Cooking up Some Magic

This post is a bit of an experiment…my blog originally started to be all about my travels on a Harley Davidson; it’s sort of morphed into something more to that.

Following encouragement of various Blog friends I’m trying something a bit radical for me, Blog Cooking!

Lets see how it goes, but I warn you now if you don’t like pictures of meat cooking or even the thought of eating it…look away now!

Now where was I?

Time always seems to go so fast when I am in France, it’s probably because I enjoy myself so much here. There are moments however, when time seems to stand still and almost go backwards, regardless of where I am in the world.

Last Sunday was just one of those moments and it all revolved around a game of Rugby, or to be more precise, Rugby Union; the game played with 15 in each team.

The occasion? Wales were playing Australia in one of the group games of the World Cup.

Regular Blogonaughts may remember that I am a passionate supporter of my nation’s rugby team. I take every opportunity I can to go to home games in Cardiff and if not I watch televised games.

Just like on Sunday. I may be in France and the Welsh rugby team may be in Cardiff, but thankfully French television are providing excellent coverage of all the World Cup games. At 12:15 local time I settled in front of the screen to enjoy.

The first 40 minutes were thrilling, Wales played some excellent rugby and deservedly went into half time with a healthy 23-8 lead.

Then came the second half and time stood still. Australia edged back into the match and I began to get decidedly twitchy; at 26-25 I was more than worried! Then a wonderful penalty kick took Wales to 29-25 and solid work saw them over the line to a well earned win!

I was more than a little delighted!!!

Mrs Dookes is well used to seeing my emotional rollercoaster in action when it comes to my beloved Wales rugby team. She deserved a treat and so I headed off to the kitchen, time to cook!

After boeuf bourguignon one of my favourite French dishes is Magret de Canard, seared duck breast.

When I was younger, the only cooked duck I ever seemed to come across in the U.K. was a wretched thing called “Duck à la Orange.” It was generally half a rather thin and pathetic bird cooked to death and smothered with a sticky marmalade like incredibly sweet orange sauce. We didn’t know much better, but even then I thought that there had to be nicer ways of serving duck than this.

Then I discovered my old mate Floyd who introduced me to French cuisine, life and food was never going to be the same again.

So let’s start with basics, this is a dead easy dish to make. You can find all sorts of recipes for it, but take it from me, simple is best!

First up you’ll need the following:

Shallots, I like échalion, the long ones.
Garlic, get the plumpest freshest you can find, not the dried sad stuff in the supermarket, or better still grow your own!

The best garlic available!


Carrots.
A sprig of fresh Rosemary.
A couple of Bay leaves.
Red Wine, I used a Côtes du Marmandais, tasty but not overpowering.
Sea Salt and crushed black pepper.

Oh yes and a duck breast! – This is obviously important as it’s the whole point of the dish, don’t skimp get the best you can. Here in France you can get lovely plump ones, with a nice layer of fat under the skin, that are big enough to feed two, the one I used weighed 450grammes.

So lets go.

First up, skin and roughly chop the shallots and garlic, I give the garlic a bit of a bash just to lightly crush it and release all those lovely juices. Scrape the carrots and cut into batons about 5cm long.

Turn the oven on and pre-heat to 100ºC

Heat some olive oil in a solid frying pan, rub salt and pepper into the duck breast and when the pan is good and hot, but not smoking, place the meat into it skin side down. Sear the meat until the skin is a lovely golden colour and the fat is starting to melt. About 3 minutes should do it, but if you don’t like it too bloody give it another minute then turn and cook the other side.

Looking good!

Remove the duck breast from the pan, wrap in foil and pop into the oven to rest.

Throw the shallots, garlic and carrots into the same pan and cook for about ten minutes until the shallots start to glaze and take on a light golden colour; don’t have the heat too high or you will burn the garlic and make it bitter.

Now for the fun! Pour in the wine, to start with I put in about 400ml and bring up the heat. You can flame off the excess alcohol, but with the cooking it will all just about disappear anyway. Add the rosemary and bay leaves then reduce for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally to stop it catching.

