brought on many discussions about where we are in our lives, what we have achieved and what we hope to aspire to in future. We have decided to start running our own cookery courses, with Matt and I as the teachers, sure to be an exciting experience!

The creation of our company Big in France has been an adventure so far and we have enjoyed the challenge. When we launched this venture several years ago, we had high hopes and I’m proud to say that we have begun to realise these dreams. It is no easy feat to start your own company, trying to master the many skills that are involved along the way, but we have learnt a lot and continue to do so.

The people we have been lucky enough to meet along the way, some of whom we have worked with and some who have been our guests, have opened our eyes to so many things: new skills, cultures, cuisines, languages and beliefs. I try and learn one new thing each day, no matter how big or small, and much of this new knowledge comes from our four children who inspire me every day (and always correct my French, which is therefore improving, even if bit by bit!)

So this year, our new cookery course will be focused around cooking on wood, with a touch of elegance. You can have the drama of the open fire combined with a soft delicate touch to create something special! We are very lucky to have excellent ingredients at hand. We are absolute advocates for local seasonal produce wherever possible. We also grow a lot of our own produce and try to incorporate these fresh delights into our dishes.

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With Matt’s design and build of our outdoor kitchen complete, the cookery side of our business has gone from strength to strength. It’s such a pleasure to cook using the different wood fires. A meal, however simple, is always an event and we like to get our family and friends involved!

After winter, we spend a lot of time outside, enjoying the weather and the stunning countryside, watching the dogs leaping around the garden before flopping on to the grass with a sigh of relief to lap up the warm sun.

This time of year is when we start to look forward to the warmth returning. Ideas to improve the facilities and new recipes begin to hatch!

Cooking on wood is a real skill. There is a lot of information to take in and try out for yourself to see what you like and don’t like. What types of wood to use for different flavours? What do you prefer? What works best for different produce? How to control the temperature? The methods are constantly evolving, which makes it a pleasure to be learning new techniques all the time.

There are countless different approaches to cooking; it’s all about finding your style, what flows best. They say ‘food prepared with love tastes better - taste is not just flavour but an experience of flavour, smell, touch, sight and mood’ (Willis Robbins chef).

I have seen Matt’s progression, and he has come full circle. He has always been self-driven, enjoying pushing himself and learning new skills through teaching himself. Right now, it’s fair to say he is literally ‘on fire!’

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He has had wonderful feedback from the people he has cooked for, either on our yoga, photography or cookery courses, or for private catered events for people who are lucky enough to travel the world and eat in excellent restaurants. He is very modest but I am so proud of him and I know the superb response he gets when he cooks means the world to him: ultimately, he loves making people happy!

The course will run in June over a long weekend and will feature recipes that Matt has been working on over the past year. This has been a challenge in itself as he rarely follows a recipe, but relies on his senses instead. 

Our new cookery course comes from the heart. Matt enjoys nothing more than cooking all day just to see people appreciating what he has created. If you enjoy fantastic food and wine, this really is the experience for you. Big, punchy flavours, excellent ingredients, interesting ideas, yet all served with a note of French savoir faire!


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We have been doing more and more private catered events, which have been wonderful! They are a chance to meet new people and enjoy a memorable evening with delicious food. Here is a menu Matt put together for a New Year’s Eve event. You can expect to enjoy something similar on a cookery course with us!

Canapés
Open toasts with foie gras and fig compote/home cured gravadlax with a lemon and herb crème fraîche

Amuse bouche 
Smoked king crab with langoustine velouté

Fish course

Pan-fried turbot with a shellfish reduction and moule sauce

Meat course

Filet of beef with fondant potatoes, baked celeriac purée, pickled carrots and red wine reduction

Dessert

Chocolate torte with caramel sauce, vanilla infused crème fraîche, honeycomb and gold leaf

Coffee served with homemade pistachio truffles

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Here is a little taster of one of Matt's recipes, to be featured on the course:

Winter vegetable tatin

Ingredients

1 parsnip

2 large potatoes

1 butternut squash

1 celeriac 

3 garlic cloves

2 tsp of sea salt

15 black peppercorns

500 g of butter

3 medium-sized onions

1 bunch of tarragon

5  sprigs of thyme

2 tips of good Spanish smoked paprika

10 large slices of raclette cheese


Method

Prep time 15 mins

Cook time 40 mins


Preheat oven to 170 C / gas mark 3

Peel all the vegetables and slice around 2 mm thick. A mandolin is perfect for this, but mind your fingers!

