Back in November I put up a blog post about MOOC’s (Massive Open On-line Courses) and a proposed Science and Gastronomy course run through the University of Hong Kong, the original post can be found here. A start date had not been announced but enrollments were open unfortunately there has been no movement on this course but another similar course has been offered through the edx site.
Registration is free and the course is scheduled to start in October 2013, it’s not clear from the publicity how long the course will run but the proposed learning objectives look very interesting.
“Topics will include: soft matter materials, such as emulsions, illustrated by aioli; elasticity, exemplified by the done-ness of a steak; and diffusion, revealed by the phenomenon of spherification, the culinary technique pioneered by Ferran Adrià.
To help you make the link between cooking and science, an “equation of the week” will capture the core scientific concept being explored. You will also have the opportunity to be an experimental scientist in your very own laboratory — your kitchen. By following along with the engaging recipe of the week, taking measurements, and making observations, you will learn to think both like a cook and a scientist. The lab is also one of the most unique components of this course — after all, in what other science course do you get to eat your lab? “
I’ve signed up as well as a couple of friends, some readers of this blog have expressed an interest in the original course from my first blog entry on this topic, I’ll contact them direct so they are aware of this opportunity. If you do sign up let me know we could form a Frugal Gourmet study group
I made reference in an earlier post to studying a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC on the Science of Gastronomy, I’m still waiting for a start date but in the interim I have just started an Algebra course not because I am an uber geek (well not completely) but because I would like to study the MOOC astronomy courses but its 35 years since I was at school so my algebra is far too weak for success. Therefore if I want to study astronomy I need to sort my algebra, time to get busy doing some preparatory study. The algebra course gives 20% of the marks are from a weekly exam or test and I planned to spend Sunday, completing the first exam. Well that was the plan.
Julie had a fund raising dinner Saturday night with her keep fit group and got back in the early hours declaring that she was returning the following day to finish clearing up and to have lunch with the other committee members and their partners, my presence was expected. Yes dear, at least I could sort my exam before and after lunch. That would work!
Sunday morning nice and leisurely, listening to the radio, listening to the sound of barking dogs, lots and lots of barking dogs! Checked it out to find that some hunters’ dogs had cornered a wild boar in our garden, confusion reigned not helped by the fact that the boar and the dogs ended up in our pond. A little while later there’s a dead boar and a bunch of apologetic but triumphant hunters. A messy end to a hunt but don’t kid yourselves the boar got a better deal than most animals reared for meat and living in the heart of a rural community such things are ever present. By the time it was all sorted it was time to go for lunch and to clean the Salle de Fêtes, never mind I’ll do my exam after lunch.
Off to the Salle de Fetes to join a group of 16 for lunch, of course lunch is the main meal of the week so it wasn’t rushed! But it was a lesson in rural French dining.
Epine or Blackthorn Aperitif with Rillettes
Garden salad and cheese
Rouserolles with crème anglais
This is all well and good, the salad was particularly good, freshly picked from one of the diner’s greenhouse and the company was warm and welcoming and coincidentally several of the dishes I have written about in this blog, just click on the links for further details. The problem was drink, I do have some self-control and steered my way through the Epine, the Rose, a youthful and a mature Cotes du Rhone with some success. My undoing was the production of a basket of bottles containing assorted homemade eau de vie and Marc’s which were up to 30 years old! Now even if you are French this is a notable event and it would have been discourteous to not sample a representative range so a little tour through eau de vie de cerise (9 years), eau de vie de poire (18 years), eau de vie cidre and eau de vie prune 30 years and finally Marc (31 years), the oldest had become a wonderful nut brown and all where smooth, soft and full flavoured. Well that was the final nail in the exam coffin. I did manage to help tidy up but I noted that the cleaning of the sale de fetes only took about 20 minutes and even then most activity was focused on washing up after the lunch we had just enjoyed!
