Friday, 17 August 2012

Goats cheese, cherry tomato and caramelised red onion tart

goats cheese tart
A couple of weeks ago, I served a veggie dinner and instead of the normal “where is the meat?” or “that was nice but it would have been even better with a sausage” comments from “the husband” he said "that was actually quite nice"! Whoa, that is praise indeed from a meat loving man who is happy with a vegetarian dish as a side dish, starter or lunch but dinner equals some sort of meat, even if a small amount!
This is an open tart, with no quiche eggy mixture, easy and delicious to rustle up on holiday with the local Chabichou goats cheese.

Goats cheese, cherry tomato and caramelised red onion tart

You will need:
1 Packet of puff pastry
2-3 tblspns  green or red pesto
1 tblspn olive oil
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1dstspn sugar
200g ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
1-2 red peppers, sliced
250 g goats cheese like Chabichou du Poitou (not soft)
Fresh basil


  • Gently heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the onions until soft and starting to caramelise, add the sugar and turn up the heat a bit. The onions should be soft and brownish but not burnt! Put to one side to cool.
  • Pre heat oven to 190 degrees (fan) and lightly flour a baking sheet
  • Roll out puff pastry thinly to an oblong, place on baking sheet, wet edges and roll over once to form an edge.  Score the pastry lightly inside the edge (not all the way through)
  • Spread the pesto over the pastry, then cover with the caramelised onions.
  • Arrange the tomatoes cut size up, interspersed with sliced peppers.
  • Cube the cheese and sprinkle over, tucking into gaps
  • Grind over some black pepper, a pinch of rock salt if desired, and tear some basil leaves
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes
  • Serve warm with salad
caramelised red onion and goats cheese tart
The Poitou Charente region of France produces two thirds of the country’s goats cheese, home to varieties like Bûche du Poitou, Chabi, Mothais and the famous Chabichou du Poitou.Unfortunately I made my tart in the UK so I didn't have access to Chabichou at my supermarket deli counter.
goats ceese
Chabichou is one of the earliest cheeses ever produced in France. Its quality has been controlled since 1990 and its distinctive label declares proudly AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) status. Of the rumoured 350+ cheeses in France only about 50 are protected, I was surprised I thought it would be far more!

Whilst on holiday at White Shutters you can follow the Route du Chabichou et des Fromages de Chèvre   tasting artisanal goats cheese as you go. Have fun pairing local wines, Sauvignon or Gamay du Haut Poitou are best with fresh young goats cheese, and white Pineau des Charentes (the local apéro)with dry goats cheese like Chabichou.

Have fun!

Friday, 20 July 2012

French Apricot Tart

Oh how I wish I was in France...the forecast for the next two weeks is pretty much high 20s and the markets will be brimming with my favourite fruits; peaches, nectarines and apricots. Like wine, the French keep all the best produce for their own consumption and export the rest! Well, that's what it feels like, of course it has to be picked under ripe to travel and never ripens the same as picked ripe and sold within 5 miles of the tree.

However, apricots are as good as they get even in the UK right now so if you're not at White Shutters cooking this in the big kitchen, then you can still enjoy! This tart, especially poaching the apricots gently, with the Amaretto, brings out all the flavour and makes a dozen go a long way.

You will need:

Sweet Pastry
500g plain flour
250g butter
175g icing sugar
1 egg

Frangipane filling
75 g caster sugar
75 g unsalted butter at room temperature
50 g plain flour
150 g ground almonds
2 eggs
1 tsp almond essence (optional)

10-12 apricots halved and stoned
275 ml water
200g caster sugar
50 ml Amaretto (optional)

3 tblspn apricot jam
1 tblspn amaretto (or water)

Pre heat oven to 200 deg C (180 fan)

For pastry:
Sieve flour and sugar into food processor.
Add cut up butter cut and pulse  in small bursts until fine crumbs then add the egg and briefly pulse until it starts coming together.
Turn out and gently knead together and rest the pastry covered in fridge for 30mins +

Meanwhile poach apricots. Add sugar to water and amaretto (if using) in a large based pan.
Bring to boil and gently slide in apricots, cut side down, turn heat to low at simmer. Simmer for 4-5 mins, be careful they go mushy quickly!
Remove with a slotted spoon and allow to cool.

