A Kitchen in France

mimiautumn

Anatomy of a house

St Yzans is a quiet little village perched on a small hill in the middle of vineyards. Is has a big church, a small school, a Citroën garage and one little shop that is also a café. In the morning a white car delivers baguette to those who want it, maybe not the best baguette in France but a charming feature nonetheless. The village is so small that if you walk any street, in any direction for a few minutes you’ll find yourself amongst the vines. One of those streets is my street, rue de Loudenne. House number one on that street is an L-shaped old stone house with countless rooms and vast corridors. It’s been empty for years, safe for a few rooms that were inhabited by the previous owner’s mother. Everything else remains untouched, no weird renovations and less favorably, not much restoration.
My first love in this house is the old staircase, so grand, so beautiful that I would have settled for only that. I remember walking through the front door for the first time in late January this year, then standing still for a few moments, imagining my children running up and down the stairs, followed by dogs, of course. I imagined myself walking down the stairs on a festive evening wearing a long, elegant, flowing dress, followed by dogs, of course. Next to the staircase is the kitchen and I imagined persons of the past streaming in and out of the door, holding silver trays with delicious food, carrying them up the stairs and into the other wing where guests would dine under crystal chandeliers. Maybe they are still carrying trays up and down, who knows, in any case the house has been idle for so long I am sure the ghosts are happy to have some company.

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Next to the kitchen on the first floor is a room, then another, and then a bigger room, the harvest room, which will be the principal room for my cooking workshops and restaurant. That room has an old staircase and under it, another kitchen, smaller, more rustic – even prettier than the first. In a few weeks or months all these rooms will be filled with food. They will be filled with bistrot chairs and simple tables, with mountains of fresh vegetables and fruits, with birds and hams and sausages hanging from the ceilings. Chests and cupboards will be overflowing with silverware and white cotton napkins and tablecloths. In one corner of one of the rooms will be the prettiest pine-wood cupboard that reaches from floor to ceiling – that’s where we’ll keep the tableware.
Outside the harvest room we have just planted a nicely sized olive tree with thousands of shiny black olives and next to it a few smaller ones. It makes me happy to think that next summer guests can dine in the shade of that tree and on rainy days we’ll leave the dining room doors open so everyone can enjoy the comforting sight of summer rain showering the garden.
Right now the only room that’s ready, and it isn’t REALLY ready, is the kitchen. Though we haven’t moved in yet we have already had several meals in there, to try it out, and mainly just because I adore being there. Everytime I leave I feel sad, if it wasn’t for my big family I think I might just sleep there on those red and cream kitchen floor tiles.

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When we first made an offer for the house we found out that it was once owned by a formidable lady called Plantia Plantieu. She always wore black dresses and she loved to cook. This much I knew, but the last few months have seen me piecing together little bits of information, old photographs, documents and declarations. But what did she like to cook? Everytime I run into someone elderly in the village, someone who might have known her I am all over them like a hawk. Luckily they are all happy to share. So far I’ve found out that she loved to make coq au vin. I discovered that blanquette de veau was her absolute signature dish, a recipe she reserved for special occasions. Last week I ran into an older man in the village who remembers her from the time he was a little boy. He used to bring her fava beans from his parent’s garden and he told me she used to scold him if they were too small. She like them big for her favorite soup which just happens to be my favorite soup too. Everyone remembers something about her cooking.
I believe in coincidences but I also believe in fate. So far everything Plantia liked I like too. In fact I like it so much that it’s all in my cookbook “A Kitchen in France”. And from now on I’ll be cooking them in her old kitchen in France.
As I said there are coincidences … and then there is fate.

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Recipe testing – afterwards

The kids are just as excited as I am about my cookbook, but for different reasons perhaps. Louise has been counting the photos of herself and while she’s not unhappy about her grand total she’s a bit bothered by the fact that the biggest photo is of her brother and main rival, Hudson. He in turn is more of a worrier and asked me lately if I was sure that all the recipes worked. “Of course they do”, I answered “You have my food every day – don’t you like it?” “Yes I know YOU can do them but maybe they printed something wrong and everybody will be angry” he said. So he decided to try one and insisted that he would choose it himself. He’s been very interested in wine since we decided to make our own and though he was initially leaning towards the chocolate meringues he decided to go for the Médocain Pears drenched in wine. I promised to help, but not too much. My new fireplace, complete with a 650-kg iron sculpture is just screaming to be used so this week I kept my promise to the restoration guys and cooked them an entrecôte (rib-eye steak) feast with shallots and bone marrow – also from the book. Call me crazy, delusional even but everything seems so easy in that kitchen, everything just falls into place. It’s as if all the cooking that happened there once upon a time is simply waiting to happen all over again.