In a pestle and mortar, smash up the garlic with the sea salt, black pepper and paprika.

In a medium sauce pan, heat the butter gently until melted and spoon off white milky solids to clarify.

Once the butter is clarified and still warm, stir in the garlic mix from the pestle and mortar and the leaves from the sprigs of thyme and tarragon.

Now rub butter over a large oven proof frying pan, preferably cast iron! 

Start laying the slices of potatoes neatly around the edge and either in rows or in a spiral pattern on the bottom making sure they are all overlapping so they stick to each other. Remember this will be the finished face when turned out of the pan at the end.

Now lay a round of parsnips and then drizzle the clarified butter mix over the parsnips. 

Repeat this once more with the butternut and celeriac, with clarified butter between each layer.

Now for a layer of the lovely raclette cheese and cover with the onions. 

Continue making layers of the sliced vegetables with a coating of butter until all used up. Ideally, you want to finish at the top of the pan so it sits flat when turned out. 

If you have too much veg keep pushing it down to compress the vegetables. If you don't have enough, slice some more.

Once completed, start on a medium to low heat hob and let it cook untouched for 4 mins. This will help with colouring on the bottom (or top as the case may be). 

Transfer to the oven for 40 mins or until nice and soft when you put a sharp knife through it.

Take out and let it cool for 5 mins so the butter and cheese firm up a bit more.

Put a plate on top of the pan and quickly flick over so you end up with the tatin nicely turned out. 

Repair any damaged bits and serve immediately. 


This goes amazingly with game or other hearty meats such as lamb or beef. Or you can just eat with greens or a light salad. We hope you enjoy!!

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BOOK NOW TO ENJOY A WONDERFUL WEEKEND OF COOKERY!

https://www.biginfrance.com/big-in-france-cookery-breaks










BEAUTIFUL BORDEAUX!

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At the end of February, just as the daffodils started pushing their way through the ground and I treated myself to tulips to brighten my kitchen, we looked to spring and the warmth of the sunshine and the fresh green buds that it would bring. But, we were halted in our steps by the surprising news that we were to be hit by a cold front from Siberia and for the next 10 days, timed perfectly with the school holidays I might add, it was going to be super cold, hitting -4 most nights! So more wood ordered to warm our little feet and more wine to be tasted to warm our little souls.

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To share with you one of the gastronomic highlights we have recently enjoyed, Matt cooked a superb meal to celebrate a hard days work and a Saturday night. As we have some events that we are catering this year, it’s a great excuse to try some new ideas and indulge in some fantastic ingredients. Lobster and steak are my all time favorites. We couldn’t decide which to have, so surf and turf (I know it’s a bit eighties!) was the best option. 

I always used to think this was a totally ridiculous idea and who on earth would enjoy fish and meat on the same plate! I must now admit, however, that I have been converted and I think it’s delicious! On holiday in Mauritius a few years ago, one of hotel restaurants that was on the beach with incredible views had a daily special of prawn and chicken Mauritian curry, it was out of this world! I can still taste it now. This was the moment when I had to reconsider the idea of surf and turf. 

So, back to our Saturday night, Garlic butter with tarragon and dill, served with lobster and the eye of the rib steak (a little trick learnt from the wonderful Mark Greenaway) accompanied by a Swedish inspired pickled salad, making  the most of our latest vinegar, raved about in Niklas Ekstedt cuisine, it is called ‘Perstorp attica’. This kind of food is really the epitome of everything I love. It was light and delicate but packed full of flavor. The richness of the butter melting into the sweet, succulent lobster tail, and the perfect steak, cooked medium, melted in the mouth, finished with the tangy salad to cut through the decadence of the other ingredients. What more could you ask for? 