Then home for a little lie down.
a leg of fresh wild boar
To end the day one of the hunters called by with a leg of wild boar as a recompense for the inconvenience of earlier in the day, I don’t know whether to freeze it for roasting or stewing or make it into a dried ham. The idea of a dried wild boar ham is currently favourite, what do you think?
p.s. Just in case you are worried about the exam I missed, I am allowed to complete the exam late but with a 10% penalty. The final exam is 80% of the marks, interim tests or exams are 20% of the marks, therefore 10% of interim exams or tests = 2% ÷ 10 (the number of interim tests or exams) = 0.2% penalty, I can live with that.
It’s interesting how things come around, when I was at school I always preferred going for a drink over lessons and definitely over exams.
If you happen to read about me in the about page of this blog you will know that I work in education and it follows that I have a predisposition to learning activities. My brother Andrew (who is so bright his buttons shine) pointed me towards ‘MOOC’s’ – Massive Open On-Line Courses’ and I was interested.
MOOC’s enable anyone with an internet connection to study university level course units for free. In a world were higher education costs are becoming unaffordable to many and unaffordable and inaccessible to most in the developing world, MOOC’s could be a learning revolution. If you want to learn more about MOOC’s have a look at Daphne Koller’s TED presentation here.
Why all this stuff about MOOC’s on a cooking blog? Well anyone with a passing interest in cooking knows that cooking is a form of applied chemistry and now MOOC’s gives anyone the opportunity to study – The Science of Gastronomy with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The course blurb says
This course introduces students to elements of science lying behind cooking and cuisine preparation. The ultimate goal is to help students recognize the importance of scientific principles being applied in everyday life, so that they will appreciate and be able to apply some of these principles in their future cooking practice.
Over 6 weeks the syllabus will cover;
- Gastronomy: cuisine preparation, the chemical and physical principles
- Enjoyment of Food: parameter of excellence – the basis of taste
- The Basis of Flavor: the aroma and taste-aroma interactions
- Aroma and Coloring: coloring-association and improvement of perception
- Texture of Food: the highlight of contrast
- Fruits and Vegetables: properties, nutrition and enhancement of quality in cooking
- Meat: properties, taste, aroma and texture
- Meat: ways to modify the texture, enhance the taste and smell of meat
- Meat: precision cooking – how to cook a perfect steak?
- Sauce: modification of the viscosity and flavor of sauce
- Dessert: manipulation of desired texture: gluten formation and protein denaturing
- Examples of Dessert Making: ice-cream with liquid nitrogen and ginger milk curd
The course start date has not been fixed yet but you can sign up for free here.
What’s not to like? If you read this blog and you sign up do let me know, we can meet in a virtual class room, hopefully soon.
I know my readers must be waiting with bated breath to learn how our return to O Comercial went, my other motivation for writing this post is that I like the restaurant which has new young team who are trying, and I think are well on the path of succeeding, in offering an accessible but fine dining experience in Porto, a place for celebration, indulgence and a bit of affordable luxury.
On this occasion Julie and I met the owner and Maître D and importantly his chef Samantha a young French woman who was quiet but proficient beyond her years in the Kitchen.
Once again the restaurant was not busy, the effects of a mid-week evening in February and the restrictions placed upon the team by their situation in the palace. This restaurant could be a great success, but it needs a combination of good cooking, good service (which it has) and word of mouth which must be constantly developed.
The room was still grand but with the lighting more romantic in the evening, with a soundtrack of cool jazz, which always works for me.
We don’t know Portuguese food and we wanted a treat on our last night so we opted for the Chefs tasting menu at 35 Euro’s which consisted of 7 courses that seemed well balanced and gave the chef the opportunity to show of her skills. The wine choice we left to our waiter to did not disappoint by choosing a bottle of Portal Colheita a Duoro wine from 2008 that drank like a mature Châteauneuf de Pape full flavoured with a spicy jammy finish.
To start was a little amuse-bouche of quenelles of tuna pate with good olive oil, and bread, nicely done, not remarkable but good.
Julie beating me to the Veal Carpiccio
The second course was remarkable, a Carpaccio of Veal topped with Rocket Leaves aged local Cheese and a Herb dressing, Carpaccio is always a winner for Julie, so I had to skirmish a little for my share but both of us enjoyed the fresh contrasting flavours of a dish that depends on the quality of the ingredients.
