Wild Mallard

Duck is one of DonQui’s favourite meats. He is also very fond of game.

Imagine his joy, therefore, at seeing a wild mallard duck at his local butchers. It was too much to resist so he picked it up, took it home and then did a bit of research on how to best cook the bird — this being his first attempt.

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A wild mallard is much smaller than a farmed duck — just about perfect for two people. It also has very little fat. Unlike a domestic duck, there is no need to render the fat and the whole bird can be roasted rather than separating the legs and breasts. Because the bird is so small the best way to prepare it is by browning it all over in a hot pan and then finishing it off in the oven.

This is DonQui’s recipe.

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Ingredients for the roast mallard for two people
1 wild mallard
1 onion quartered
2 carrots roughly chopped
1 garlic clove peeled and halved
1 lemon cut in half
A good bunch of fresh thyme
Salt
Oil and butter for cooking

Accompaniments (all optional)
1 apple cored and left whole with the skin on
Butter, raisins and a splash of rum to fill the inside of the apple
A handful of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked for at least 30 minutes
A good splash of red wine to deglaze the pan
Wild rice
Seasonal vegetables
Cranberry sauce

Method
Take the duck out of the fridge at least one hour before cooking so that it comes to room temperature.

Pre-heat the oven to 200º C. Meanwhile rub sea salt all over the duck, including the cavity. Salt on the skin will help to crisp it as well as adding flavour.

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Place the quartered onion, chopped carrot and garlic in a roasting pan, douse with a little oil and place in the heated oven to roast for 30-45 minutes until the vegetables are nice and dark but not burned.

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As the roasting time for the duck is only 12-15 minutes, DonQui does this in advance to help create a deep rich sauce. Otherwise the vegetables will not imbue the dark roasted flavours to the sauce. Take the vegetables out of the oven once they are nicely roasted and set aside.

Put the soaked wild rice on to boil and then simmer about 45 minutes before serving. DonQui’s method for cooking wild rice is fully explained here. Once cooked the drained rice can happily sit in a lidded pot, off the heat, and will remain warm for at least 15 minutes if you do not get your timings right.

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Once the vegetables are out of the oven, heat a mix of butter and oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Butter will give flavour and the oil will prevent it from burning. Brown the duck on all sides using tongs or a large spoon and fork to turn it. This will take about 10 minutes.

Take the bird out of the pan. Place it on a rack above the vegetables in the roasting pan. Then stuff the cavity of the duck with the halved lemons and sprigs of thyme. This will add flavour to the bird and the lemon will steam it from the inside while it roasts. Add the cored apple stuffed with butter, raisins and rum to the rack.

Put the roasting pan with the duck and apple above the vegetables into the oven and roast for 12-15 minutes. After 15 minutes the meat will still have some pink to it but more than that will cause it to dry out and toughen up. Twelve minutes will be just enough to cook through leaving the meat a little rarer.

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Place the duck on a carving board, cover with tinfoil and a couple of tea-towels (dishcloths) and let it rest for 10-20 minutes. In this time the duck will continue to slowly cook from the inside out. This will even the cooking process which up to now has been from the outside in. If you do not rest for at leat 10 minutes the meat will not be properly cooked.strain.jpg

Cook the accompanying vegetables and make the sauce while the duck is resting.
To make the sauce, deglaze the roasting pan with a good splash of red wine over the roasted vegetables, stirring it all up over a low heat and scraping up the brown bits. Then strain the liquid into a pre-prepared gravy base. As the wild duck has very little fat there is no need to spoon anything off.

DonQui’s gravy base is a variation of his rich sauce. A simple alternative could be chicken stock thickened with a roux of butter and flour.mushrooms.jpg

On this occasion DonQui decides to add some dried porcini mushrooms. As the duck is roasting he pan fries the soaked mushrooms in a butter-oil mix, using the same pan he browned the duck in without cleaning it. Then he adds them to the sauce along with the water they had been soaking in. This gives the gravy a deep earthy taste which perfectly matches the wild duck.

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DonQui serves the duck with the wild rice, fresh kale from his allotment and french beans. Although not seasonal, he had picked the beans in season and froze them a few months ago. They were an excellent additional accompaniment.

As for the mallard — it was utterly delicious. DonQui will definitely try it again. Next time he will not bother with the baked apple. It is a traditional addition to a game bird, and went well with it, but DonQui thought the cranberry sauce was better and there was no need of two different sweet accompaniments.

DonQui advises looking out for pellets when eating a wild bird.  He found three shotgun pellets in this mallard. He takes this as a good sign that the mallard will have been living freely as a wild bird should before succumbing to the hunter rather than the abattoir.

