Monday, 29 August 2011

Petit Feuilleté Boeuf et Figues

In honour of dear friends moving away and inspired by our recent holiday in France, this dish was the first course of a four course French themed feast for the occasion. My wife and I had this at a restaurant in France, La Ferme Ladouceur, and all I had to go on was my memory of the dish and a photograph I took at the restaurant.

First of all, what is a 'femlleté'? I've searched, run various derivations through Google translate and have come up with nothing at all that is food related. The nearest was 'femmellete' which apparently means 'sissy'. So 'sissies' they are. Help me out here, please. (Mystery now solved... see comments below).

The filling is made from seasoned pureéd beef, and a piece of fresh fig, all wrapped in a shortcrust pastry. Seeing what I was doing, my wife stepped in with her artistic talents and actually made them look like figs. Impressive work. The sauce is a rich beef stock reduction and the garnish a simple leaf salad topped with redcurrants. I had recently bought some fig balsamic vinegar which was perfect for the dressing.


(Makes 10)

- 650g sirloin steak, trimmed and finely pureéd in a food processor
- 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- 6 small fresh figs, quartered
- Salt and pepper
- Shortcrust pastry (1 'Jusroll' pack was good for 4)
- 500ml good quality beef stock (this was from Waitrose)
- 1 desert spoon of plain flour
- 1 desert spoon of butter
- Mixed soft leaves
- 1 tub of redcurrants
- Thick balsamic vinegar
- Beaten egg for brushing on to the pastry
- Parsley sprigs to garnish (I forgot this bit)


Start by making the filling. Trim the thick fat rind off the sirloin, cut it into chunks and put it in a food processor. Add salt, pepper and the chopped parsley to taste. (it tastes great raw so don't be afraid). The pureéd beef needs to be really well seasoned, but not too salty.

Divide the seasoned beef into ten balls (each should be the roughly the size of a golf ball). Lay each ball on a square of shortcrust pastry, put a quarter of a fig on top, brush beaten egg on the inside of the pastry, fold up the sides and then do your best to make them look like figs (or whatever your creative talents desire). Brush the outside with more egg before laying them onto a buttered baking dish.

Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C and allow 30 minutes for them to cook. While they are in the oven, prepare the sauce by putting the flour and butter in a saucepan over a low heat to make a roux. Then add the beef stock, bring it to the boil, and then reduce it down at a low simmer until it is nicely glossy and just a little thickened. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Lay the leaves on the side of the plate, dress with some balsamic vinegar and place the redcurrants and a quarter of a fig on top. Finally, plate up the femlletés and drizzle over plenty of sauce before garnishing with a fresh sprig of parsley.

We followed this with coq au vin blanc (I found a brilliant recipe at The Gourmet Traveller), a cheese course, and a refreshing 'le colonel' (Bombay Sapphire version). The evening was topped off by burning some of my treasured foraged oak in the brazier as a treat for the South African majority (well, for all us blokes actually).

Thursday, 25 August 2011

La Ferme Ladouceur, Ramatuelle, France


Our two week family holiday in the south of France is always a firefoodie challenge. There is pretty much a blanket ban on open fires and barbeques everywhere except in private houses. Having seen more than one forest fire in the region at close hand I can see why.

We are surrounded by family and friends where we stay, and when my sister in law offered to feed and look after our kids one evening so my wife and I could try out her favourite local eaterie, what could we say? Her generosity was even further extended to driving us to the restaurant and picking us up after the meal.

La Ferme Ladouceur is a few kilometres from the stunning village of Ramatuelle, near St Tropez on the French riviera. It is locally reknowned for its evening only restaurant which is run along side their chambres d'hotes. The converted farmhouse is set back off the main road, surrounded by vineyards and has a beautiful shaded terrace at the rear. We asked for a special table and got one, right on the edge of the terrace under the canopies of olive and fig trees.

The set price four course menu includes wine and changes daily. There are no choices to be made, you are simply served the same four courses as everyone else that evening. Our menu:

- Petit femlleté boufe et figue
- Brandade de cabillaud, coulis de tomate
- Fromage
- Soupe de pesches

We were guessing as much as you as to what we would receive other than what we could work out with our limited French. The first course was something to do with beef and figs, no clue on the second course other than the tomato coulis, then cheese, and finally peach soup?

After we were seated, we splashed out and had a glass of champagne each to celebrate the occasion. The setting was truly lovely. The trees surrounding the terrace were gently up-lit and the tables set simply and elegantly with white linen, a small paraffin lantern and an array of wine and water glasses.

