So, very sorry for neglecting this blog somewhat. My newish job has really taken over my weeks of late, and I haven’t had the time to keep this updated with things as I had hoped.
So the first thing I need to talk about is my not-so-new love affair with a certain bar in the 7th A of Marseille. As you should know by now, the Apéro is a sacred activity, and this becomes ever more evident now we are in the blistering heat of summer. I think the thought of the apéro with friends or family at the end of the day is what drives many French people through each day at work. It certainly feels that way with me!
One of my favourite places for such an Apéro is Cafe de l’Abbaye, near to Abbeye St Victor south of the port. What was a pretty quiet bar through the winter has now become the cool place to go for a drink with friends after work into the sunset. The views from the small terrace overlooking the fort and the entrance to the port make it a perfect setting.
Drinking an apéro with a friend. He has gone for a Mauresque (Pastis, sirop d’orgeat, 1 ice cube and water) and me a Tomate (Pastis, Grenadine, 1 ice cube and water). Very refreshing. I have been reading a great book lately, (Dial M for Merde by Stephen Clarke) about a an Englishman in the South of France – sounds familier right? In it there is a quote about men from Marseille and Pastis. It compares a Pastis to a female breast, and says “one is not enough and three is too many”. Although this is a little crude, it is very true. Pastis is very good for two drinks, but after that my mouth starts to feel like I have been anesthetized somehow.
… and so we moved onto a beautiful Cote de Provence rosé, with ice cubes as it was around 36 degrees!
One of the big features in Marseille is there is a lot of street art and graffiti. Some of it is stunning, and some a bit mindless. I have found a few examples in English, and often there are a few grammatical errors of spelling mistakes which makes things a little funny for me, be it a statement of love or a line from a film. I did however find the example below in my local area. I have searched the statement on the internet and haven’t found anything to suggest it was taken from somewhere else, so I can only believe that the person who wrote this has A) a flawless grasp of the English language, and B) a poor relationship with his/ her father who is now a capitalist. Intriguing…
I have to leave you with news that this week is the biggest Pétanque tournament in the world in Marseille. Players and journalists from around the world (but, mainly France!) have descended on Marseille for a fight to the death, as well as to drink many litres of Ricard to win the trophy, which is all sponsored by local newspaper La Marseilles. I am lucky enough to be working in a place where the journalists, TV presenters, players and their WAGS are all staying. It has been an eye-opening experience. They drinking Pastis all day, answer the door for room service each day completely stark naked and enjoy a Police escort to take them to each event. A POLICE ESCORT!?! Only in Marseille.
So, after finally having a day off with decent weather (no wind!) I decided to take a little fishing trip out on my kayak to fish for the classic rock fish, which frequent the coastline of Marseille and form the basis of the famous Marseille soupe de poisson.
I managed to get a rough idea of the recipe from several friends and members of my girlfriends family to give it a shot, so having gathered the other ingredients together I went about giving it my first attempt.
Firstly, I sweated 3 cloves of roughly shopped garlic and 2 chopped onions with some olive oil for around 20 mins. I also added a small amount of chopped ginger because I love it, but I couldn’t taste it in the final soup so I won’t bother again!
Next I added 5 roughly chopped tomatoes with the seeds removed, roughly chopped red pepper, bouquet garni and sweated some more, before I seasoned with salt and pepper and added 1.5 litres of water. This is supposed to be sea water, but I’m not sure that is very hygienic when you see half of what seems to floating around in there at present!
I simmered this on a low heat for another 25 mins.
I had managed to fish a variety of species that are perfect for the soup. The only species I was unable to catch which would have been perfect is the infamous Rascasse, but they are very difficult to catch.
From left to right… Sarran, Sarran royal, Sar, Pataclet, Girelle royal, Girelle, crénilabre & Roucaou.
I added the fish whole to the soup, except for the slightly larger once which I emptied and added. I then cooked this on a low heat for 25 mins, stirring occasionally until the fish had broken down in the stew. I then added Saffron and seasoned again.
I then filtered into a bowl, making sure to press down hard on the fish and veg solids to extract all the juice.
We tried the soup last night with Rouille covered croutons floating in the top. It was pretty good, but I might have to do a bit more research for next time, in order to get a stronger flavour from the soup. It feels like I’m missing something…
Here are a few photos taken from out on the fishing trip. The islands I was fishing close to are the two just off the tip of Endoume. One is called Degaby (with the small castle on top) and the other is just the isle of Endoume.
Over the weekend I headed out to St Just to l’hotel de département for the Scottish themed Artisan 13 festival. The Conseil General along with the Anglo Med business network had worked in co-operation with the Scottish tourist board to promote Scottish and Provencal designers, jewelry makers, musicians and food experts to create a unique Provencal-Celtic blend.
The expo featured some fantastic Scottish musicians, dancers and singers playing traditions folk music. I have to say it left me a little teary-eyed and emotional, even a little home sick (even though I’m English!) It was lovely to hear some songs in the English language again, and it was great to see the local children getting involved too.
We moved on to the exterior food stalls and outdoor activity stands. We saw most of a live food show by 2 top chefs who created deserts containing Foie Gras. I tried the samples, and can’t say I liked it too much, but I was impressed by the preparation and techniques they used.
For lunch we had a Scottish/Provencal mix of Haggis accompanied by a Seafood platter! Probably not the best mix I know, but we were trying to get into the spirit of the day! (Note the chutney accompanying the Haggis. I have never heard of this before, so I suspected it was to make the Haggis slightly more palatable for the French!)
