Fish pie any other name!

Having had my rant about food additives, I’m ready to move on. Back to real food and restaurants.

Here on the mountains we have had ( Old but not OLD) friends to stay. Very easy to have, once you understand that he does not really like meat ( especially things like beef, stews, etc) I don’t think it is on any ethical grounds but memories of some pretty disgusting boarding school dinners!

Not a problem, Willowy brunette is of a similar ilk, and as much as I like a good steak, or hamburger I would normally choose something fishy as first choice.

The first evening I decided to make a version of Koulibiac / Coulibiac, there are, of course, many different ideas on how to make this, but it is basically a salmon fish pie. Normally it is made in “Freeform” but there is nothing to say that it can not be made into a real pie, in a dish!

So enough for 4-6 people

  1. +/-500 grams salmon
  2. A packet of frozen spinach ( defrosted and drained)
  3. 4oz smoked salmon slices
  4. 4 hard boiled eggs ( chopped)
  5. 2 packets of frozen or fresh puff pastry , defrosted.

Lightly poach the salmon in either some milk or some white wine, but make sure it is only very lightly poached. Remove from liquid drain and flake into chunks

Roll out one of the pastries into a round ( here in France it is possible to buy pastry all ready rolled in a round ), AND I have just found a French version available on Ocado, so it really makes life easy! I have to admit that although I make nearly all that we eat from scratch, no ready made sauces, gravies, soups and salad dressings, I have not made puff pastry in years!

Lightly grease a quiche type dish or deeper if you have one, line it with the pastry, paint the pastry with an egg white wash, this will help to seal the pastry and stop it from getting soggy. Next cover the pastry with the smoked salmon, then the drained spinach, then the chopped egg and finally the salmon flakes.

Moisten the edges of the pastry and put on top of this the other sheet of pastry, press the edges with you thumbs to make an indentation and to seal the pie. Using the rest of the egg white beaten with the yolk, paint the top of the pie, to glaze it.

Bake at 180C for about 20 minutes until the top is golden brown. Serve with a good salad, one could think that this would serve 6 people, but have to say it was eaten by just the four of us!

And it snowed, stayed cold and the sun shone ! Perfect!

Brexiteers, be careful for what you wish!

A few days ago I read an article from the New York Times ( Dec.28/2018, entitled “What foods are banned in Europe but not banned in the US” )which stated that after Brexit ( assuming that it goes ahead) the UK will probably have to accept food imports from the USA. Currently many of these food stuffs are banned under EU rules because of the additives that are allowed in the USA, but not in the EU.

Nutella, uses Palm Oil, which can be a NO No because of Endangered Orangutan

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog on this subject, and in fact it is quiet scary, what is allowed in the USA and not in many other countries.

BHA and BHT are substances which are banned in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and the EU, however are still used in the USA particularly in snack foods such as crisps.

Azodicarbonamide, is used for the texture in cheap white bread, is used in the USA by MacDonalds and Burger king in their Burger Buns., it is banned in the countries above, AND if a company uses it in Singapore, they can get a large fine and 15 years in gaol! Its shortened name is simply AZODI and is often called the Yoga Mat additive as it is also found in Yoga Mats, as it is light and strong! Fancy eating your Yoga Mat, No, I don’t think so ! But can be found in over 500 products or restaurants in the USA!

Bovine growth hormone, banned in the EU, in 1981: but was approved by the FDA in the USA, in 1993.

Potassium Bromate, used in the USA in flour, but again banned in the EU.

Food colourings , especially Blue dye #1, Yellow dye numbers 5 and 6 and Red 40. The yellow dyes are used in ready meals, colourings for some cereals and the bright yellow of American Cheese., and also American M and M’s are more colourful than those which are sold in EU? Why because the colourants are banned in the EU. I remember many many years ago checking the food dye numbers on the packets of sweets that I bought my kids as a special treat !

Looking at Maille, the crème de la crème of mustard manufacturers, the mustard does not have any real additives, but the Mayo has a colourant E224. However it is approved in the EU and is also found in frozen shell fish, frozen vegetables, fruit juice, and WINE !

(Many soft drinks in the USA contain BVO, but again this is banned in EU and Japan.

Apart from sugar contains E150 which is caramel, approved.

Poultry feed in the USA is likely to contain traces of Arsenic! And of course totally banned in the EU!

Many, many foods in the USA and the EU contain natural flavourings, but how natural is natural? This has not been banned in the EU, but to my mind it should be, as it is a total CON. Never buy olive oil that states Truffles. Unless it actually has a truffle floating around inside, it has never been near a truffle but more likely closer to a chemists bench! The flavouring is in fact, 2,4-dithiapentane, which is as cheap as chips, but, the Fake Truffle Oil certainly is not !

Other dubious additives include, BHA ( can interrupt endocrine functions); BHT, has caused cancer in Rats, Propyl Gallate and Propyl Paraben along with Theobromine. All allowed in the USA, due in part as the FDA allows the industry to self regulate !, But all are banned in the EU!