Once everything has nicely cooked down it’s time for a bit of French magic…

Almost all French home kitchen has a food mill, a mouli-purée, you can use a sieve if you don’t have one, but you now have to purée the lovely deep maroon contents of your pan.

The Magic Mouli

Put your prized purée in a fresh pan and return to a gentle heat. Season to your own taste, I like a lot of pepper. At the same time I added a couple of teaspoons of Confiture de Pruneaux d’Agen, which is a rather nice French plum jam, which is not too sweet and has a nice sharpness. If I was being more fussy I would have soaked some dried prunes in wine and used those, but sometimes life is too short!

Remove the duck breast from it’s resting place, put on a cutting board and admire.

….and admire.

Then cut it into diagonal slices, keeping a nice strip of skin and fat on each slice.

Divide up between you and your dining companion of choice, give the meat a nice dressing of the wonderful rich sauce. I served it with fresh green beans and my version of a croquette potato, again all very simple.

Push out the boat and accompany with a really nice, but not too heavy, red wine along with your very favourite dining companion, in my case Mrs D!

We had a bottle of Chateau de la Grille 2015, a Chinon wine from about ten miles away from where we are staying, lovely.

Well, there you are. That’s the first time I’ve ever shared one of my recipes on line and the first cooking blog post I also ever done….I hope you enjoyed it, I’ll get back to motorbikes soon.

Oh, look out, Wales play Fiji on the 9th October; Cymru am Byth!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Rest, Preparation and Cooking

I feel that my recent posts have been more than a little spasmodic and a bit disjointed. My posts of my latest trip sort of ended mid travels and I haven’t got going since…there is a reason for this and as I assured folks previously, it isn’t because I fell of a motorbike!

Harls on the coast in Brittany, near the end of our trip to the Pyrenees in June.


No, it’s much more mundane, yet even more stressful, we have been moving house!

The legal process was well underway when I went off on my travels, but I hope that you’ll understand, my mind was a time caught up in the whole nonsense that moving house entails.

Now, some three months later, the dust is finally settling and life is returning to a degree of normality. I still can’t find things in the kitchen and my new workshop resembles a cross between a rummage sale and a direct hit from a medium sized bomb, other than that, life is normal!

It must be, Mrs Dookes is now mentioning the “D” word, “Decorating” and I can foresee what the coming autumn months will entail!

So why the move from our lovely 300 year old house with two acres of garden to something more modern and compact? I think I just answered the question.

300 year old historic buildings are great, but they also take up a great deal of time (and money) to maintain and two acres of garden of which a lot was wooded are, I find as I advance in years, bloody hard work too! So we’ve downsized a little bit and yes, apart from the imminent decorating; removing a fireplace, installing a new wood burning stove, installing a new kitchen, building bedroom wardrobes, re-roofing a garage, repairing a log cabin and finally sorting my workshop…we should be able to take things a bit easier!

To prepare for the imminent onslaught of such delights, Mrs Dookes and I have slipped away to France for a couple of week’s relaxation and self-indulgence of a gastronomic nature.

No two-wheeled vehicles are involved this time, I get away with a lot as it is, no need to push the envelope too much!

Mrs D has found a lovely and well equipped gîte for us in the middle of a forest in the Touraine National Park. It’s about as far away from civilisation as you can get, our only neighbours are the wild animals and trees.

Over the coming days we don’t intend to do much; other than to watch the Rugby World Cup, which started well for Wales today, cook, walk and relax….I may also do the odd blog post!

Cooking wise, I delight in preparing traditional French dishes in France, using fresh local ingredients. It’s one of my great passions and something that I caught from my late lamented mate Floyd. His mantra of avoiding the complex over-thought stuff and sticking to traditional recipes and methods has stood me well over the years. My two favourite cookery books are one of Floyd’s own and a very well thumbed French one, both of which I have with me and if you’ll excuse me I’m now off to the kitchen!

Boeuf Bourguignon with a damn fine St Emilion!


Catch you soon.

Dookes

Off Air – On Air, Still On the Road

OK Dookes, where have you been?

Well, first up many apologies for the blog stopping mid-way through my last trip. Secondly, many thanks for the various messages I received from folks worried that something had happened to either Harls, myself of both.