 

Harry Potter and Boots of Beer

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Lavenham, Suffolk, bills itself as England’s best preserved medieval town. As a bit of a history buff it is a place DonQui has wanted to visit for some time. Even though it is not far from his home paddock on the Suffolk coast, he has not managed it until now.

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In the heart of Suffolk, not too far from Bury St. Edmunds, Lavenham is not easy to find. There are no main roads and no rail lines. To get there DonQui has to wind his way along narrow country lanes with only just enough room for two cars coming in opposite directions to squeeze past each other. Perhaps this is why the place is so well preserved.

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If you like old timber-framed houses this is the place for you. Many of the wonky buildings have been standing since the 14th century. Walking around the compact streets DonQui feels as if he has stepped back in time — parked cars notwithstanding.

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Fans of Harry Potter may well recognise the De Vere house as Harry’s birthplace from the film The Deathly Hallows.

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Several other films have also used the backdrop of Lavenham’s medieval streets as a backdrop.

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Many of the houses have pink plaster. The colour is still known today as ’Suffolk pink’. Originally this colour was obtained by mixing pigs’ blood with the plaster. DonQui assumes that the modern versions are more likely made by chemical combinations to match the natural original.

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Most of the buildings can only be admired from the outside but the Guildhall can be visited. It has been restored inside along with some excellent exhibits of its origins in the Flanders wool trade.

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Later it became a house of correction where the ‘idle and disorderly’ (poor and homeless) were incarcerated in the misguided idea that hard work and cruel conditions would make them more productive members of society.

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These reproductions of original notices give DonQui an idea of the fate of those unfortunates. One woman was incarcerated for having brought two children with smallpox into the town.

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There is also a bit of relatively modern history to the place. RAF Lavenham was an active airfield during the second world war and was home to the USAAF’ s 487th Bombardment Group which flew 185 missions between May 1944 and April 1945 with the loss of 233 lives. The Airmen’s Bar in the Swan Hotel is dedicated to their memory.

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Original graffiti from British and American pilots adorns the walls along with modern additions from returning veterans and their offspring.

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DonQui particularly likes the ‘boot record’ from 1940 which lists the times it took various British servicemen to drink a ‘boot’ of beer. Ironically this is a German tradition in which a couple of litres of beer are drunk in one go from a glass in the shape of a boot. DonQui did this in his younger days when he was living in Germany. The trick is to keep the toe of the boot pointing down otherwise an air-bubble will cause the drinker to be drenched, much to the amusement of the on-lookers.

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DonQui takes his hat off to W.H. Culling of the RAF who drank the boot in an incredible 59 seconds on 5 July 1940 only to do it again eight days later in 40 seconds!

Lavenham has plenty of excellent watering holes. These include:

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The Great House. This is where DonQui stayed and he reviewed it fully in his previous post. As boutique hotel with only 5 rooms it must be reserved well in advance. If you cannot get a room there, DonQui recommends treating yourself to at least one meal in the wonderful French restaurant.

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The Swan. Home of the atmospheric Airmen’s Bar, the Swan also has rooms and two eating possibilities.

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The restaurant is excellent, offering modern British cuisine of nearly the same quality as The Great House although it does not have quite the same ambiance. Duchess proclaims her goat’s cheese pannacotta with beetroot granita as one of the most interesting dishes she has ever tasted.

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The Swan’s Brasserie is more casual but with a bunch of tables and plastic chairs set up in a hallway, DonQui is not tempted.

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Attached to the Swan is an excellent Spa with a full range of treatments and a hot tub.

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Number 10 gets good reviews on TripAdvisor. The old timbered building and interesting menu posted outside tempts DonQui. When he goes inside to potentially make a reservation his ears are assaulted with the sounds of manufactured pop music of the worst kind. When he asks if this sort of stuff is played through dinner he is informed that it is. With a gentle snort he turns on his hooves and looks elsewhere.

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The Lavenham Greyhound is a Greene King pub. DonQui goes in for an afternoon drink and enjoys it. He cannot vouch for the food but the menu has fairly typical good pub food options. The bowls of soup he sees being brought to another table look good.

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The Guildhall  has a very good café offering tea, coffee and baked goods. Their scones are baked on the premises and DonQui tucks into one along with clotted cream and a blackcurrant jam while Duchess takes hers with raspberry jam. The scones are truly excellent. It is well worth a stop.

A bit of France in Suffolk

In the heart of rural Suffolk lies Lavenham — England’s best preserved medieval town. In the heart of Lavenham is an unexpected little corner of France.

