Where we're going this evening - France
It's the very shortest of trips tonight, as it is just 26 miles across the English Channel that separates the UK from France. That and a language, prevailing attitude & temperament and a cultural gulf to disappear into.
So why aren't our nations as close socially as we are geographically? It can't just be that the British assume that as English is the most spoken language, then we needn't bother (or have the common courtesy) to learn any other, and that the French refuse to speak in anything but their tongue - although the lack of ability to communicate between the common man of the two nations cannot help.
Perhaps the reason lies in the inherent Socialist nature of the French (since all that nonsense with the peasants revolting and chopping off the heads of the nobility with the guillotine), compared to the class-ridden hang-ups of the British. Or that the French embrace the European Union ideal, whereas the British have always hung about on the sidelines. Or maybe because we're still sore about being invaded and beaten by William the Conqueror in 1066. Long time to hold a grudge, though.
Or maybe it's the way the French insist on all this kissing business when you meet up, rather than a firm handshake - mind you, the are French are known for both their romantic nature. That and their love of fine dining - in fact, quite how the women can be so sexy and chic in a nation which boasts such delicious food, including 400 different cheeses and the best vineyards in the world is some wonder.
You only have to mention Charles Aznavour, Juliette Binoche, Brigitte Bardot, and Audrey Tautou to see that we are amongst the Beautiful People (although you do get Gerard Depardieu, Marcel Marceau and Jacques Cousteau to balance it out a bit), and the mere mention of Nice and the casinos of Monte Carlo is enough to make you want to suck your stomach, get a pedicure and reach for the Christian Dior latest outfit.
Not really, obviously - as if we were wafting around the French Riviera in our designer frocks and our Chanel No.5, we wouldn't be tucking into tonight's rather tantalising menu, would we?
So let's hail Joe le Taxi and say 'bonjour' to our French amis...
France's cuisine varies depending on the region - the north and northeast is all hearty stews and root veg (and - perversely - champagne), the south is all Mediterranean oils, peppers, tomatoes, the east and centre is all red wine (burgundy - ha!), great cheese and big-bottom Limousin cattle (for the boeuf bourguignon, which is where we came in.
France produces such great food that I have been spoilt for choice - although, if I am being fair, snails & frog's legs would be an experiment too far for this lily-livered Brit.
I was facing a being-cut-out-of-the-will-moment with the desert, so prudence (and future inheritance of the Kenwood Chef) prevailed, and profiteroles for mum it is.
Boeuf Bourguignon - recipe from that lovely Nigel Slater - yes, I know he is not French, but he is lovely.
Brown pieces of shin beef which have been tossed in seasoned flour. Remove from pan & lightly fry button onions & button mushrooms (note: I used my shallots) till golden, Remove from pan & fry a chopped onion & some lardons (or streaky bacon). Add beef back to the pan with garlic, bay leaves, thyme, a bottle of good red wine (note: I used burgundy, of course (and reserved a small glass for the chef)) and simmer VERY GENTLY for an hour and a half. Add button mushrooms & button onions& simmer VERY GENTLY for half an hour more. Serve with steamed potatoes (note: and courgettes, if (like me) you are eating courgettes with all meals currently - including breakfast).
Sift strong plain flour & a little caster sugar onto baking parchment. Add cubed butter to water in a pan & bring to the boil - briefly - then turn the gas off, shoot the flour/sugar into the pan & mix like mad (note: or with considerable ease with the electric mixer). Beat in egg & when glossy, spoon mixture onto greased baking sheets. Once baked in a hot oven, leave to cool having pierced the sides to let the steam out.
Serve with a spoonful of whipped cream in each one, and drizzle over melted chocolate.
And what have we learnt?
- Nigel Slater - lovely as he is - does make a bit of a meal of a stew. I just brown the meat then chuck everything in - none of this 'fry until golden, set aside, then...' stuff, and I'm not sure that this gains any
- The French have the right idea - putting a bottle of wine into anything is bound to be a plus
- The lovely Nigel suggests that the bourguignon is is better the next day - I couldn't agree more. Stews are always more tasty/tender after some maturing, I find, and I'm sure that this will be true with this too.
- I was astonished that a weedy batter spooned out onto baking trays and popped in the oven could transform into pastry puffs - a real 'well, damn me!' moment
- although the choux buns are a bit boring on their own ('well, damn me' moments notwithstanding) cream & chocolate transform more or less anything.
- I thought that profiteroles/eclairs had a certain mystique - but no - well do-able, indeed!
And out of 10?
- for the bourguignon - a solid 8/10 - and I'm sure that it'll be even better when it's matured and cooked up again on in a slow oven all day tomorrow.
- for the profiteroles - a well-doable 8/10 - I have punctured the mystique of these! They are not difficult at all - although with the cream and choc they are still not an everyday item. Very tasty.