To follow was a simple Onion Soup served with a Cheese Toastie, the soup was delicate and light a contrast to the rustic winey joys of a French Onion soup, it was good but to be very good I think it needed something extra to broaden the flavour, possibly a little Star Anise or some finely chopped spring onion. Despite my ideas I would point out that the bowls went back empty!
The fourth course moved up several notches a delightful and pretty plate consisting of Black Pudding in a Pastry Case on a bed of lightly Caramelised Apples, some salad leaves and a Alheira De Caca which is a play on hunters sausage in which game is mixed with bread and spices wrapped in a thin filo pastry and topped with a fried quails egg. Yes it is as nice as it sounds, I’m a sucker for well-cooked game and I would have happily eaten, two, or three, or……..
Then a simple? Pretty palate cleanser before for the main course, a delicate glass layered with ‘drunk pears’ or pears cooked in wine, then a layer of black vodka topped with a passion fruit sorbet. The drunk pears managed to have a little bite to them a bit like a Nashi pear and the passion fruit sorbet was very smooth.
The main course was a choice between fish, Sole if I remember correctly and Pork, we went for Pork, a delicious braised piece of Black Pig served with a Wild Mushroom Risotto and Ratatouille. This is a dish that benefits from a slow kitchen because unless you have a dedicated member of staff or the time within the service to properly supervise the dish, Risotto is nearly impossible to make well in a commercial kitchen. Samantha nearly nailed it, I think the rice was slightly overcooked, but to compensate the risotto was overflowing with Cep mushrooms, the pork tasted great and the Ratatouille gave a taste of sunshine in the middle of winter.
Black Pork and Wild Mushroom Risotto Yum
Julie and I had different Desserts for the 7th and last course. Julie had a trio of Mousses – Peanut, Caramel and Chocolate. They were very elegantly presented in three pretty glasses and I managed to swipe a bit! Julie really enjoyed them though I think the Chocolate and Peanut mousses were really a crème (there’s no harm in that I like crème) and the caramel though it had a lighter texture was crying out for a point of Fleur de Sel to turn it from good to memorable.
I had a Chocolate Coulant served with a Chilli Chocolate sauce and Raspberry Sorbet, Samantha had got this one 100% correct, a delicate sponge hiding an oozing chocolate sauce completed by the Chilli sauce and the fresh sorbet, if I had more time and the money I would have had seconds!
So what’s my overall view? Well want to support such a young team in such a beautiful setting, the food and wine tried over the two days (lunch and dinner) was based on the best of Portuguese produce and culinary tradition with a French classical touch which given the nationality of the chef is no surprise. My criticism are quibbles, would I eat here again? Yes absolutely. Should you eat here? Yes absolutely. As the new chef and team settle I think it will be an interesting summer. You might be able to eat better in Porto but only in a handful of places, it will cost you twice as much and would probably involve eating in some indifferent places first.
I’m currently taking a much needed and dare I say deserved break in Porto with my lovely partner Julie, it’s a kind of joint Christmas and Birthday present to us both as Julie turns 27 (again) on Friday.
Being me this has to involve a few gastronomic delights. I am not going to give you a blow by blow account of every meal that we have eaten, I’m not quite that bad, but I will offer a couple of contrasts.
Showing a girl a good time
First up is an unnamed diner near the Bolhoa, a 1950’s paradise of Formica, plastic chairs and surprisingly acceptable food. I like to eat like and with ‘the locals’ and this was about as local as it gets, not because of a big plan but yesterday was Mardi Gras, so in Porto it was an unofficial holiday and many places were shut, we were lucky to find somewhere that wasn’t an obvious tourist trap open . Julie had a Brochette of Veal with a salad. The salad was a bit dodgy but the veal was pretty good. I had Tripes Porto a celebrated dish which gives rise to the nickname tripe eaters to people from Porto because it is so popular.
Tripes Porto is an unctuous mix of Tripe, Beans, Pig feet, sausage etc, and it was loverrrly, nursery food for grown ups!