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Over thirty years ago, the 14th century ‘Great House’ on Lavenham’s Market Place was bought by Régis and Martine Crépy. They converted it into a fabulous 5-room boutique hotel with a gourmet French restaurant.

DonQui is staying at The Great House for a couple of days while he explores Lavenham. It is as quintessentially French as the rest Lavenham is medieval English. The owners, staff, chef, and ambiance are all French. It seems to DonQui as if he has crossed the channel as soon as he steps over the threshold. For the francophile DonQui this is all very good news, especially the prospect of a French style dinner in owner-chef Régis Crépy’s award winning restaurant. He is not disappointed.

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He and Duchess opt for the 3 course set menu which at £36 is great value for top end cuisine from a renown chef who is often on the premises.

Spying the fantastic looking cheese board on the way in he decides to add a cheese course before desert which he and duchess will share. With 19 AOC cheeses it is reminiscent of the cheese board he sampled recently at Domaine de Barive.

 

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The food more than lives up to expectations. It is modern French cuisine using mostly local ingredients although the cheese is imported from France and the scallops come from the Isle of Man. The dishes are perfectly cooked, very well balanced, and not overly fussy. There are also a very good selection of wines by the glass. DonQui generally prefers this with a multi course meal as it allows him to sample different wines with different dishes.

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Highlights include the queen scallops with an avocado-lemon mousse and seaweed butter, which DonQui has as his starter. The accompanying mousse gives just the right amount of citrus taste to set off the delicate small scallops.

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Duchess pronounces her main of skate wing with capers and tomatoes as ‘astounding.’ Skate is not a fish DonQui has been particularly keen on in the past. When he has a taste of this one he is most impressed. The fish takes the taste of the capers and tomatoes beautifully and DonQui decides he will try cooking skate wing himself at some time in the future.

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The meat dishes are just as good as the fish. DonQui’s only mild criticism is that the additional portions of vegetables and potato do not match the standard of the main dishes. They were also quite unnecessary.

IMG_0529The cheese selection is a delight, all perfectly ripe and served at room temperature. DonQui likes having cheese before a sweet to finish off his wine. Unfortunately in many English restaurants a cheese course is brought straight from the fridge and is therefore often tasteless.

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The deserts are just as good as the previous courses.

The hotel rooms are spacious and comfortable. The modern furnishings and conveniences tastefully fitting in to their ancient surroundings. One of the rooms has a Jacobean four poster bed which DonQui and Duchess decide to try out on a future visit.

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Breakfast is a typical French-style buffet. The smell of the croissants and bread being baked on-site are a perfect alarm clock for DonQui.

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Cooked options from poached eggs on toast to a ‘full English’ are also available.

DonQui thoroughly enjoyed his stay at The Great House. It is not inexpensive but given the very high quality it is value for money. He will definitely come again. Lavenham itself is also well worth a visit and DonQui will no doubt have more to say about the place before too long.

Rumour has it that Régis Crépy is looking to sell up in order to open a new restaurant in London with his son. If you want to experience this wonderful French oasis in the heart of Suffolk you may wish to go sooner rather than later.

Canadian Thanksgiving Feast

Back home from his travels DonQui decides to get cooking again.

Today being Canadian Thanksgiving, he decides to put together a Thanksgiving feast. Central to this has to be a turkey which is a little difficult to find in the UK at this time of year.

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Fortunately his friendly local butchers — Mills & Sons & Daughters are able to find him a lovely small bird. DonQui finds that smaller turkeys have much better taste and with this one at just over 4kg (9 lbs) he won’t be stuck with leftovers for weeks afterwards.

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Another essential for DonQui is wild rice which comes from the great lakes of Canada and the northern USA. Many packets of wild rice in the UK are sold mixed with white rice. This is a silly combination as wild rice requires much longer cooking than ordinary rice. If you want to mix the two they need to be cooked separately or otherwise you will end up with one still too hard or the other too soggy.

Traditional accompaniments would be sweet potato and squash or some other autumnal vegetables. DonQui’s guests had requested roast potatoes and peas. He is happy to oblige even if they are not the most authentic of Thanksgiving side dishes.

Cranberry sauce is another important addition to a turkey feast. This time he uses a store-bought jar although he has made it himself before. Cranberry sauce is quite easy to make and DonQui’s recipe can be found here.

DonQui decides he will stuff the turkey. As this entails quite a bit of work, it is not something DonQui does as a matter of course. Due to the time it takes he prefers to prepare the stuffing the day before, making it much easier on the day. He also pre-prepares the gravy base for the same reason.