For the frangipane filling: cream butter and caster sugar, and add eggs, almonds and flour and beat together (easier to use the food processor that is already dirty!)

Roll out pastry and line tart dish, carefully line with greaseproof paper and baking beans and bake blind at 200degc (180fan) for 6 minutes, remove beans and paper and bake for another 6 minutes.  It’s better to have a baking sheet if using a ceramic dish. Pastry should be dry but barely coloured.

Fill base with frangipane filling and smooth and carefully arrange apricots in concentric circles on top, cut side down starting at the outside.

Bake for around 40 minutes at 180degC (160 fan) until frangipane is firm but pastry not burnt, my pastry was turning!

For the glaze: heat the jam and amaretto or water in a pan or microwave, then sieve. Carefully drizzle on top of warm tart (or brush delicately with a pastry brush, I tend to slop it on) and allow to cool.
Serve with cream, ice cream, crème fraîche or as is!

Proper pro bloggers now have shots of prettily arranged ingredients, a portion of tart artistically presented for service....cream drizzled in a swizzle pattern, a sprig of something and a fanned apricot decoration perhaps?

Sorry if you're disappointed, we cook to eat it in this house, and nobody poses for photos if food is waiting!

Bonne App!

PS Yes this is basically a repeat of my post on my other's OK to pilfer/lift/copy/plagerise your own work ;)

Friday, 4 May 2012

Cognac Blues Passions Festival 3rd - 8th July 2012 featuring Sting, Hugh Laurie and The Cranberries

The wonderful  International Cognac Blues Festival  returns Tuesday 3rd to Sunday 8th July 2012  in sunny Charente, bigger and better but just as intimate as in previous years . White Shutters holiday cottage in France has availability for both weeks and is just 40 minutes from Cognac. The first week is June prices at just £1300 for the week to sleep 8-12.
Cognac Blues Festival

The headline acts may be more famous this year, but what a location to see them in. The concerts are dotted around the centre of Cognac.  You only pay for the headline concerts, the plethora of acts (I counted 48!) from across the globe perform on stages around the park in the afternoons and are free. Find a spot on the grass and lie back and enjoy the family friendly atmosphere.  Bring the whole family, you can move on whenever you like if the little rascals, or Granny, start playing up!
This year the "head-liners" are The Cranberries, Hugh Laurie and Sting amongst others.  Their concerts are in the evening and ticketed, book your Cognac Blues accommodation at White Shutters and buy your Cognac Blues Passions festival tickets online.  Holiday sorted!  But be quick, others may have the same idea.

gites with pools France
..and after a hard day enjoying the music, kick back with family and friends in the large 12m x 6m heated pool at White Shutters.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Roman City of Saintes

Just 40 minutes from White Shutters is the city of Saintes with its very well preserved Gallo Roman amphitheatre affording magnificent views of the city and cathedral. Saintes is very manageable in size;  walk by the river, enjoy a boat ride and visit the Roman Museum (included with your amphitheatre entrance), cool off in the cathedral and enjoy pavement cafés!  There are many good restaurants, perhaps stop off on the way back from the coast or islands?  We enjoyed an afternoon out here at Easter, the amphitheatre in particular would be a great picnic spot, a reasonable €2 for adult entry. Saintes Tourist Information
The tunnel above was a bit spooky, apparently this is where the dead bodies were hauled off to, not where lions were released from as we told our girls!

 Saintes Cathedral, an oasis of calm and coolness.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Recipe - Tartiflette or hammed up potato dauphinoise …

It’s January, and summer holidays in France are a little way off, so it must be time for a winter warming French style recipe.