Well how about a chocolate souffle cooked by Rosie, yes please! Again, one of my all time favorites, this dessert is light enough to eat without feeling like you have overdone it. The richness of the dark chocolate is delicately sweetened to satisfy the sweet tooth, and with the gentle lift of the beaten egg whites, takes you to heaven! A Saturday night feast for kings!

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As the weather had been so miserable, when it picked up, we went to Bordeaux for the weekend. I can not recommend this place enough. I would say it was one of my favourite weekends ever! The atmosphere was great. Everyone enjoyed it, which is easier said than done when you are catering for children of different ages.

We had a very central apartment opposite the river and this made our little adventures out very easy. The tram system was so efficient and clean. The longest shopping street in Europe called Rue Sainte Catherine was lovely. A huge variety of shops to enjoy, but it was all so relaxed and lovely.  The sun was shining and people all seemed to be happy, taking their time to potter around, not the usual sense of urgency I would associate with a city centre.

There was an enormous choice of restaurants to choose from. We tried La Tupina which is where Rick Stein went in his weekend breaks series. 

As you walk in the door, the fires are what attracts the eye, cooking aver these is one of the delights that makes this restaurant so special. I had scallops to start followed by a steak, both were amazing. Matt had foie gras followed by lamb which was also fabulous. The staff were extremely accommodating and the restaurant itself was very welcoming. The children had a smaller version of what we had and they promptly gobbled it up. It was quite expensive, but the bottle of St Emilion 2010 might have made a bit of a difference. Check out Sienna photobombing in the scales reflection!

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The following day, after reading the Guardians top 10 restaurants in Bordeaux, we found a really charismatic bar hidden in one of the many back lanes. We had a set lunch for 18€ which was a bargain! Skate followed by beef cheeks, fantastic. A few nice glasses of wine, a belly full of food, half the price of the night before, everyone was on form. 

There was a big fair in the centre of town that unfortunately, we had to walk past every time we went out. This was the highlight for Rosie! Amelia talked Matt, Charlie and Rosie into getting on the most ridiculously dangerous ride there, only to jump ship just before it started, leaving them to suffer the pain without her. Everyone was a bit wobbly when they got off, I thought in Matts case it could have been the six pints but he assured me it was nothing to do with that! Fabulous weekend!

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Back to work, if it ever stops raining. The summer kitchen is well on its way now and looking amazing. Planning is going well for the first course of the year, food photography with Ilian Iliev and cookery with Bulgarian chef Vladimir Todorov. The menu sounds out of this world and has been really exciting trying to source the ingredients. The forecast for the week is amazing and the villa is ready to go.

It brings back lots of wonderful memories of our good times last year with so many lovely people, incredible chefs, yoga instructors and photographers. We learnt a lot and feel very privileged to be able to do something we both love.

Keep an eye on our social media for updates on the course this week! Enjoy the sunshine everybody!

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WETTEST WINTER FOR A HUNDRED YEARS

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A little more sun has been brightening our days this week, a lovely change to the very damp and rainy start to the year we have had so far. I keep hearing how low the water table is and how all this rain is a good thing, so I keep reminding myself how wonderfully wet everything is - the most rain for a hundred years!

With the vegetable patch dug and ready to be attacked, I’m sure I will appreciate this beautifully nourished soil to grow lots of delightful things in - this will be a learning curve. We have succeeded in growing some things in the past and I am really looking forward to getting out in the garden and enjoying the sunshine; after all, this is one of the main reasons we are here! The dates for the cookery courses are confirmed and our ambition is to grow as many vegetables as possible to provide for these courses. It is a very satisfying feeling to actually eat vegetables that you have yourself grown from seed, watered every day and tended to for months, and wow, do they taste amazing!

In our local village, we have some friends who are superb gardeners and they have taken us under their wing - project potager commence! This week, to break us in gently, our task is to buy some black bins, put about a third of compost in and plant some new potatoes. Every time we see the shoots coming through, we need to cover them with compost again, until you get near the top of the bin. At this point, you let the shoots grow until they flower; with any luck, there will be lots of beautiful new potatoes multiplying away beneath the dirty depths of terroir. I will keep you updated!