The following day and a polar opposite, we went to visit O Comercial a restaurant housed in the Palacio da Bolsa which is a vast building that was formerly the Porto stock exchange.
Showing a girl an even better time
We arrived for lunch to find that Julie and I where the only diners, which can be a worrying sign but I knew by reputation that the restaurant was very good.
We had a lovely lunch the waiter from Mozambique was friendly, informative but not hovering as could have easily happened as the only customers. The room was lovely, in fact as part of a palace it was opulent but thankfully not stuffy ,this was helped by having a very funky soundtrack playing in the background.
We had the lunch time fixed price menu – to start a salad of crisp onions, rocket leaves, raisins and prunes with a balsamic reduction, together with some bread, oil and balsamic vinegar. A simple tasty but thoughtful dish, with texture, contrast and style.
For mains we shared the two available plats, one plat a Baccalau dish bursting with salt cod, rice, piment andwith a raw egg to add a lovely creaminess. The other plat was pig cheek, with potatoes and black pudding, galega and black pudding sauce. Both were great, both of us reluctantly swapping plats halfway through, thecCaldo verde was very tasty, it had a light kale type quality.
Dessert was an Orange cake with a wild berry sauce, (yeah I know that I suffer for my blogging but you just soldier on as best as I can) the orange cake was soaked in a reduced orange sauce and burst with sticky flavour and was complimented well by the sharpness of the berry sauce.
Add to that a glass of decent wine and a bottle of water and you have a delicious and romantic lunch for two. And how much did this opulence, fine food and drink cost……… well 15 Euros a person!
O Comercial is a reason to visit Porto all on its own, and what was our response to such a lovely lunch?
We booked for diner on our last night, they have a chef’s tasting menu we’re sure it will be memorable.
One of the pleasures of my simple life is visiting the market held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings for hundreds of years in the beautiful medieval town of Loches.
Browsing around the tempting markets stalls loaded with fresh produce, much of it produced within 50 kms of the Town.
The best day in my opinion is a Wednesday, fruit and veg on the larger stalls are at their freshest and as it is mid-week it has a slightly more functional feel, but perhaps that’s in my mind.
Below is a slideshow of images I took last weekend in the market. Is your mouth watering as much as mine?
Our close friends Sandra and Jim live a short drive from the lovely little village of Petit Pressigny notable for the beautiful river Aigronne and a Michelin starred restaurant La Promenade run by Jacky Dallais a well-known chef/restauranter in the Touraine were such skills are rightly revered. Julie and I have been in a permanent state of getting around to visiting, but cost and distant tend to conspire against us.
The girls sampling some wine
However once a year the restaurant team host a diner champêtre or open air diner for the local community and this year we decided to accompany our friends to what promised to be a culinary treat.
Diner champêtre’s tend to be held by all the villages and towns as part of the local fetes they range from quite simple affairs to potential quite gastronomic and are always good value. There’s no or very limited choice and to be honest it is not environment were vegetarians are going to thrive. As part of the fete entertainment is normally provided possibly a dance orchestra, singers or even a full cabaret complete with skimpy costumes, dodgy dancing and even dodgier singing, I won’t be giving out prizes if you guess which ones my favourite
Wine by the river
If you visit the Touraine or any other area of France which are hosting a diner champêtre you really should go. You will be made very welcome; you will have a great time, meet some locals and experience a genuine piece of French life.
The diner champêtre at Petit Pressigny is a refined affair starting with a small but popular wine festival in the mid-afternoon. The festival consists of about 10 stalls offering a range of wines to sample and buy mostly from the Touraine area, which gave our little party an opportunity, purely in the name of research to sample a range of wines from some excellent producers.
After which we had a bit of a sit down by the river.
In line for our diner
In the early evening we noticed the queue forming for diner, time to saunter over. Queuing for events like this is part of the experience, it gives you an opportunity to meet people, to chat and joke or catch up with friends. When you get served you will be served quite quickly but in the meantime enjoy another aperitif.