Fear not dear Blogonaughts, we are both fine!

What we did have though was mega Internet connection problems that have continued even since I returned home. This makes Dookes a very unhappy Hogrider!

The good news is that we are now back on air and I’m going to set about catching up with the blog.

So where was I when I last reported in? Oh, yes Carcassonne.

Carcassonne old city at dusk.


Carcassonne was OK. Just OK.

I know that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, but I have plenty of those back home. Yes I know that millions of people will disagree with me about Carcassonne, but this is my view and my blog and like the Eagles sang, “ You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye.” For my part, the best thing about the place was the road out!

And what a road it turned out to be…

When I was doing my route planning, it must’ve been a late night when I did this bit. For some reason I overlooked the bit on the map that said “Montagne Noire”. or in English, The Black Mountains, between Carcassonne and Mazamet on the D118 road.

The Black Mountains from Carcassonne.


I hadn’t slept very well, it had been hot and stuffy and I don’t like the drone or air-drying effect of air-conditioning, so that had stayed off. The morning air was still and heavy and to be honest I really wasn’t in the mood for much motorcycling. That’s the thing about serious road trips though, you may not be in the mood for it, or the weather may be crap, but you just have to suck it up and get on with it; which is what I did.

Eventually the strong breakfast coffee began to hit in and I began to wake up to things a bit more. No actually it was getting cold, quite noticeably cold actually, cool enough for me to pull up and put on another base layer.

The Montagne Noire may not be as high as the Pyrenees, but at over 1200m/3900ft that’s high enough to feel the cold!

The D118 meanders for around 30 miles North from Carcassonne to the busy town of Mazamet, famous for the production of cloth and leather goods. Unfortunately much of the road is in fairly dense forest and only offers very fleeting views of the impressive scenery, but from a motorcycling point of view it was delightful; lovely sweeping bends, smooth tarmac and little traffic. The region is quite off the normal tourist routes and quite charming for it, in other words it’s unspoilt! I made a mental note to return one day and do some more exploring.

We paused high above Mazamet to take in the view and also take off the extra layer, things had started to hot up again; then it was down more sweeping big hairpins into the town below and the usual French town traffic chaos that I love!

Mazamet


From Maz we turned a bit North West and skirted Castres, famous for a pretty good rugby team and headed cross-country on delightful roads to Gaillac.

Gaillac is really the start of serious French wine country; they’ve been producing the local stuff here for over two thousand years. The town has an appellation that carries it’s name and I can confirm that the stuff is very good indeed!

We carried on effortlessly rolling over the back roads towards Caussade and our destination for the night, Cahors.

Bruniquel Château


The ancient town of Cahors is yet another famous wine producing centre, but I’ll tell you more about the place next time, for now it’s just good to be back on air again!

“On the road again,
Goin’ places that I’ve never been.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

Three Cows

I love discovering interesting things about the paces that I visit on my trips. In particular I like the “human” things and on that note The Tribute of the Three Cows is right up there!

Harls snarled up Col de la Pierre St Martin, scraping metal on the asphalt as we climbed and me? I had a big stupid grin, I really hadn’t had this much fun in ages!

The Road to St Martin


At the top of the pass we did the customary thing, stop and take it all in.

This is a special place, a place where on of the oldest treaties in the world is ceremonially marked.

The ceremony takes place every 13th July on the summit of the Col de la Pierre St Martin and brings together the people of the neighbouring Pyrenean valleys of Barétous in France and Roncal, Spain.

Translated into English, Col de la Pierre St Martin means the Pass of St Martin’s Stone and for centuries this has marked the border between France and Spain at this point. Every year the people of Barétous, in France hand over three cows to the people of Roncal, Spain at the Col.

The Tribute of the Three Cows is frequently regarded as the oldest international treaty still being recognised. Although it is thought to date back to the 13th century it’s exact origin is unknown, the first written record of the Tribute was recorded in 1375, it believed to represent a peace settlement in a dispute over grazing and border rights.

The ceremony has only been suspended twice, in 1793 during the War of the Convention between France and Spain, and in 1940 during the Nazi occupation of France. In both cases, the Barétous people were prevented by regional authorities from attending the ceremony out of fear they would escape to Spain!