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Rosie has been baking crazy this week. She is now designing her own recipes! Such a great little talent, her confidence and skill for that age is wonderful to see! So on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, no school on Wednesdays here, she rummaged through the cupboards to see what she could concoct. The high protein, tasty nibbles that are great for a snack are super easy to make. Her take on this was to combine some sugar-free muesli with golden syrup and fresh vanilla, mix well, form into bite-size squares and bake. I made the mistake of buying 99% dark chocolate recently, which was very unpleasant! Ruined my coffee break! But if you mix the chocolate with some crème fraîche and sugar, it becomes a decadent, glossy, silky drizzle of indulgence that topped off these little delights. The home-made peanut butter also finished off these cereal bites, a sticky mouthful indeed!

Sprinkled with chopped pistachios, ready for the taste test! They were really lovely, although probably not that healthy after all with the scrummy glazing!

Chocolate cupcakes were also on the agenda, just so she could practise using some of her icing utensils she got for Christmas. These were the perfect bar snack after returning home from the rugby on Saturday (well done Ireland!).

For a mid-week treat, Matt outdid himself with this tasty dinner -  Stuffed chicken with roasted red peppers, comte cheese, shallots, greek yoghurt, mustard, dill and tarragon  To accompany this, there was buttered spinach, pan-fried Asian mushrooms, going by the name of enokitake and sweet potato cakes.  For the cakes, firstly slice and lightly confit sweet potato in butter and stock. Then lay them out into a cast iron pan and cook on top of the aga. The potato slices were then cut out into little circles and built up into towers placing grated parmesan, crispy onions and dill in between the layers.  After the chicken was cooked and removed from the pan, the mushrooms were added, followed by veal stock and white wine - this was then allowed to reduce. He finished it off with some creme fraîche, tarragon, dill and seasoning. It was certainly a tasty surprise on a Wednesday.   

For a mid-week treat, Matt outdid himself with this tasty dinner -

Stuffed chicken with roasted red peppers, comte cheese, shallots, greek yoghurt, mustard, dill and tarragon

To accompany this, there was buttered spinach, pan-fried Asian mushrooms, going by the name of enokitake and sweet potato cakes.

For the cakes, firstly slice and lightly confit sweet potato in butter and stock. Then lay them out into a cast iron pan and cook on top of the aga. The potato slices were then cut out into little circles and built up into towers placing grated parmesan, crispy onions and dill in between the layers.

After the chicken was cooked and removed from the pan, the mushrooms were added, followed by veal stock and white wine - this was then allowed to reduce. He finished it off with some creme fraîche, tarragon, dill and seasoning. It was certainly a tasty surprise on a Wednesday.

 

With the ferocious winds and snow falling, it is with a troubled soul that I have undertaken the task of tasting wines that might be good for the cookery courses. We started with an organic wine:  Prieur Barsanne  Languedoc 2016 Organic  (About 4€ from Leclerc)  I very much enjoyed this wine. It was rich and flavoursome, full-bodied and smooth, perfect with charcuterie, red meat and cheese.

With the ferocious winds and snow falling, it is with a troubled soul that I have undertaken the task of tasting wines that might be good for the cookery courses. We started with an organic wine:

Prieur Barsanne

Languedoc 2016 Organic

(About 4€ from Leclerc)

I very much enjoyed this wine. It was rich and flavoursome, full-bodied and smooth, perfect with charcuterie, red meat and cheese.

Chateau Baudere  Fronton 2016  (A present)  This was easily drinkable but not as nice as the previous. It was slightly rougher on the palate, with less flavour; a fairly average wine, good with red meat and cheese.   

Chateau Baudere

Fronton 2016

(A present)

This was easily drinkable but not as nice as the previous. It was slightly rougher on the palate, with less flavour; a fairly average wine, good with red meat and cheese.

 

Domaine de la Morandiere  Chinon 2016  (About 7€ Proxi)  Another fairly average wine: quite fruity, lighter than the organic wine and not nearly as pleasant. A little bitter with a slight aftertaste.  The organic wine was by far the nicest, really in a different league, which was a surprise considering it was the most reasonable. The Barsanne is going on my list of ‘keepers’!  So to finish: my words of the week ‘Moxie’ meaning slang for courage, nerve and determination; and just because it’s relevant to my life today - and very cute ‘flakelet’ meaning a flake of snow!   

