Now I don’t particularly like to admit it but there are one or two things that French do rather well and they most certainly know a thing or two about supermarkets. The variety of produce and the whole experience it has to be said is much more pleasant in your standard French hypermarche than in your English equivalent. I was filled with excitement and renewed energy when we stopped off in the French town of Besancon on our way down to the Alps to shop. I need not have worried about being able to find everything that I was looking for to create my New Year’s Eve extravaganza of prawns with lemon and garlic butter, roasted beef with wild mushrooms and red wine, and lemon posset. The vast fish counters and the charcuterie are enough to reduce even the most hardened of shoppers to tears and in France, this is just expected. In England, we are pleasantly surprised if we manage to buy everything that we are looking for in one supermarket without the need for an additional trip somewhere else. I find that this is more of a problem in central London where I currently reside and neither of the supermarkets near me sells fresh stock. It is not always possible for me to produce my own stock from the freezer and I do insist on fresh stock when I make a risotto. (And no, I do not think that Knoll Stock Pots are an adequate replacement). It turns out that I still experience the same sense of joy as did when I was young child on holiday in France at having to weigh out the different the fruit and vegetables and get the label to stick on them; hours of fun and also an excellent way for a young child to practice their French skills.
I think that I could happily have stayed all day in the shop but we did need to press on to Switzerland. I would say that we ate very well for the duration of our ski holiday; there was variety and most importantly, plenty. The ski resort of Villars is reasonably well serviced by supermarkets but I am still glad that we bought supplies from France with us as we would have struggled to buy prawns and the large piece of beef in the mountains.
I still feel a little bit proud of the meal that I cooked for New Year’s Eve, mountain fresh as I was and with an amply equipped kitchen although by no means perfectly equipped kitchen. What it does have though is one of the most stunning views that I have ever come across. On a clear day you look out of the windows and can see right across the valley and to the distant Alps winding their way into Italy. On returning from a hard day on the slopes, I manfully sacrificed my usual late afternoon/early evening nap in order to produce said extravaganza. In truth I think that I actually felt better and more refreshed without the sleep but there we go. I started by making the lemon posset without the aid of an electric whisk which was more effort than I used to and it didn’t help that I already had slightly sore wrists from the poling that I had been forced to do during the day (not my favourite part of skiing it has to be said) but I soldiered on whisking together double cream, caster sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. I do mine to taste and I favour a tart lemon posset myself and this was certainly lemony! I had to enlist the help of my fellow skiers for the taste test as the result of having squeezed the lemons meant that was all that I was able to taste. It would be fair to say that I made large lemon posset and served it in water glasses with a little shortbread on the side for those who so wished. I also got a little arty and decide to freeze slices of lemon as a garnish; completely pointless really but there you are. A raspberry garnish would have been a great addition but it was not possible to procure these in the mountains.
The prawns were also simple; I had the delightful task of shelling and de-veining the prawns, seasoned them and my best and beloved friend made the lemony garlic butter. The beef has to have been the biggest triumph. I was unable to ascertain the weight of the beef because we had bought a large pack of miscellaneous beef (none the wise as to what cut of beef it was) in which were two large pieces of meat. I obviously went for the larger piece and decided that I would cook it for approximately 25 minutes and then see. I marinated it briefly in balsamic vinegar, red wine, rosemary and garlic before searing it and placing it on a large baking tray surrounded by shallots in an oven at 190 for the 25 minutes that it had been allocated. Mean while, a potato gratin (thinly sliced potatoes, garlic, cream, onions and cheese) was bubbly away in the oven. After 25 minutes that beef was removed from the oven, put on a plate and covered with foil to rest for 20 minutes whilst the wild mushrooms (I used Chanterelles) were added to the shallots to roast. It addition to the potato gratin, we cooked some broccoli because I do like to see something green on the plate although I think that spinach would have been a pleasing alternative.
I had requested that my dinner guests wore some form of head wear, just to add to the craziness, but only my friend and I adhered to this. I wore a metallic headband and she a beautiful rose fascinator that I believe I am right in saying that she had made herself. It was also the night for the crackers that I had so lovingly sourced gifts for: earrings for my friend, a Lego man torch key ring for her boyfriend, some muscle rub for mine, and I had a necklace that just so happened to match my dress perfectly (not chosen by me I hasten to add).
The timing of the whole meal was quite perfect; with 5 minutes to go before the beef needed to come out of the oven to rest, the prawns were thrown in a searing hot frying pan with the flavoured butter and quickly cooked. As the beef was coming out the oven and the mushrooms were going in, the prawns were taken to the table served on a bed of salad with some fresh crusty bread. This would not have been possible without my nameless friend’s wonderful assistance. Starter demolished (the prawns were delicious, I could easily have eaten more), the main course was more-or-less ready to serve. We presented the beef in a ceremonial fashion on a large circular glass plate surrounded by, and adorned with, the mushrooms and shallots. I am not convinced that I could have cooked the beef better; it was perfectly pink, piping hot and juicy.
This was all rounded off with the lemon posset and then a hotly contested game of Pass the Pigs (4 very competitive people in one room, can be tricky) before stepping out onto the balcony to watch the fireworks.