However my favourite, a really bad one is OLESTRA . I remember this being hailed, when we lived in the USA, as the big new thing for the food industry. What could be better? Zero calories, Zero grams of cholesterol and Zero grams of fat? Eat as many potato Chips as you like and never put on an ounce. In January 1996, the FDA approved OLESTRA as a food additive. Cut out the unhealthy cooking oil. Dump the shortening. Trash the butter. Frito-Lay was among the first companies to jump on board, introducing its WOW! division of potato chips in 1998 to claim fat-free stomach satisfaction. However  Olestra was of course too good to be true. It  removed the fat from food but also stopped the body from absorbing vital vitamins . Side effects included cramps, gas and chronic diarrhoea! And so “Another diet myth bites the dust:” Products containing the calorie-less fake fat Olean, ( trade name, ) of fat-free potato chips fame, may make you gain weight, not lose it.still  legal food additive in the USA despite  the obvious side effects.

Someone once said, if your Grandmother wouldn’t give it to you, then don’t buy it or eat it !

I think the bottom line is, avoid processed food, as far as possible and read the food labels. It will be interesting to see what happens after Brexit and more food stuffs from the USA enter the UK, I guess we will have to be more vigilant, GOOD LUCK!

Le Bonheur est Simple

Here in the mountains there is a simple motto, Le Bonheur est Simple! This means a lot in parts of France, most of the shops take a two to three hour lunch break, they often don’t open until 10 am and shut at 12, when there is a mass exodus up or down the mountains, because of La Grande Bouffe, ( Lunch). Lunchtime is sacrosanct!

But it also means a very relaxed approach to life, taking the cows in the spring to the Alpage ( summer meadows) where the owners often stay with their herds in little Mazots ( small wooden sheds) without electricity nor running water. It also means sitting and having a cup of coffee with friends or un petit verre ( a glass of wine or genepi).

On Saturday, we decamped down the Mountain to Chamonix, the very pretty Mountain town, the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924. It was the Brits who developed Chamonix as a resort in the late 1800’s as part of La Grand Tour! And of course it does help to have the highest mountain in Europe, namely Mont Blanc!

It is possible to go up the Aiguille du Midi Cable car both winter and summer, but is expensive, €61 for adults and €52 for children, or you can go halfway ( half the price) to Le Plan du Aiguille, where in summer it is possible to travers the mountain to the upper station of the Montenvers train. There is another train The Tramway, which also provides the climbing route for Mont Blanc itself. There are other cable cars in Chamonix ,which are also cheaper and go up the other side of the town, which then gives the visitors a wonderful view of Mont Blanc.

Walking across to the Montenvers train.

But I digress, we went to Chamonix to go to the market, yes, Saturday is market day. We have never been to this market in winter before and so it was interesting to see how innovative the traders were in an effort to keep warm. The fruit and vegetable sellers had plastic tents surrounding them, along with heaters inside, as did the flower seller. Others worked outside with portable heaters or just thermal clothes, boots and gloves.Always at these markets are the fruit and veg sellers, the cheese people, the sausage and cold meat sellers, the fish man and two sellers that I can not get my head around. The Pain d’Epices, which is basically gingerbread but drier and the Nougat seller! I did ask the Monsieur “The what and the why? The answer, quiet simply , ” They have a sweet tooth and eat it like chocolate !The other almost permanent residents of the markets, are the cooked chicken seller and the Choucroute seller, the chicken people always have a large queue for their chickens and not such a big queue for the Choucroute, but nonetheless a queue.

We also visited a Fruitiere, ( have not worked out where this name came from, but is a cheese maker, or farm products, cheese butter, eggs etc.) This was the Coopérative Fruitière en Val d’Arly Savoie Mont Blanc, the selection of local products was impressive and we ended up buying a cheese, similar to Mont D’Or but made in the Val d’arly and with raw milk.

I had planned Peking Duck for dinner, but this had to wait and so Le Bonheur était Simple, Dinner became cheese and potatoes and salad!

Also whilst in Chamonix we visited a museum, which gave a potted history of the town and a tearoom, which was awash with Macaroons! I must remember to bring #1 grandson here in the summer as not only did they have Macaroons but Meringues as well, both of which he loves ( as do the others).On our return journey, down the mountain road which I really dislike , we came across in Cluses, a dreary town halfway between Chamonix and ourselves, the only protestors of Les Gilets Jaunes, I have to say they were not very impressive!

So far on this visit, I have learnt three new French words, Spaghetteria, Omeletterie, and Boulonerie! The first two are obvious but the third ? Bolt Department! The French government often tries to prohibit the anglicisation of French words, but maybe they have better things to worry about at the moment.

Le Bonheur est Simple

The Law of Unintended Consequences!