The service area is along line with many willing hands offering food and drink, but of course as the service was delivered by Jacky Dallias’s team the food is at a different level.
Pate Lapin avec Cornichons et Salade
Rosbif avec Purée du Pomme de Terre al à Ancienne
Café et Biscuit au Poitiers
A bottle of wine
A bottle of water
A souvenir wine glass
The pate lapin was excellent a great texture, moist and full of flavour, the richness balanced with the sharpness of the cornichon and the freshness of the salad.
Rosbif and Pomme de Terre a la Ancienne
The main course is served separately, a small team pulling beef from the oven, slice, slice on to the plate a couple of spoonful’s of pomme de terre, sauce and done.
As a Brit the French tease me about Rosbif, but the Promenade team showed how it should be done but it so rarely is. Moist succulent meat, potato puree that I think had been made with butter and cream to which had been added enough potato to hold the dish together and a sauce or gravy that had to have used alchemy to get that intensity of flavour.
The crème renversée had been pimped up! Using cream rather than milk and they had even bothered to use vanilla seeds rather than essence. Even more impressively they had properly aged the crème so that the caramel was liquid rather than thick and inadequate as is often the way when crème renversée is served.
We had a pair of strolling players singing French chanson’s, gypsy jazz or classic covers. I got Jim to sing much to the approval of the musician’s and surrounding diners. We had a perfect summers evening in convivial company with people I love, is there any way of beating that?
Well you can always go up for seconds!
Sometimes people ask me why I live in France, I don’t know really but I’m learning to cope.
And thinking frugally, how much did this evening cost; in total, 15 euros…..As I said Diner Champêtre often have good food, good times and good value make sure you go to one if you are ever get the chance.
I know that spring has sprung by the return of a fabulous little cheese called Le Brossauthym which is produced at Perrusson near Loches.
Le Brossauthym is a sheep cheese lightly flavoured with thyme, it is only produced in the spring and summer when ewe’s milk is available. The cheese is oblong in shape and is white with a cream rind, its scent is amazing and it has a lovely smooth texture, the taste of lightly herbed milk is a delight.
The milk is produced using red faced sheep originally from the Anjou, which are selected for their ability to consistently produce rich milk well suited to cheese making. In the spring the pasture is green and rich and the milk is reminiscent of fresh grass but as the high summer arrives the taste of the milk changes, the ewes eat at night to avoid the heat of the day, and their diet is supplemented with maize and fresh alfalfa.
You can buy these superb lozenges of cheese direct from the producers in Perrusson at
or from Halles et Champs a great shop that specialises in local produce at affordable prices.
If your in the area both the cheese and the Halles et Champs are worth checking out.
Julie and I hopped along to the Mange Grenouille restaurant last week for a late works Christmas outing. Julie provides invaluable assistance and advice throughout the year and even though she is my partner I thought we should have a works outing. A further incentive is I can put the cost down against tax, but don’t tell Julie that
I had my eye on a nice little restaurant in St Aignan which is about the same distance from our house as Loches but significantly is in the department of Loir et Cher. We live in the adjacent department Indre et Loire and do not visit St Aignan as often as Loches as most publicity and services focus on to the department in which you live, sometimes at the expensive of adjacent towns or departments. In any event I think Loches is much nicer than St Aignan . However we do pop in and out of St Aignan and had eaten a couple of indifferent meals in the town. I had heard of some good reports of the Mange Grenouille so I thought we would give it a go.
The restaurant is just off the centre of St Aignan down a quiet side street. First impressions were pretty positive, a sort of unpretentious shabby chic (which is a positive comment), lunch was a very reasonable 14 euros, no choice, which I prefer.
Salade de Lentilles du Berry au Magret Fume
Premier Plat was Salade de Lentilles du Berry au Magret Fume (Salad of Berry Lentils with Smoked Duck Breast) – the plate was very nice, simple but full of flavour the lentils perfectly cooked in a fragrant balanced vinaigrette, yum. Berry refers to the ancient province of Berry that existed until the organisation of France departments in 1790, Berry had and still enjoys an excellent reputation for its Lentils!