Domaine de la Morandiere

Chinon 2016

(About 7€ Proxi)

Another fairly average wine: quite fruity, lighter than the organic wine and not nearly as pleasant. A little bitter with a slight aftertaste.

The organic wine was by far the nicest, really in a different league, which was a surprise considering it was the most reasonable. The Barsanne is going on my list of ‘keepers’!

So to finish: my words of the week ‘Moxie’ meaning slang for courage, nerve and determination; and just because it’s relevant to my life today - and very cute ‘flakelet’ meaning a flake of snow!

 

Blue Monday

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Apparently last Monday was the saddest day of the year and we survived it. Yippee! A celebration was in order requiring lots of delicious and colourful food to keep our health good and our mood high. We were feeling particularly lucky as we had both just recovered from the dreaded Aussie flu and had been feeling incredibly poorly and completely knocked out for a good few days. Since then, every dark gloomy morning as the wind tries to steal the roof away and the rain batters at the house from every angle, I have been greeting Matt with a warm turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, lemon, ginger and cider vinegar cocktail – that’ll teach him! It’s not so bad and it supposedly cures every ill known to man, so that’s good news.

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Unfortunately, although we made it through Blue Monday, our car was not so fortunate. After jumping in, ready to whizz down to the village to fetch Sienna home for lunch, the car would not go faster than five mph. Great! You are absolutely scuppered without a car if you live here in the undiscovered depths of the Vendee. Luckily, a new garage has opened five minutes away so at 2.00 pm when normal life resumes after the essential two-hour lunch break, Matt spluttered along there with a friend following in another car to check he got there and to pick him up when he dropped the car off. It looked like a presidential motorcade, with two big black four-by-fours driving ridiculously slowly despite there being a total lack of any traffic – the only difference between the two being that ours was slightly older and slightly more broken. (Reassuring, by the way to be informed that Donald Trump’s mental health has been confirmed as, like, totally good.) A teacher from school asked if maybe the car was depressed as a result of Blue Monday and wondered if I would be better off seeing a psychologist instead; it might even be cheaper than a mechanic. Ah well, I’m afraid our depressed Discovery is taking a month’s sabbatical.

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So, to mark our continued sanity, I went for a dinner that would brighten our kitchen and kick start us into health. A little surprisingly, all our children adore Thai salad. It’s one of my favourite dishes as it combines so many things that I love. This particular salad was a bit of a variation on the theme, more of an oriental-inspired salad. It was made up of peppers, cucumber, onion, red cabbage, carrots, mango, pomegranate, coriander and peanuts, all finely chopped or grated to make a wonderful and delicious dinner. Making nut butter has been a recent revelation for me. I had no idea it was so easy. Rosie and Sienna put a few handfuls of peanuts in the food processor and watched the magic unfold. We used this with soy sauce, oyster sauce, lime juice, fresh ginger and chilli (and a little olive oil to loosen it) to accompany the colourful salad and make a zingy, tangfastic, fresh and spicy match made in heaven. We do try to make the most of all our local seasonal produce as much as possible. When we arrived in France 12 years ago, there was very little variety in the supermarkets. Now, there is a lot more choice, resulting in the addition of a section marked exotique. I treated myself to mango, pomegranates and even a coconut. I marinated some chicken pieces in curry spices and wine and then cooked them gently in the oven. To fill everyone up on this miserable January evening, some rice went alongside the enticing rainbow salad, topped with the spicy chicken. Clean plates, happy family. And, to top it all, Sienna has this week recognised the beauty of stacking plates – bonus!

On Wednesday night, inspired by The Curry Guy, aka Dan Toombs, Matt wanted to try out his recipe for Sri Lankan pork curry. We had some organic pork steaks from the local farmer that would be perfect for this. Rich in flavour and packed with spices, the pork was tender and delicious after being marinated for a few hours. The marinade was super simple – consisting of things we would generally have to hand: oil, garlic, onion, chilli, ketchup, tamarind, cumin, coriander, pepper and vinegar. This dish went down a treat served with plain rice, garlic naan bread and cucumber raita. We learnt some fantastic curry recipes last year when Dan kicked off our cookery courses in France. He’s an absolute legend in this field and we are looking forward to his next course.

