After 25 years in Australia and many careers ranging from Air-Stewardess, to Festival director, restaurateur, event and food consultant, I have put down the suitcases at the Echalier for the time being. Conscious of an ever changing world, I have nevertheless always cooked all the dishes in my kitchen, ignoring the many shortcuts the restaurant industry can use now. I have built since taking over in 2004, a large web of local and organic producers who have become friends.
The supply of seasonal vegetables is now secure with the organic garden of Fussy, the famous “Crottin de Chavignol” (local goat’s cheese) is supplied by a local organic cheese maker, the organic apple juice and “fromage blanc” delivered weekly respectively by M. Clavier and the Patrouillats farm and many others.
The meals proposed at the Echalier are a medley of food cultures encountered in my travels as well as traditional French dishes. I play with spices and flavors but always ensuring that the produce is of the highest quality. The menus are conceptualised daily and written on a blackboard where you will find a choice of 2 entrees, 2 main courses and 2 desserts.
A rich wine region is also at our doorstep and I can propose many local wines to match your meal from the world renowned Sancerre to the up and coming Quincy or Reuilly.
Bourges is also a stone throw away from the Echalier and its medieval centre is well worth a visit as well as the Palais Jacques Coeur. As I have often been a guide to many travellers from Australia and other part of the world, I can advise you on the best places to visit and where to purchase some of our good produce..
Visiting Chablis, my friends introduced me to the harvest of the dandelion …
The word dandelion describes the diuretic virtues of the plant (literality piss in bed- Pissenlit) whereas the Anglo-Saxons call it “dandelion” (Lion’s teeth) which describes the leaf of the plant. She is also called Laiteron or dog’s lettuce.
Cramaillotte is the name of the jam also called dandelion honey for its texture and golden color. This jam made from the flowers of dandelions is very time-consuming collecting just the flowers but goes so well with a soft fresh goat’s cheese. We have a feeling that we eat and smell spring pastures at the same time.
And there is also the grilled or dried root which can be an alternative to coffee and if it is fresh in decoction. It is even used to color cottons!
A bit of advice though… it is better to harvest them at the beginning spring when the shoots are young so the bitterness is not as pronounced, flowers in buttons have a taste of hazelnuts but you need lots of patience collecting them to make a salad or an omelet …
In France, we eat it with hot fried bacon, vinaigrette, comté and croutons. I had never thought of eating the heart of the dandelion and to cook it because I generally use the leaves! I sat at the table in front of my teacher, Jean Paul, who gave me a course in peeling and preparing. You must remove all the green leaves and trim around the root. With the heavy spring rains, the roots were very full of mud and this is where you have to be meticulous, wash and rinse more than once if you do not want to have a “gritty” crunch under your teeth!
You put the dandelion’s hearts in some salt water so that insects get out … I add a little lemon juice to prevent oxidation of the white root. We ate them raw with a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing, a perfect match with the bitter taste of the plant.
As any green plants, the dandelion can be also accommodated in soups, as a vegetable to complement a meat or in the burger for a change. Try them with soft-boiled eggs, it is really very good.
Now all you have to do is to put your rubber boots, select a big basket, a knife or a small garden shovel and ” go out for dandelions as we go out mushrooming”. A big breath of fresh air and an invigorating walk in meadows, an ideal remedy to get over the winter doldrums!!! And this vegetable does not keep well so you will need to return often to collect them….
My recipe for Dandelion’s jam (Cramaillotte)
1 kg of dandelion flowers, well washed and drained
800 gr of sugar
3 whole organic oranges and 2 whole organic lemons
1 full teaspoon of agar-agar
Cover the dandelions flowers with water, add citrus fruits cut roughly with the skin left on. Boil and then let the mixture soak during 48 hours. Strain to obtain the juice and measure the obtained juice. For a liter of juice you add 800 g of sugar. Cook your jam and add at the end of cooking the agar agar, making sure that the jam boils for a few minutes as the agar agar has to be well diluted. Put into jars.
It is always with an immense pleasure that I visit my organic goat’s cheese producer for the restaurant. Our visit with Brazilian friends came just at the right time with the birth of a female kid which enchanted Stanislas because many births this season so far had been billy goats. When we arrived, he hurried to reach the shed to attend the birth and from farmer became a gynecologist. The kid in a few hours stands up on these small legs and cavorts with the other kids, which never stop to amaze Stanislas.
Patricia takes care of the kids giving them feeding-bottles to the avid drinkers who follow her in the shed by nibbling her pants, asking for more.
Fernando and Cristina are urged to help to give the feeding-bottles, which is for them a moment of enjoyment because the kids are very affectionate and greedy!
Cheese making activity is going to start again soon and I look forward to the beginning of the production so I can put it back on the menu and share it with my customers. From March to November, I enjoy varied recipes… with a confit of flowers of dandelion or poppy. With these two confits, the flavors reminds me of the meadow in flowers during spring and complement well the soft fresh goat cheese.
Stanislas explains to us the great difficulties that “small” farmers have to survive in a world which always wants more … His daily work cannot be accounted in ”office” hours and it is vocational… Stanislas did not come from a farming background. He left his well remunerated office job and decided 10 years’ ago to launch himself in the adventure of farming.