I first had delicious rich creamy and very calorific potato dauphinoise in a mountain hut when skiing as a teenager.  When you’re skiing it’s OK to have a pound of potatoes to a pint of cream!  Now older, rounder and still a potato daupinoise lover I thought (as I had left over half-fat crème fraîche from Christmas, past it’s use by date) I’d try a slightly healthier experiment.  As I had boiled a small smoked ham yesterday and had leftovers, I decided to mix that in too to make a little go a long way and keep the meat lovers in the family happy.  To make it a one pot (well not quite) meal a large leek was also added.

So my doctored hammy leeky potato dauphinoise is a tasty, delicious, filling but not too fattening meal (if using half fat crème fraîche) for all the family in January or any time of year.  Leave out the ham, and substitute onion for the leek in the summer and serve as an accompaniment to barbecued meat or even just a crunchy salad. I do like a meal in the oven that can be left whilst you sip on a pineau des Charentes catching the evening sun. Often us Brits think cheese should be in this dish, traditionally it’s not included but it’s also very good with grated cheddar, emmental and/or parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, especially if hamless.

You will need (to serve 6)

About 1kg medium potatoes, peeled, sliced with a mandolin (be careful!) or finely with a knife, and rinsed in a colandar.  Keep in water if it is taking a while or preparing ahead.
A large leek sliced finely and rinsed, or use a large diced onion.
2 cloves garlic, chopped.
About 3-500ml Milk (will be discarded or use for a white sauce for another dish, doesn’t matter what type)
600ml half fat crème fraîche (or full fat or use double cream)
Diced cooked ham or lardons if liked
Salt and pepper, paprika if liked

Pre heat oven to 180deg fan (200 deg for WS non fan oven)

1 Put the sliced potatoes in a large pan and add the milk, which should just about cover the potatoes but if you’re a bit short don’t panic.  Gently lift the potatoes a bit with a slotted spoon to make sure they are separated and bring to the boil over a medium flame with the lid on, don’t disappear!
2 Simmer very gently for 5-8 minutes or so, stirring/turning very carefully half way through.  You only want to par boil them, they shouldn’t break up.
3 Grease a large lasagne type oven proof dish and layer up half the sliced potatoes.  Remove the potatoes from the cooking milk with the slotted spoon, carefully, no need to drain properly or dry. Then add half the leeks (or onion), ham and garlic and a good grinding of pepper and sprinkle of salt.  As crème fraîche is very thick, spoon half on now spreading evenly.  If using cream just add when assembled.
4 Repeat finishing with the rest of the crème fraîche, or all of the cream and dot the top with butter.
5 Sprinkle with paprika if using.
6 Bake for 30-40 mins on a baking tray to catch any overflow, the top should be starting to brown. Now turn down the oven to 160 degrees fan (180 non fan) and stir very gently/push the mixture down a bit to make sure it’s cooking evenly and the top isn’t drying out and the cream is throughout the layers and not just sitting on top.  Bake for another 20-30mins, cover with foil if too brown and the potatoes are not quite done.
7 When cooked a sharp knife goes in to the potatoes without any resistance at all, and the top is crispy but never burnt!  This dish will keep happily in a low oven for a while before serving, put a bit of foil on top if over browning.
8 I served with roast butternut squash cooked on another tray for the last half an hour, but any roasted veg would be delicious.

Bon Ap!!!!

Apologies for the photo, as is normal in this house I decided to write up the recipe once we had taste tested as it was my own take on various recipes.  The secret to getting the potatoes to cook without drying out is simmering in the milk first, even if it seems a little wasteful. I can’t remember which chef advocates cooking the potatoes in milk to reduce the starch, but credit to him/her, not me!

I try and add a French inspired recipe to the blog regularly that is easy to prepare on holiday at White Shutters in the large well equipped cooks’ kitchen, or at home if your French gite holiday is a while off yet.  All the cooking equipment and large baking dishes required for up to 12 are available at White Shutters to rustle this up on holiday for a crowd.