Here are his recipes to serve 4-6 people depending on appetites and the desire for left-overs

Stuffing Ingredients
A handful of chopped turkey and/or chicken livers (about 6 whole livers)
Half an onion finely chopped
A good bunch of chopped parsley (about ½ a cup)
A good teaspoon each of fresh chopped sage, rosemary and thyme (reduce the amount if using dried herbs)
A bit of grated nutmeg
6 slices of stale white bread cut into squares leaving crusts on
a handful of chopped dried cranberries (optional)
a handful of chopped chestnuts (optional)
a splash of milk
salt and pepper to taste
butter for cooking (mix with a little vegetable oil if desired)

Stuffing method

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Gently pan fry the onion in butter until soft and it begins to colour

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Add the chopped livers and stir fry over a low heat until most of the pinkness is almost gone. Add the herbs, nutmeg, salt and pepper and continue cooking over a low heat until well mixed.
Set aside to cool

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Put the cut bread into a bowl

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Moisten with a little milk and kneed it together with your hands until the volume is reduced and the bread becomes almost dough-like but not too soggy. Squeeze out any excess liquid.IMG_0444 2.jpg

Mix in the liver/onion/herb mixture along with the cranberries and chestnuts if you are using them. This time DonQui uses only the cranberries. They add a delightful taste burst to the finished stuffing.  You can start this off with a fork but to get it really well mixed you will need to get in there with your hands.

IMG_0446.JPGWhen it is throughly mixed it should have the look and constituency of a course paté. Set aside for at least a couple of hours or overnight

Preparing the Gravy base.
Place the turkey giblets (neck, kidney and heart but not the liver) along with a roughly diced carrot and celery stalk in a roasting pan along with a quartered onion leaving the outer skin on. DonQui also likes to clip the wing tips off the turkey and add these also. The liver goes in to making the stuffing.

Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place the roasting pan in a pre-heated oven at 160º and roast for about 1 hr until the vegetables have begun to brown but not burn.

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Deglaze the pan with a splash of dry white wine and transfer everything into a large pot. Add water to just about cover, along with a bay leaf and a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Simmer the mixture for at least an hour until all the flavours combine. For a deeper taste use chicken stock (or better yet turkey stock if you have it) in place of some or all of the water. This could be cooked up in the roasting pan but DonQui prefers to use a pot. Its narrower base makes it easier to cover the ingredients with liquid.

Strain and reserve the liquid until ready to make the gravy. Discard the solid ingredients. DonQui does this the night before to reduce the number of activities on the day of the feast.

The Wild Rice
Properly cooked, wild rice expands to almost 4 times its dry state.

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Soak a cup of wild rice in 4 cups of water and leave overnight. The grains will burst at the ends, exposing the white insides.

About 1 hour before serving, drain the soaked rice and place in a pot with three times its volume of salted water. For an even better taste substitute about 1/3 of the the water with chicken stock.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes or until tender.

The Turkey

Take the turkey out of the fridge at least 1 hour before cooking. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.

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Stuff the neck end (back) of the turkey with the stuffing and close the skin back over it. DonQui tends to secure the neck flap with a wooden cocktail stick but this is not essential.

Place two halved citrus fruits (lemons or clementines) inside the main cavity of the turkey along with sprigs of fresh rosemary and/or thyme. DonQui also adds half an onion (optional). These will steam the inside of the turkey as it cooks and add greater flavour to the gravy.

Warm some butter in your hands then rub and massage it all over the bird. Then sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

Place the turkey in a roasting pan. Cover with tinfoil (aluminium foil). Place in the oven and roast at 180º C for 25-30 minutes per kilo. Remove the tinfoil for the last 40 minutes of cooking. This will give make the skin turn a nice crispy golden brown.

Take the bird out of the oven. Use large tongs, or tongs and a carving fork, to tip the bird up to let the juices from the cavity pour out into your pre-prepared gravy base. Then place it on a carving board, cover with tinfoil and a couple of tea towels (dishcloths) and let it rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours). During this time the bird will continue to cook.

If you are worried whether the turkey is properly cooked, pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a sharp knife or skewer. If the juices run clear then it is done. If you like to use a thermometer (DonQui never does) then the internal temperature should be 65ºC. Be careful of overcooking as the breast will dry out.

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While the bird is resting, get on with cooking the vegetables and finishing off your gravy.

Finishing the Gravy
After pouring the juices from the cavity of the turkey into the gravy base, bring it back up to the boil and let simmer.