These days the ceremony is both culturally and economically important as it draws large numbers of tourists from around the world.

On the morning of the 13th July, the representatives of Roncal, wearing traditional costume, gather on the Spanish side of the Col.

The representatives of Barétous, approach the boundary marker from the French side. Traditionally, the Mayor of Isaba would hold a pike against the Barétous representatives, and these would also be held at gunpoint by the rest of representatives of Roncal; fortunately this custom was dropped in the late 19th century!

The Mayor of Isaba, presiding over the ceremony, asks the Barétous representatives three times whether they are willing, as in previous years, to pay the Tribute of the Three Cows of two years of age, of the same coat and with the same sort of horns, and without blemish or injury. Each time the Barétous representatives answer in Spanish “Si Senor.”

Following this, one of the representatives of Barétous places his or her right hand on the boundary marker. A representative from Roncal follows by placing his or her hand on top of it, and so on, until all representatives have placed their right hands on the boundary marker. The last one to placed his hands is the Mayor of Isaba, who then proclaims:

The Boundary Marker Stone


“Pax avant, pax avant, pax avant!” – “Let there be peace!”

All those witnessing the ceremony repeat the same words.

Traditionally the representatives of Roncal were then presented with the three cows, but I understand that these days, due to animal welfare and livestock importation controls, the equivalent value in money changes hands.

Needless to say, the rest of the day then descends into feasting and celebration!

That sounds pretty good to me…!

“Everyday is a winding road,
I get a little bit closer.”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Two Funerals and Nearly a Last Chance

I’ve not really been in the mood for posting over the last 24 hours, other things on my mind you see.

As regular Blogonaughts will recall I lost little brother Greg at Christmas time and a few weeks ago, Mrs Dookes lost one of her closest friends.

Again, the curse of the big C – Cancer struck and like Greg, Theresa was only in her fifties.

Yesterday was Theresa’s funeral.

I’m still crunching the miles here in France, so obviously I wasn’t there, but Mrs Dookes was and on the phone last night she sounded so upset.

Dear lovely Theresa gone. She was one of identical triplets, her eyes could either light up a room or cut plate steel, so intense were they. Theresa, who worked like crazy so she and her husband could retire early. Theresa, who rode horses, ran long distance events and cycled, she was so super fit. In my mind I can see her sitting in our kitchen laughing and smiling

Now taken by that bastard, Cancer.

The thing about motorcycling is that you get time and space to think about things. Yes I know that I also have to concentrate on the road and all the fiends trying to kill motorcyclists as well, but thinking time is available.

So yeah, I’ve been thinking, thinking that the life clock is always ticking, compared to T and G, I’m running ahead of it.

Time to reappraise though, do things whilst we can so that we can look back and say “Done it’” not “I wish that…”

I have a big(ish) birthday later in the year.

I’m making a list in my mind and I’m going to get into and go for gear for it; mostly it involves people and particularly those I hold close to me.

“See my friends,
Layin’ ‘cross the river,”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

A Gastronomic Pilgrimage

My old and late lamented mate, Floyd, once said that a Cassoulet could be made very complicated or very simple, but to get the best out of it keep it simple…..and go to Carcassonne!

Well after years of talking about it, I’m here in the medieval city of Carcassonne.

It’s a place that Mrs Dookes loves and somewhere that I’ve planned to visit for years, but now that I’ve made it, I’ve got to say that I’m not greatly impressed. Underwhelmed is the word that come to mind.

OK, hands up, the reason I’m not a big fan is that the place is crawling with tourists. Yes I know, I’m here as, gulp, “a tourist,” but I’m a tourist that has ridden the high Cols and looked for solitude not to gawp at countless shops selling the same “Made in Taiwan souvenir of Carcassonne” crap!

That’s better, I got that off my chest…!

I’m here on serious business, Cassoulet business!

For those that don’t know what a Cassoulet is, I suggest you go Google, or better still go try a real authentic one, but you won’t get one like I just had!

I did what Floyd said and came to Carcassonne and more particularly to Le Maison du Cassoulet restaurant.