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Rosie’s treat once a week is to bake. We have to try and restrict it slightly as she cooks such wonderful desserts and cakes, it’s difficult to resist. At this time of year a traditional French cake can be found at school and in both the boulangerie and the supermarket. The Galette des Rois dates back to the fourteenth century and is traditionally eaten on January 6th to celebrate the arrival of the three kings. Today, a porcelain or plastic figurine is hidden in the cake. Known as the fève (literally, a broad bean), this represents the king. Whoever finds the fève is crowned king or queen for the day. The children love this idea, even if it is a little precarious. Rosie decided to tackle the task of creating this cake fit for kings. It has a fairly simple recipe. After lining the cake tin with puff pastry, Rosie made a scrummy frangipane, a creamy sweet almond paste for the filling, finished off with a lid of puff pastry that she decorated with a delicate pattern. After baking and cooling, the cake was dusted with icing sugar and served with vanilla ice cream. This was gobbled up after the curry and put a smile on everyone’s face.

To end with a bit of a curve ball, I have downloaded a dictionary/thesaurus app that sends me an alert every day with a word and its definition. It sparks conversation and is good for the children to keep learning vocabulary. This week, my favourite word is dénouement, meaning the outcome or resolution of a difficult business or the drawing together of all the different strands in the plot. So, on that note, Big in France wishes you all a big weekend!

CHRISTMAS PARTY WITH BIG IN FRANCE!

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I do love Christmas. Having four children and three brothers and sisters of my own, there are a lot of us when we get together - 23! We often celebrate Christmas at our house in France because there is plenty of room for dogs, children and general chaos!

It is difficult to believe that it is done and dusted for another year. Such a huge effort goes into the lead up to it and to making the event itself a success, but it is a wonderful time of year when I feel truly grateful for my friends and family. Looking back what seems to be an age ago, here is a little piece of Christmas spirit to tide you over until next December!

This year, we decided to throw a little works party for our friends and for people who helped us along the way this year. People keep assuring me that the first year in business can be tricky and positivity is key. We are very lucky to have lovely friends and people we can rely on to help us to get this new project off the ground.

The whole process of planning a party is pretty good fun. We spend a lot of time looking at ideas for the menu and I love taking the children shopping to choose lots of beautiful glittery decorations to make the house festive and inviting. The whole family gets involved and we make a mountain of cut-out snowflakes which we hang all over the kitchen ceiling to make our own little snowy wonderland, even if the chance of the real thing is not very likely! It certainly gets everyone in the mood!

The preparations began in earnest the day before: Michael Buble in the background, snowflakes hanging, fairy lights flashing, a glass of wine in hand and off we go. Food for fifty: sit down? Nibbles? What works best? I like a room full of people mingling, nothing too formal, plenty of delicious bites for people to get stuck into.

The starters could wait until the day itself, but my beautiful two youngest daughters were keen to help with all the desserts - of course! I wonder if the desire to hang out with their parents will wear off our younger children as it has with the older two....we shall see! Rosie made a red velvet cake which looked amazing. We also indulged in some scrumptious chocolate truffles that were coated in suitably Christmassy things - chopped pistachios, gold and white fairy dust - they looked so cute!   Matt made the most delicious spicy boeuf bourgignon to fill some little pastries with. Lots of sumptuous winter warming spices, including smoked paprika, cumin and chilli powder were added to shallots, garlic and carrots - all cooked for a day in copious amounts of red wine 🍷 and beef stock until really reduced and sticky. This was finished off with a mixture of fresh herbs and served on little toasts with baby spinach.   Some neighbours of ours had an amazing crop of butternut squash this year and, as there would be a few vegetarians and ‘fall off the wagon’ vegans, Matt rustled up a concoction of squash, potato and onion that was heavily spiced with harissa and Moroccan flavours to make a vegetarian option ‘sausage roll’. Sausage rolls are one of the things I look forward to most of all with Christmas nibbles, just a mouthful of wonderfulness! But the vegetarian roll was definitely up there on a par for tastiness! With a good evening’s prep done and the children sleeping peacefully, we enjoyed a couple of cosy glasses of wine and snuggled up next to the fire with the sleepy dogs.   The next day dawned a little dreamy, a lovely Saturday morning, with no 6.30 rush for the school bus. A last-minute shopping list was compiled and off I went to face the terrible crowds of the French supermarket. The trick is to go at lunchtime: everyone stops to go home for their big, three-course, family lunch so things are definitely a bit calmer. Half an hour later, trolley dash complete, the cooking could continue.  A crisp white cream cheese frosting finished off the deep red of the velvet cake and, sprinkled with a little magic dust and cut into bite size treats, these were ready to go, alongside the truffles. 

