To start with the Duck, the recipe for which was called, Vetou's magret de canard with red wine sauce and Sauteed potatoes on the side, basically duck breast with prunes and a red wine sauce. This was absolutely fantastic, the duck was moist & tender, the sauce was rich & velvety smooth with a lovely taste & texture that had a lot to do with the small amount of chocolate added in at the end I suspect and the potatoes were lovely, nice and crunchy on the outside and smooth and soft on the inside. Love duck & this is definitely a make again winner.
Notes. I couldnt find dried Agen prunes so used the ordinary supermarket variety and also I forgot to pre-soak them so just soaked them in boiling water from the time I started the dish until they were needed in the sauce. Also, having no French wine on my rack I used a Shiraz which in my opinion worked a treat. Also I was prepared for huge leaping flames in my pan, sadly, I only managed a flutter before they died down so the fire is nothing to be scared of (which I was personally!)
Vetou's magret de canard with red wine sauce - Rick Stein's French Odyssey
8 dried Agen prunes
4 duck breasts
150g carrots, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 shallots, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
600ml red wine, such as a Languedoc or Corbieres
Large srig thyme and 2 bay leaves
15g plain chocolate
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Put the prunes into a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 1-2 hours.
Season the duck breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy based frying pan over a high heat. Add the duck breasts, skin side down, lower the heat slightly and fry for 2 minutes until the skin is nicely browned. Turn over and brown them on the other side for 2 minutes, then lift onto a plate and set aside.
Add the carrots, onions, shallots and garlic to the duck fat left in the pan and fry over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring now and then, until soft and golden brown. Add the wine, bring to a rapid boil, then light with a match and shake the pan for a few seconds until the flames have died down. This burns off the alcohol. Then lower the heat, add the cloves, thyme and bay leaves, and leave the sauce to simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Return the duck breasts to the pan, skin side down, cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Turn the duck breasts over, recover and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. This will give you duck that is still pink in the middle, if you prefer it better cooked, cook for up to 1 minute more on each side.
Lift the duck out of the sauce onto a plate, cover with foil and leave it to rest in a low oven (about 100c) while you finish the sauce. Add the chocolate to the sauce and simmer for 2-3 minutes more. Then pass through a fine sieve into a small pan, pressing out as much liquid as you can with the back of a ladle. Drain the prunes, add them to the pan, and simmer over a medium heat until they have heated through and the sauce is nicely reduced and well flavoured. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, lift the duck onto a board and carve, on the diagonal, into long thin slices. Lift each onto a plate and spoon 2 of the prunes alongside. Spoon some of the sauce over and around the duck and serve with sauteed potatoes or mash.
Cut 750g peeled floury potatoes into 4cm pieces. Put them into a pan of well salted water, bring to the boil and simmer until tender, about 7 minutes. Drain well and leave until the steam has died down. Heat 40g butter and 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy based frying pan. Add the potatoes and fry them over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, turning them over as they brown, until they are crisp, golden brown & sandy - the outside of the potatoes should break off a little as you saute them, giving them a nice crumbly, crunchy crust. Season with salt & pepper.
Next on the menu was a fabulous Tarte tatin. For something so simple to put together this is one amazing dessert, apples fried in butter and sugar, topped with puff pastry & popped in the oven, who would have thought the magic that this would create? I made this one day for no reason other than I wanted to, Jane was over for lunch the next day & was lucky there were some leftovers so she got to share the joy.
Note that I used ready rolled puff pastry and therefore made it even easier by eliminating one step, ie rolling out pastry and chilling for 20 minutes.
Tarte Tatin - Rick Stein's French Odyssey
250g puff pastry
75g softened butter
175g caster sugar
750g (about 5) large firm dessert apples (I used Granny Smith's)
Vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche, to serve
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut out a 26cm disc, slightly larger than the top of a 20cm tarte tatin dish or relaiably non-stick cast iron frying pan. Transfer to a baking sheet and chill for at least 20 minutes.
Spread the butter over the base of the tarte tatin dish or frying pan, and sprinkle over the sugar in a thick, even layer.
Peel, core and halve the apples, trimming them very slightly if necessary to fit but keeping their nicely rounded shape, and then tightly pack them, rounded side down, on top of the sugar. Place the pan over a medium heat and cook for 20-25 minutes, gently shaking the pan now and then, until the butter and sugar have amalgamated with the apple juices to produce a rich toffee coloured sauce and the apples are just tender. Take care that the butter and sugar are not allowed to burn.
Preheat oven to 190c. Lift the pastry on top of the apples and tuck in the edges down inside the pan. Prick the pastry 5 or 6 times with the tip of a small knife. Transfer to the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until the pastry is puffed, crisp and golden.
Remove the tart from the oven and leave it to rest for 5 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges and invert it onto a round, flat serving plate. Serve warm with ice cream or creme fraiche.
Last on my French menu for the week was a Pissaladiere (Nicoise onion tart). I'm not a huge anchovy fan so I was a bit hesitant about this dish though it always looks so good anytime I see it cooked on tv so I thought what the hell, this is the perfect time to try it out. As you can see it is a bit overcooked as Josh was having a mummy's boy mood & it was difficult to get to the oven to check on the cooking. Despite the appearance it didnt really taste burned which was a good thing. I liked the flavours though it was very intenese. I think the onion mixture would have been a bit better spread a little thinner & it may have been a bit better balanced between the soft, chewy base, sweet onions & salty anchoves & olives. Overall glad I tried this dish & enjoyed it but cant see it on the repeat menu anytime soon
Pissaladiere (Nicoise onion tart) - Rick Stein's French Odyssey
275g strong plain white flour
2 teaspoons easy-blend yeast
1 teaspoon salt
250ml hand-hot water
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Topping:50ml extra virgin olive oil
1.5kg onions, halved and thinly sliced
A large bouquet of parsley, thyme, bay leaves, rosemary and oregani
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
6-8 anchovy fillers in oil, drained & halved lengthways
Handful of small, black Nicoise olives (I used kalamata as they're my faves)
Sea Salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the base, sift the flour, yeast and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the warm water and olive oil and mix together into a soft dough. Knead for 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic. Return to the bowl, cover with clingfilm & leave in a warm place for approx 1 hour or until doubled in size.
meanwhile, for the topping, heat the oil in a large pan over low heat. Add the onions, bouquet garni and some seasoning, cover and cook gently for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then uncover, increase the heat a little and continue to cook for 20 minutes or until all the moisture from the onions has evaporated and they are thick and pale brown.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, knock out the air and knead briefly once more. Then roll it out into a rectangle and lift onto an oiled 30 x 37.5 cm baking sheet. (I actually made a round one & used a pizza stone). Reshape with your fingers, then carefully spread with a thin layer of the anchovy paste. Spread the onion mixture evenly over the top, leaving a 2.5cm border free around the edge. Criss cross the top with the anchovies and dot with olives. Season lightly & leave somewhere warm to rise for 10-15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 240c. bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust has browned and the edges of the onions are starting to caramelize. Serve warm or at room temperature.