Now MdeC is like all the very best French restaurants, on the outside it looks plain, on the inside it looks dull….but the food does all the talking!

The place is without doubt “The” centre of the Cassoulet world.

I walked through the door as they opened at 19:00hrs and was promptly shown to the table of my choice. After enjoying a beer brewed in the city of Carcassonne, my order of Cassoulet Gourmand appeared along with a local full-bodied Corbières Rouge.

Fantastic doesn’t come close as a description; Floyd was right!

And now dear Blogonaughts, I must retire to reflect on the velvety glory that a perfect Cassoulet brings to a hungry Hogrider. It is mine to wallow in the knowledge of a job well done, a pilgrimage fulfilled….for you, like my mate Floyd said, “To get the best out of it keep it simple…and go to Carcassonne!”

Here’s to you Floyd, I miss you, but thank you for all the food and the good times!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

La Route des Cols

I think I may just have found a little bit of heaven, but I’m not going to tell you about it because then everyone will want to go there….

Or as the Eagles wrote; “Call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye!”

Regular Blogonaughts will remember our adventure on La Route Des Grande Alpes last year, when we rode North to South from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea, via all the high French Alpine Cols.

This year we have changed geographical area and are in the Pyrenees, the chain of mountains that separates France from Spain. And this time we are heading West To East on what is locally called “La Route des Cols.”

My French chums claim that this is a tourist route that traverses 34 remarkable mountain Cols, or Passes if you’d rather.

Now, I my mind it’s pushing it a bit to claim that all 34 fall into the “remarkable” category. Indeed as you get past Andorra it’s a little hard to actually identify too many passes anyway, the land just falls away towards the Mediterranean, but top marks for trying.

The Route is a recent innovation to boost economic tourism and is to be applauded for that. It’s origins lie with a much smaller route that was first developed in the mid 1850’s la Route Thermale des Pyrénées which linked together four Spa resorts for which the region is still famous.

My plan is to ride from the Atlantic coast to either Andorra or Ax Les Thermes following the route as much as possible. If you want to follow us on a map, then look for the D918 road, which is largely the route, but it does vary in places.

Anyway back to the riding…

We left Saré this morning and headed straight back into Spain, crossing the Puerto de Otxondo 602m before hanging a left and attacking Col d’Iséguy 672m.

From Ispéguy, the call of the far away hills.


Somewhere on the climb to Iséguy the penny dropped…this is all very lovely!

Then, as the day went on and got hotter, a lot hotter actually, the riding just got better and better!

I’d ridden bits of the Pyrenees before, but this was way better than either I remembered or had expected.

The view from the office.


Firstly was the lack of traffic, true there were some other road users, but nothing like the chaos that can prevail in the Alps.

Then there was the road surface, generally very good indeed with no nasty surprise.

Finally was the road geometry and that can only be described as heavenly, really heavenly! Or it could be that I’ve just got better at riding hairpins?

Really, do I have to explain why?


The truth is, that Harls and I have had a ball sweeping around the bends and just enjoying being “off the leash.”

I knew I was really going for it when I grounded Harls rear brake lever going round one particularly enjoyable right-hander…I haven’t done that for years! This evening I’ve still got a big stupid grin on my face after that!

Somewhere down there I rubbed a bit of Harley metal on the road!


Ok, this is definitely not the Alps, the mountains are not anywhere near as high, nor are the passes, but they are still both impressive and challenging in their own right. The roads are definitely narrower than the major Alpine Cols and without guardrails in places you certainly need to concentrate.

Wiggly and lovely!


The lack of traffic is what I love. I may just have caught it right and missed the busier times, but I’m certainly not complaining.

In addition to those already mentioned, today we crossed the following Cols:

Col d’Haltza 782m
Col de Burdincurutcheta 1135m
Col Heguichouri 1284m
Col Bagargui 1327m
Col d’Erroymendi 1362m
Port de Larrau 1573m
Portillo de Eraice 1578m
Col de la Pierre St Martin 1760m
Col de Soudet 1540m
Col de Layae 1351m

As always, the star of the show!


Not bad, not bad at all!

Catch you soon.

Dookes