Plat Principal was Saute du Porc a la Moutarde a l’Ancienne, Gratin Dauphinois – A solid piece of cooking not flash but the dish isn’t flashy, just full flavoured traditional fare well suited to the season.
Dessert was Poire Belle Helene – Julie was really pleased with this as she is very fond of pears and appreciates a good Belle Helene, would it meet her hopes….. Easily, in fact she thinks it is the best she had ever eaten. Good quality ice-cream (natch), a spoon licking bitter chocolate sauce and a perfectly poached pear that had been cooked in Orange Flower Water! a nice touch. The ingredients also held nicely in balance, not too much, not too little.
Poire Belle Helene
The whole meal complemented by some decent wine by the glass from Pouille the home of Jackie Marteau the Vin Man of a previous post, and a coffee to finish. The addition for the whole meal 20 euros a head, excellent value. I love living in France
We will be back, I can not see any reasaon to eat elsewhere when we are in St Aignan. I did notice that the restaurant was full and turning people away, pas mal for a weekday in January, if you want to follow in our footsteps you’ll need to book, I know we will.
Hope to see you there.
My eldest son, Aiden, was 21 recently. 21 is of course a significant birthday in the UK but here in France it is just another birthday, worth celebrating but not special. Aiden is currently a student in Tours and was away on his birthday taking a short break with his girlfriend Axelle who’s birthday falls on the same day as Aiden’s birthday.
We caught up with them last week and took them for lunch at La Deuvaliere in Tours. I had heard good things about the Deuvaliere rating 2 bibs in the Michelin guide and the lunchtime menu du jour is a very reasonable 17 Euros for 3 courses. It is tucked away in a side street near the Place Plumereau in the medieval centre of Tours.
Visitors to France often do not realise that Lunch is the main meal here, consequently restaurants vie for trade and can offer excellent value. The popular restaurants will be full and reservation is often essential. As we would be 5 I booked and I was pleased that I had as the restaurant was full.
Menu du jour
The menu du jour was just a couple of choices which I like, rather that than a long list of poorly executed dishes.
For the premier plat we all had Cheesecake de ricotta au saumon fume et a l’aneth (Ricotta Cheesecake with smoked salmon and dill). It arrived beautifully presented the cheesecake base was crushed Tuc type biscuits topped with a ricotta and herbs finished with a layer of smoked salmon, dotted around the cheesecake was a puree of dill. All agreed it was lovely, here’s a picture to prove it
Cheesecake de ricotta au saumon fume et a l'aneth
For the deuxieme plat Julie and I had Filet fletan, nouilles soba aux legumes croquants, emulsion de crustace a la citronnelle (Filet of halibut with soba noodles served with crunchy vegetables in a crustacean emulsion with lemongrass!). Yummy noodles served in a bowl with a light, foaming, fragrant sauce, topped by a perfectly cooked piece of halibut. It was tough but someone had to eat it, so I did. Here is the evidence
Filet fletan, nouilles soba aux legumes croquants, emulsion de crustace a la citronnelle
The children had the Piece du boeuf grillee et sa puree du pommes de terre a la ancienne, simply served but full of flavour, tender and juicy. Aiden passed on his tip for getting the best cut of beef in a restaurant which is to always order it rare.
Finally on to dessert, we all ordered the same dish, Gauffre, chantilly de nutella et son sorbet cerise griotte (Waffle with nutella whipped cream and morello cherry sorbet). It arrived as a complex construction of waffle, cream, sorbet and cherries, it looked great and required a knife fork and spoon. It also tasted as good as it looked and was suprisingly light.
Gauffre, chantilly de nutella et son sorbet cerise griotte
We had a bottle of 2003 Bourgueil at 30 Euros, not cheap but very drinkable and finished off with coffee. The addition was a very reasonable 130 odd euros, covering aperos, wine and lunch for five people. In fact it’s not very reasonable, it’s a steal. I’ll be back, as Aiden has left home I think I’ll root through some of his old stuff and raise the money for a return visit by selling it on ebay, he doesn’t need it he’s an adult now.