We arrived in our Mountain Retreat as 2018 was drawing to a close, but we still had time to drive down 7 hairpin bends, get to the grocery store before the French finished their lunch break and descended upon the store to fill up for Reveillon ( French New Years Eve).

My Swiss neighbours pulled a face saying ” il y aura du Monde! ( very busy) but we know better, nothing will deter our French from taking their 2-3 hour lunch break and as a consequence, the store was almost half empty. Even the shelf fillers were no where to be seen. At 13.55 they appeared lugging or pushing the shelf filler equivalent of a Pantechnicon , just the right size to block the aisles, but Hey they have a job to do, forget the shoppers, it is Reveillon!

We arrived at the fish counter, it was looking a bit sad, not a lot to choose from, but we did not want fish, we wanted Oysters, as Himself declared that he would do Oysters Rockefeller on New Year’s Day . Perfect, only a small problem, not an oyster in sight. Oysters on New Years Eve are de rigour, so where were they? Stuck in Calais or in Normandy or in Brittany. There was hand written note, saying, Maybe at 2 pm, which then became 3.30! So we decided to go further down the mountain to the next grocery store, I was dropped off to go in search of the fast becoming Forbidden Fruit. NO Oysters to be seen ! ( a large box of really large Shrimp ) I timidly asked the fish man ” il y a des Huitres? S’il vous plâit? He looked at me and scurried out the back door and returned bearing a small wooden crate ( an oyster box)! Normally the shops are stacked with oyster boxes and it is perfectly normal to buy the box, no self respecting Oyster lover would buy just a few. But he said” it’s the last one, how many do you want? The box held 36 so not wishing to be greedy I took 24; only, without asking even the price!

So what is my point here? Les Gilets Jaunes is the point! What started out as a protest about fuel prices has morphed into a protest agains all and sundry ( the French Love to protest). Consequently the Oyster men on the West Coast have had their Christmas and New Year ruined by these actions and probably have stocks which they now have to destroy!

Quell Domage, is all I can say !

New Years Eve was spent across the road at our lovely neighbours, occasional Expats like us, and other friends who live here permanently. Carolyn cooked a really interesting starter. A whole baked celeriac, courtesy of Ottolenghi. I love celeriac but always serve it as a purée, so this was like a giant baked potato served with sour cream and lemon juice, Yummy! Something I need to try for myself. Have already reported on this new found delight to #1 son ! So watch this space for more.

So onto New Year’s Day, no shops open, no parade to go and watch, but a walk was in order.

A drive to the top of the mountain, donned snow shoes and set off! The sun was shining, the ski tourers were coming down from the top of another mountain, children were sledging and Mont Blanc glistened in the distance.

Back, at Chez Nous, Himself set to with the oysters. If you like oysters but find the idea of shucking them too daunting, then explore a fish shop and you might find a device which’ makes shucking a ‘Piece of Cake”!

Traditional oyster knife in front and the easy version.

so whilst Himself was busy with oysters I made a seafood sauce for the shrimp. I very much winged it by what I had in the cupboard.

I sautéed a chopped onion and 3 cloves of garlic until soft, then I added a can of tomatoes a small can of tomato sauce, half a tube of tomato purée and a small can of Chipotle chillies, let them amalgamate and then using a stick blende gave it a quick wiz to really blend and then added half a jar of horseradish sauce and a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce. ( no ketchup, no Mayo, no sour cream) A final tasting, done covered and put outside to chill ( it was below freezing outside)

Meanwhile he was making the filling for the oysters. It is also a bit of This and That. He chopped 2 shallots and sautéed them in some oil along with several cloves of garlic and some chopped rashers of bacon, ( bacon, pancetta or lardons will suffice, but make sure they are crisp) then he added a whole bag ( about 500 grams) of frozen creamed spinach along with about 4 Oz butter and a cup of breadcrumbs AND a good swing of Pernod a quick taste, added some chilli flakes and fennel seeds, and done ! Filled the shells with the oysters and spinach mixture topped with grated Parmesan and baked at 450/230/8 for about 10 minutes until the tops are golden and crisp.

Also on this topic, I have found some alternative recipes for oysters. Oysters, crawfish and shrimp abound in Louisiana ( could be one reason to live there, or maybe not). Oysters Bienville, an egg rich shrimp topping, Oysters Rousseau similar to Rockefeller but slightly different , no spinach. Oyster Loaf, Oysters en brochettes Cajun Oyster Pie, oyster and Artichoke Bisque, Creole Oyster Stuffing and Oyster Patties ( Vol au Vent), this one I have made, using canned oysters and easy nibble to have at a drinks party. And not forgetting one of my favourites, Oyster PO Boys ( pronounced Poor Boys) Freida oysters in a French bread sandwich!

On a final note, once again I am amazed at the choice of cereals in the supermarket, all very sweet and almost all with chocolate. Himself occasionally has cereal, muesli , but I make the mix myself, so even that does not have added sugar let alone chocolate!