We then headed over to the Scottish produce stand where they were selling traditional Scottish smoked fish for a very reasonable price. Note the very special label below…
We also talked to one of the head Chefs of the stand, who runs one of the largest catering schools in the Provence. He told us that they do exchange programs with other catering schools around Europe over the summer, where students can come and learn about traditional Provencal cooking, and vise-versa for the French children they exchange with. A lovely idea!
All-in-all it was a fantastic day with a great ambiance. I’m looking forward to seeing more events like this in the lead up to Marseille-Provence 2013 capital of culture.
So, this week it was the Birthday or Anniversaire of my Fiancée. As we are now mid-twenties and are attempting to live our lives as sophisticated adults to variable success, we thought we would have a light buffet with friends and family. Now my initial thoughts when it comes to the word ‘buffet’ is the traditional English style finger food of cocktail sausages, cold pizza and coleslaw served up on a floppy paper plate, which inevitably flexes as you pull away from the table, giving freedom to a stray pickled onion. As with any type of food here however, the French take things to the next level.
We prepared a selection of seafood, salads and various cheeses – whilst we waited for the Mother of my Fiancée to bring a couple more dishes she wanted to prepare. It turns at that ‘a couple of dishes’ in France seems to somehow translate as 10 plates of intricate platters, as well as fruit and 2 different types of desert which took her all day to prepare. She also brought along 2 bottled of champagne to add to our extensive alcohol supplies, which could have quite easily killed a small elephant if drunk at once.
The night was a great success with a lovely time had by all. Lots of laughing, telling old stories and generally embarrassing my Fiancée! The food was unbelievable. My head the next morning was rather less thrilling!
The only slight hiccup was a poor spelling mistake on the personalised Birthday cake, which my fiancées father had ordered. See if you can spot it below…
PS, it isn’t a mistake in the spelling of her name. Comment below if you can spot it!
I think it is time I come clean and face up to an addiction I have. Over the last few weeks I find myself constantly needing a fix. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night with only one thing on my mind. I really need help…
My addiction is not with Alcohol, Drugs, Gambling or Sex, however. I am addicted to the bread from my local boulangerie, specifically’La Benette’.
Sometimes I find myself unable to stop eating a Banette without finishing the whole thing in one sitting. Sometimes more than one. It goes perfectly with any Pâté , Frois Gras or Cheese. I really need help! It is just too good!
If you are ever in Marseille, and would like to experiment with this particular vice, I recommend my local Boulangerie. Click the image below, or go to the following address…
Now I am pretty sure I have mentioned before in previous posts of my undying love for French cooking. With a few days off last week I decided to attempt one of the most sacred of French dishes; Boeuf Bourguignon. Not only that but I decided to invite around my fiancés father to try it. He is infamous for not beating around the bush and telling you exactly what he thinks of something, no matter if it hurts your feelings slightly… what was I thinking?
After collecting the ingredients I researched the recipe on a number of different websites, both French and English. This instilled further fear in my mind as each seemed to follow totally different techniques, ingredients and cooking times. I decided to take a median of all of the them and ‘vibe it’ as I went along. Hmmmm.
I started off by cutting a trimming some prime beef cuts from my local Boucherie.
I then started on the marinade by heating some olive oil and added a large chopped onion, 3 carrots chopped into 3 inch chunks and 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic. I fried these for a few minutes, before adding 1 bottle of Burgundy wine. I chose a wine in the higher price range of my local wine shop, and tried to choose a wine which had a punchy strong flavour. In hindsight I should have consulted the wine merchant, as the flavour of the wine could have been a lot stronger.I will blame this on my poor French reading skills, when attempting to read the label descriptions!
I added to this a Bouquet Garni to infuse some more flavours. I then brought this to the boil, and simmered these for around 20 minutes, before removing from the heat and setting aside to cool.
I placed all the beef cuts evenly in a pot and, once the marinade had cooled I poured this over the beef. I then covered with cling film and placed in the fridge to marinade away. This sat in my fridge for around 36 hours in total.
This gave me a bit of time to burn, so with the weather fine I had a stroll down to Malmousque and Le Petite Nice, which is my closest beach at about 5 – 10 mins walk. Beautiful…
Around mid afternoon the next day I set about finishing off the Boeuf Bourguignon, ready for my difficult dinner guest that evening. I removed the marinated meat, and fished out the meat pieces from the sauce and left them to dry on some kitchen towel. Once dry I coated them in flour and fried them in a pan with a little oil and a pack of lardons (small cut bacon pieces). The idea is to seal the meat rather than fully cook it, so that it absorbs more flavour during the slow cook to follow. I then popped these in a large pan and reunited it with the sauce and started to bring this all back to the boil. Using the frying pan I then lightly fried 6 shallots, which I then added whole. Once this had heated to almost boiling point I dropped the heat and slow cooked this for around 4 hours.
With 1 hour to serving I added 6 small button mushrooms and tasted the sauce for seasoning. Once I was satisfied with the look and taste of the sauce, and the meat had reached the point where it fell apart very easily when poked by a fork I dropped the heat and cooked some past to accompany.
The meal went down better than expected, with the only criticism being the lack of seasoning and the use of a stronger flavoured wine. Pretty good I think. I hope I have changed some people’s opinions of the English having no clue about food!
Next week: Coq au vin… Or maybe not!!!
Pastis is one of the most famous drinks that many associate with Marseille. For those not in the know, Pastis a creamy coloured liqueur which, served straight is usually around 40% alcohol. Pastis has an aniseed flavour, and is often served diluted with water, or mixed with syrup flavourings such as orgeat (Mauresque), mint (Perroquet) or strawberry (Rourou).
I have to admit, I wasn’t immediately won over by the taste last year. Pastis is often served as an aparatif, and I know I need to grow to love it before next summer- in order for me to be fully accepted as a true Marseilles (impersonator!)