The starters could wait until the day itself, but my beautiful two youngest daughters were keen to help with all the desserts - of course! I wonder if the desire to hang out with their parents will wear off our younger children as it has with the older two....we shall see! Rosie made a red velvet cake which looked amazing. We also indulged in some scrumptious chocolate truffles that were coated in suitably Christmassy things - chopped pistachios, gold and white fairy dust - they looked so cute! 

Matt made the most delicious spicy boeuf bourgignon to fill some little pastries with. Lots of sumptuous winter warming spices, including smoked paprika, cumin and chilli powder were added to shallots, garlic and carrots - all cooked for a day in copious amounts of red wine 🍷 and beef stock until really reduced and sticky. This was finished off with a mixture of fresh herbs and served on little toasts with baby spinach. 

Some neighbours of ours had an amazing crop of butternut squash this year and, as there would be a few vegetarians and ‘fall off the wagon’ vegans, Matt rustled up a concoction of squash, potato and onion that was heavily spiced with harissa and Moroccan flavours to make a vegetarian option ‘sausage roll’. Sausage rolls are one of the things I look forward to most of all with Christmas nibbles, just a mouthful of wonderfulness! But the vegetarian roll was definitely up there on a par for tastiness! With a good evening’s prep done and the children sleeping peacefully, we enjoyed a couple of cosy glasses of wine and snuggled up next to the fire with the sleepy dogs. 

The next day dawned a little dreamy, a lovely Saturday morning, with no 6.30 rush for the school bus. A last-minute shopping list was compiled and off I went to face the terrible crowds of the French supermarket. The trick is to go at lunchtime: everyone stops to go home for their big, three-course, family lunch so things are definitely a bit calmer. Half an hour later, trolley dash complete, the cooking could continue.

A crisp white cream cheese frosting finished off the deep red of the velvet cake and, sprinkled with a little magic dust and cut into bite size treats, these were ready to go, alongside the truffles. 

I commandeered the help of six-year-old Sienna to help dress the table with candles, sparkles and glitter, so we could begin putting platters out for the evening. Rosie, the keen chef, worked so hard all day! Wearing her chef’s whites, she undertook instruction from Matt who had been suffering with a twisted ankle and was not as mobile as normal. The pizza dough was made early and left to prove, to be turned into a variety of calzone later, mostly for the children. The pulled pork was glazed and left to cook gently. In the evening, this would be teamed with a fantastic tangy homemade bbq sauce, another one of my favourites! It had a dry rub of a special blend of spices and was then marinated in the homemade bbq sauce. We started the meat over the wood fire to give it that lovely charred smoky taste and then it was roasted low and slow in a mixture of beer and more bbq sauce for eight hours. Painstakingly ripped apart by a less than willing teenager, it went back into the roasting pan with all the juices for a further hour. To go with this, we made a colourful little pickled slaw of red onion, carrot, red cabbage and apple all finely sliced on the mandolin, after the obligatory finger cut and swearing rant at the mandolin. The pickling juice was made with sherry vinegar, raspberry vinegar, limes, honey, sea salt, star anise, dill, tarragon, parsley, mint and a few other delicious ingredients discovered in the store cupboard. Along with mini brioche rolls and the homemade bbq sauce, these pulled-pork buns were a real hit👊  For the vegetarian starters, we offered up a cauliflower gratin and jazzed-up mushrooms on toast. Three whole cauliflowers were steamed and then whizzed up really quickly, mixed through a heavenly cheese sauce combining Gouda, Roquefort, Emmental and Camembert, and finished with Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and tarragon.   For the mushrooms on toast, chanterelles, chestnut and shiitake mushrooms were fast fried in a naughty amount of butter and crushed, salted garlic and then finished with soft herbs and seasoning. They were served on baguette toasts drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and rubbed with raw garlic cloves.   Finally, a little piece of Christmas heaven! Having made plenty of sausage roll stuffing, we rolled this out on greaseproof paper and roasted it for 30 mins until crisp. Once cooled, it was cut into perfect squares by Rosie. For the cream, the chestnuts were cooked with onion and garlic in butter then reduced with chicken stock and finished with cream, all whizzed up until a smooth thick purée was formed. The star of the canapé was thinly sliced turkey breast which had been lightly smoked over oak for 20 mins and then finished off in the pan with butter and continuous basting until just cooked. The last piece added to the tower was some reduced cranberry sauce. This mouthful of deliciousness was held together with a cocktail stick and looked glorious with all the different textures and colours to get the taste buds going!  The party was great fun and over too quickly! Thank you to everyone who came and to those who couldn’t make it for your continued support. Happy New Year to everyone. May 2018 be full of promise!