He regrets nothing in spite of the daily difficulties which is a farmer’s job. He hopes simply, like a lot of us in small businesses, people of the land and artisans, creating local wealth that we shall stand firm in front of the administrative constraints of Europe created by bureaucrats or politics who do not understand our daily fight! The economic crisis is easy to blame to decimate unfortunately our small businesses and at the same time accelerate the perdition of know-how of many trades in favor of industrialization of products…. But we have to live with our time and if the new generations prefer industry and always looking for cheap good deal, we are heading towards an irreversible process damaging all level of society… I am very sad in front of this global blindness encouraging a wild capitalist system which will leave many victims unharmed facing the total disregard of Mr and Mrs Average!
Business is slow so it is time for long walks in the Allogny forest, a 15 minutes’ drive from the Echalier. Having had a cold snap for the past few days, I wore my warmest woollen scarf and hicking boots and off I went having put on the back of the stove one of my favourite winter to dish. I call it soul food!
Hen in a pot, this traditional dish in France became one of Henri IV most famous political slogan, a king epicurean with a reputed enormous appetite… “All French people will eat hen in the pot every Sunday during my reign”, a political statement emanating from the King’s memories of the food he ate as a child in the Bearn region. Henri IV used to call in unexpected and eat in farms with the owners when he was travelling. As all farmyards always had chicken and peasants grew their own vegetables, the King try to get the message across that the future of France was in the farming community.
Here is the recipe for 4 people
Winter vegetables of the garden. 4 leeks washed, 4 large carrots peeled, celeriac pieces, turnips, onions, potatoes and parsnips
Herbs and spices: parsley, thyme, bay leaf, cloves
Plunge the hen in a large casserole with carrots, celeriac, turnips and parsnips… Salt and pepper… Bring it to the boil and then add the herbs and spices.
Using a ladle, take out the foam on top of the water when it start simmering to ensure a clear stock.
Put the potatoes and leeks when you come back from your walk and cook for a further 20 minutes.
Take out the hen and the vegetables out, keeping them warm in the hot oven.
Make a sauce by melting butter and mixing 3 soupspoons of flour to it… Pour the stock over it. When it thickens, you can finish the sauce with a mix of an egg yolk with cream. I like to add slice gherkins and a few capers to the sauce and chopped parsley.
Place the hen in the middle of the dish and the vegetable around. The sauce on the side and the hot stock with it.
I can’t wait for another cold Sunday with friends around the fireplace and feel lucky that I can indulge in such a glorious dish! Make sure however that all the ingredients are top… I have certainly found a hip of good producers and when you eat it you know that the simplest dishes can become sublime! Have a nice week-end!
This week end, freezing cold weather but sunny in and around Fussy so off to Sancerre with Italian guests. I always stop at the Brasserie Sancerroise located at the foot of the hill of the village of Sancerre. You cannot miss it as it is situated at the first round about on the left if you are arriving from Bourges after the fire station!
They really were game to do it!!! Making beer in the middle of vineyards and more so calling it « la Sancerroise ». Sancerre has a worldwide reputation for its white wine but now it has also gained a reputation for beers too.
Created in 2011, this brasserie is set up in the old abattoirs of the township of Sancerre and it is a family affair, mum looks after the administration, the marketing and looks after the on-site boutique, dad brews and the two sons help! They started with three types of beer and now brew more than 10! The beer called « La Sancerroise with green lentils from Berry » became an imediate success and was awarded a bronze medal at the agricultural show in 2004. Made essentially with local produce, the concept of the brasserie is from Austria.
Personnally I have tried them all and I like them all… but I have a preference for « la Sancerroise au Gruyt », a stout with lots of spices going back to the Middle Ages. I really like using it for making a dish called Carbonnade Flamande, meat cooked in beer with spiced bread and cinamom.
Following is the list of beer to taste at the shop and the choice…
Lou Pélou Chestnut and Gentian flavours and it is organic
La Sancerroise Val d’Or, Bitter
La Donzelle Bière Lager with Rosemanry
La bière de l’Abbaye du Jouir, Golden Lager abbey style beer
La Sans-gêne, Amber lager beer slighly red
Rose Blanche White Ale with wheat
For more information …
258 Route d’Amigny
Tel : 0248542991
A new trend has appeared these last few years… Small glass cups and appetizers are being served at cocktail parties instead of the traditional “canapés”…You are now often invited in France for a “apéritif dinatoire”, a diner aperitif! It is halfway between a cocktail party and dinner. You often do not have to eat after one of these! I was chosen to prepare a hundred of those small glass cups for the mayor’s New Year wishes to the people of Fussy.
They can be served at the beginning of a meal with the aperitif or as an appetizer and even sometimes they are presented in between dishes. Often they are made of puréed vegetables or mousses and they can be a little tasteless. My view is that they have to be tasteful and with a good dose of strong flavours depending on what you are serving with it…
In Australia; I remember this method of eating was called “grazing”
Here is the selection I did for the event and this could be some ideas for your home…
– Green lentils with an apple chutney and cubes of foie gras
– Chopped scallops with Basmati rice and 2 lemons
– Coleslaw with pineapple and Chorizo
– Vegetarian Bortsch with creamy yogurt from Ivoy le pré
– Potato and herring salad with an horseradish cream
– Jerusalem artichokes with a walnut dressing