Edited to add that this is basically Tartiflette, I had no idea it had a proper name,and tartiflette does have lumps of cheese in it too!  Thanks to my friend Susan in Brittany for the culinary education.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Le Chateau de la Roche Courbon

Le Chateau de la RocheCourbon is a great day out from White Shutters.  It’s near the hamlet of Saint-Porchaire, the easiest way is to get there is via Saint-Jean d’Angély and then on to Saint-Savinien, a gentle run of about 40 minutes or so.

Before you set out make a nice picnic lunch, the grounds are lovely and as always there are picnic tables, and children can run around.  You can buy a chateau lunch, a delicious looking plate of charcuterie, cheeses, salad and a glass of wine to eat al fresco, but at €11 I thought a little expensive.  Ubiquitous saucisse frites, croquet monsuier etc are around €5.  In contrast the entrance fee to all the attractions (except chateau interior) was reasonable at €6 for adults or €9 to include a guided tour of the château as well, in September 2011.
The landscaping is magnificent, with a lot of renovation work on the waterways in recent years, but walk across opposite the chateau and climb the escaliers for a magnificent view back across the lake. There is a small archaeology museum but the “Jeu” room had lots of traditional wooden games that you could play which was much more fun than an amusement arcade, and interesting working out the rules!  I don’t think it’s called “shove ha’penny” in France!  You can also walk the pleasant 1km tree lined avenue down to the original habitation, the prehistoric grottes.

If you want to do the tour of the chateau check the times on arrival, as in September there was only one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Refreshingly you can arrive at any time; the ticket office isn’t shut at lunch time.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Lazy hazy family days...

No one holiday suits everyone; we all want different experiences from different holidays too. If quality time with your family and friends is your goal, time to kick back and enjoy extended casual meals outside, trips to the beach and a gentle cycle ride through sunflower strewn countryside, then White Shutters will suit you perfectly. If watching your young child, grand child or great grand child learn to swim with the sound of uninhibited laughter drifting across the garden as dad gets soaked again in your own private heated pool is your idea of the perfect family holiday, then why not book White Shutters? Sit under the gazebo with a good book from the gite library, a glass of chilled wine and the BBQ on standby then White Shutters will be your two weeks of bliss. I haven’t even mentioned the moules frites, pineau and weaving down the lane on a bike for the morning crusty baguette nor perusing the local Sunday morning market.

Recent guests, did all of that and more We were delighted to host 4 generations of the same family in June, and from their review I think they all got a lot out of their two weeks of kicking back and winding down.

Hi Fiona - just to let you know that we had an absolutely fabulous holiday at White Shutters. What a lovely villa you have and we feel privileged to have stayed there. Everyone enjoyed themselves from the very young (Jacob - 10 weeks old) to the very old (my Dad - 89 next birthday).
Apart from the beautiful setting, one of the real bonuses for us was the pool. Joshie, our 4 year old grandson took his first real swimming strokes and we were so proud. He has been having lessons for a little while and having the pool at our disposal he grew in confidence every day to the stage where he was happily jumping in and going under and resurfacing. The only problem was the little tantrums when he was told he had to get out and get ready for bed.
We thought Aulnay was really lovely. My sister lives in Rostrenen as you know, and by comparison Aulnay is such a buzzy little town.
It was handy to know that Sharon and Steve were there if we had any problems - but happy to say there were none.
I do hope that we left the villa in the good order that we found it in. We were conscious it was your home and what a home from home it was. We felt so relaxed and settled it was a wrench to leave.
Sadly we have to get back into work mode as Monday morning looms unfortunately.
Thank you once again for sharing your home with us. I am attaching a picture of my daughter and family on the bikes, you can just see my Dad sitting in the shade behind them.
Kindest regards

Gill & Simon
The photo sums up what we try and offer!  We hope to welcome you to White Shutters soon, now booking for 2012!