Pour off all the fat and oil from the empty roasting pan, place onto the stove top at a moderate head and deglaze the pan with a good splash of white wine.

Scrap up all the brown bits with a wooden spatula and then strain the juices into the simmering gravy base.

Thicken the gravy either with a roux of flour and butter or cornstarch mixed with water. DonQui likes to use a roux and he describes his method of doing this in his recipe for rich meat sauce.

If you do not pre-prepare a gravy base then you should add chopped carrot and celery with a quartered onion to the roasting pan along with the turkey. After deglazing the pan as above add 500ml of chicken or turkey stock and add this to the juices from the cavity of the cooked turkey.

After resting, more juices will have accumulated on the platter or in the runnels of the carving board. Add these to the gravy before serving.

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DonQui was most pleased with the way his Thanksgiving feast turned out.

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The empty plates and dishes afterwards bore testament to the enjoyment of others. All are agreed that the early October Canadian date for Thanksgiving is much more sensible than the US November one. It is, of course, more suitable for northern climes but it also gives a nice separation from Christmas.

Burgers and Beer

There was a time, not that long ago, when finding good beer in the USA was just about impossible. Now, thanks to the craft beer revolution, DonQui is able to find a decent brew in the US almost as easily as he can in Europe.

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At the marvellously ramshackle Le Tub, in Hollywood, Florida, DonQui makes the acquaintance of a rather pleasant Yuengling Lager. Claiming to be from the oldest brewery in America it has a slight amber colour and more taste than your average lager. Apparently Mr Yuengling is a Trump supporter so although he enjoys the brew, DonQui will not make a habit of drinking it very often.

 

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With its eclectic furnishings…

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…and great view over the Intra-Coastal Waterway,  Le Tub seems the perfect place for a burger and beer.

Apparently Le Tub’s burgers were at some point voted by readers of GQ Magazine as the best in America, so DonQui decides to sample one. With 13 ounces of meat, the burger is not for the faint of heart but it is truly delicious.

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Although a bit out of the way to the south of Fort Lauderdale, DonQui is very glad to have been guided to Le Tub.

It is a perfect place to while away an afternoon in the Florida sun.

Crêpes Suzette

Before leaving his culinary tour of Domaine de Barive, DonQui wishes to mention one more outstanding experiences at their restaurant. This is their Crêpes Suzette.

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Crêpes Suzette may be a little bit old fashioned but then so is DonQui.  Although they are mostly renown for the flashy at-table presentation, the taste of pancakes with citrus, butter and Grand Marnier, is pretty hard to beat.

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They are prepared at DonQui’s table by the skilled, experienced waitress who takes her time. She concentrates more on making sure the pancakes are perfectly prepared, rather than the accompanying theatre.

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That is not to say that the preparation is without theatre at the time of flambéing.

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On the plate the dish looks simple and it it. The taste, however, is sublime.

Cheese, Wine and Beer

No matter how good a meal has been, for DonQui, a good cheese course is often his favourite part of a long leisurely dinner.

Cheese and wine simply go together. It is for this reason he always takes cheese before desert, prolonging the savoury tastes and finishing off the wine at the same time.

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DonQui’s previously mentioned the superb cheese board at Domain de Barive’s Restaurant des Epicuriens. Before leaving he wants to try it again and he asks the sommelier to choose a glass of wine for him to accompany his cheese.

The sommelier peers over the cheeses DonQui has selected, thinks for one moment, pauses for a second, then makes a most interesting suggestion.

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Given the wide variety of cheese flavours DonQui has selected, the sommelier says that no one wine would go perfectly with all. What DonQui needs is three different accompanying drinks. DonQui silently tots up his alcohol tolerance, bearing in mind he had a glass with a previous course and a beer before the meal.

The sommelier reassures DonQui, telling him that for the price of one glass he could have three small ones. This seems like something worth trying.

DonQui had anticipated the sommelier would appear with red wines with his cheeses, or perhaps two reds and one white. He could not have been more wrong.

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To go with his local cheeses (on the left of the photo), he is brought a honey-coloured ‘biere du garde’ — a special ‘keeping’ brew from northern France which is reminiscent of some Belgian Trappist beers. There is champagne for the soft goats’ cheese (centre of photo) and a white wine from the Pyrenees to go with the Italian provolone and creamy Pyrenean white cheese (right of photo).

It all feels very indulgent but then DonQui likes to indulge himself. Left to his own devices he probably would have gone for a familiar hearty red wine for his cheese. He is glad that he did not. Not only were the sommelier’s choices absolutely perfect but they opened DonQui’s eyes to other new possibilities.