We were given the choice of red or rosé to have with our meal, and opted to start on a refreshing, chilled rosé which came to the table in a bottle without a label having been filled from a cask in the kitchen. Then came the first course, and wow.  It was a small pastry parcel surrounded by a thick glossy sauce, and garnished with a salad of mixed leaves and redcurrants. The first cut into the pastry revealed a finely minced beef filling with a few slices of fig on top of it. The beef was beautifully seasoned and combined well with the sweet fig, pastry and sauce. The sauce, I think, was a reduced and thickened beef consommé. The leaves and redcurrants had a wonderful cleansing effect as an end to the course. Our plates were left clean, any last traces having been wiped up with some of the home made bread. Our first experience was full of complementary flavours and left us wanting for more.

We were left with just the right amount of time to contemplate how good the first course was and consider moving on to a red wine now the rosé was starting to run out. The local reds are very light, so hopefully our choice would work well with the coming main course (a conversation with one of the waiters had revealed that it was fish of some sort).

And wow again. The fish turned out to be cod, and was served on a bed of what looked like potato pureé (but by its taste was not), a whole steamed carrot, a kind of herby egg roll, and a piece of toasted rustic bread topped with baked tomato. There was a lot going on with this dish and it took a bit of a while just looking at it to piece it all together.

The fish was firm, white and just moist enough, and looked like it had been baked. It was not like the watery cod often served, but superior in quality. To be honest, I wasn't totally sure it was cod until I looked up the translation of 'cabillaud' the next day. The pureé beneath the cod was an intense, creamy, fishy experience. I was thinking of celeriac and not potato at the time, but the next day translation revealed it to be the 'brandade' on the menu; an emulsion of salted cod, olive oil and milk, a specialty of the region. Cod on cod, an abundance of seasoning, the sweet carrot and the tomato coulis, a divine dish. The toasted bread on the plate I'm sure was there for the final clean up. My wife and I couldn't stop raving as we were eating. It was (together with the wine) an intoxicating experience.

The third course arrived after a suitable break. A single, fairly large slice of brie on a plate. After the attention to detail we had become accustomed to, this felt just a bit disappointing. The quality of the brie was exceptional, but we both felt a bit let down. No garnish, a few grapes maybe, some cheese biscuits? It could be that there was some contrasting simplicity versus complexity going on, but it didn't give us much to think about.

The dessert, I'm afraid, was also a bit disappointing, but possibly only because of the expectations that had built up after the superb first two courses. The 'peach soup' consisted of small cubes of peach in rich peach pureé, and a small boat shaped sponge sitting on top. The idea itself was fine, but it was served in a deep glass goblet with a long spoon which made it awkward to eat. It was refreshing and I ate it all but I was disappointed with the presentation. It had also come straight from the fridge so there was no impression of any final flair in the finishing stages in the kitchen.

All in all, however, we had a brilliant time and together agreed on a score of 8 out of 10. The quality of service, ambience, and first two courses were exquisite. Value for money? at 43 euros per person including  a litre and a half of wine for food of this quality, no question. The only let down was the last two courses. Had these followed the all round standards of the first two courses, this could have pushed the score to a 9 or even possibly a 10.

La Ferme Ladouceur is one of those places you have to try. The surprise menu of the day, the ambience and the quality have to be experienced. We will definitely be going back there. Oh, and remember to take cash, no cards accepted.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A Festival Breakfast

Nearly a week has gone by and we have barely recovered from our four days of camping, feasting and music in Dorset last weekend. The X-Grill got yet another hammering, often for breakfast, lunch and dinner on the same day.

Sad-o here even took a box of seasoned oak firewood foraged from woodland near our home. As if you don't have enough stuff to lug around when camping. Our fuel was a mix of charcoal and oak, and for cookware, my trusty paella pan and karahi dish, both perfect for open fires.

The breakfast pictured above was a hearty selection of bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes and fried eggs. The trick is not to have too large a fire. It doesn't need to last long, and needs to cool down fairly rapidly. When the bacon first went on it was searingly hot, so it cooked quickly and was then transferred to the karahi dish to keep warm with the mushies. The mushrooms started off in the karahi when it was also searingly hot. Then the tomatoes, and finally the eggs. When they were done, there was just enough glow left in the embers to toast the bread on the rack.

At the end of the weekend, the X-Grill packed away nicely into the flat box it originally came in almost a year before.

For more about the X-Grill, have a look at The X-Grill Barbeque.

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