I commandeered the help of six-year-old Sienna to help dress the table with candles, sparkles and glitter, so we could begin putting platters out for the evening. Rosie, the keen chef, worked so hard all day! Wearing her chef’s whites, she undertook instruction from Matt who had been suffering with a twisted ankle and was not as mobile as normal. The pizza dough was made early and left to prove, to be turned into a variety of calzone later, mostly for the children. The pulled pork was glazed and left to cook gently. In the evening, this would be teamed with a fantastic tangy homemade bbq sauce, another one of my favourites! It had a dry rub of a special blend of spices and was then marinated in the homemade bbq sauce. We started the meat over the wood fire to give it that lovely charred smoky taste and then it was roasted low and slow in a mixture of beer and more bbq sauce for eight hours. Painstakingly ripped apart by a less than willing teenager, it went back into the roasting pan with all the juices for a further hour. To go with this, we made a colourful little pickled slaw of red onion, carrot, red cabbage and apple all finely sliced on the mandolin, after the obligatory finger cut and swearing rant at the mandolin. The pickling juice was made with sherry vinegar, raspberry vinegar, limes, honey, sea salt, star anise, dill, tarragon, parsley, mint and a few other delicious ingredients discovered in the store cupboard. Along with mini brioche rolls and the homemade bbq sauce, these pulled-pork buns were a real hit👊

For the vegetarian starters, we offered up a cauliflower gratin and jazzed-up mushrooms on toast. Three whole cauliflowers were steamed and then whizzed up really quickly, mixed through a heavenly cheese sauce combining Gouda, Roquefort, Emmental and Camembert, and finished with Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and tarragon. 

For the mushrooms on toast, chanterelles, chestnut and shiitake mushrooms were fast fried in a naughty amount of butter and crushed, salted garlic and then finished with soft herbs and seasoning. They were served on baguette toasts drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and rubbed with raw garlic cloves. 

Finally, a little piece of Christmas heaven! Having made plenty of sausage roll stuffing, we rolled this out on greaseproof paper and roasted it for 30 mins until crisp. Once cooled, it was cut into perfect squares by Rosie. For the cream, the chestnuts were cooked with onion and garlic in butter then reduced with chicken stock and finished with cream, all whizzed up until a smooth thick purée was formed. The star of the canapé was thinly sliced turkey breast which had been lightly smoked over oak for 20 mins and then finished off in the pan with butter and continuous basting until just cooked. The last piece added to the tower was some reduced cranberry sauce. This mouthful of deliciousness was held together with a cocktail stick and looked glorious with all the different textures and colours to get the taste buds going!

The party was great fun and over too quickly! Thank you to everyone who came and to those who couldn’t make it for your continued support. Happy New Year to everyone. May 2018 be full of promise!

This perfect Christmassy picture of my parent's house, tucked in the hills of Wales, couldn't resist sharing it!

This perfect Christmassy picture of my parent's house, tucked in the hills of Wales, couldn't resist sharing it!