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And for those of you who are wondering what we were doing driving around vineyards in a flag colored 2CV – here’s the explanation: It belongs to a friend who lent it to us for some filming we were doing last week and Oddur just can’t bear to give it up (even if he has problems starting it). Driving around in the French countryside in an old Citroën, with just a few baguettes and a piece of Camembert is not the worst way to spend a chilly November afternoon.

On a practical note so many of you have been in touch and shown interest in my upcoming cooking workshops. We are still working out the finer details, prices, duration etc but I am thrilled to announce that we will start on the 17th of March 2015. We decided not to wait until the guest rooms are ready and have found some great places to stay for those of you attending the first classes.
So for those of you who are really interested and who are able to come in March please don’t hesitate to contact me – that first class will be a special one.

Next week, we will be in New York! I will be hosting two book signing events, one at Kisan (125 Greene Street/Soho) on Wednesday, November 19 from 6:00-7:30pm & another one on Thursday, November 20th at Strand Bookstore @ Club Monaco (160 5th Avenue/Flatiron district) from 12:00-1:30pm. I am expecting you… see you there! Beyond excited. Mimi x

A KITCHEN IN FRANCE, A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse
Published by Clarkson Potter / Random House available for sale on
AmazonB&NIndiebound and in bookstores.

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Recipes from my book “A Kitchen in France”.

Grilled entrecôte à la Bordelaise

A big juicy entrecôte, or rib-eye steak, seasoned with just salt and pepper and cooked over high heat until crusty and juicy, has always had a special place in my heart. Frankly I didn’t think it could be improved on—that is until I moved to Médoc. As you will be well aware of at this point, the people of Bordeaux love adding shallots to everything. Here they work wonders and really complement the flavors of the meat. Add a bit of bone marrow ,and you are in meat heaven. It’s fine to cook this entrecôte on a regular grill but if you want the full Bordelaise effect, I recommend adding dried grapevines to the fire so that a hint of Cabernet or Merlot finds its way into your steak. Having this dish without a glass of red wine is a crime!

Serves 2

4 beef marrow bones
One 1-pound/ 400- to 500-g rib-eye steak
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 shallots, finely chopped

Prepare the oven to 400°F/ 200°C

To remove the marrow from the bones, put the bones in a baking dish and bake until the marrow is soft enough to scrape out of the bones, 10 to 15 minutes.
Prepare a medium-hot fire in the grill. You can add dried grapevines, if desired (to increase the smoky flavor).
Season the meat with salt and pepper. Grill the meat until browned and cooked to medium-rare, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Heat the blade of a knife over the grill and spread the bone marrow over the meat. Sprinkle the shallots all over. Remove from the grill and serve immediately.

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Pears à la Médocaine

I love having pears on my kitchen table; they age gracefully, the full colors come out, and they never taste better than just before they go bad. I usually try to catch them just at that moment and put them in a cake or tart or simply have them with some nuts, cheese and a glass of wine. It won’t surprise you that here in Bordeaux they like to drench pears in wine, which makes them very tasty and breathtakingly beautiful. If I were a painter, this is the dish I would paint first. Then I would eat it. (Actually, because I’m such an impatient gourmet, I would probably eat the pears first and then paint them from memory.)

Serves 6 to 8

3 cups/ 750 ml dry red wine
1 3/4 cups/ 350 g graduated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out, seeds and beans reserved
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
2 star anise
6 to 8 large pears, peeled but stem left on

In a saucepan large enough to hold the pears standing upright, combine the wine, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, cinnamon, bay leaves, and star anise, mix well, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and bring to a low boil over medium heat. Add the pears, stems up, cover, and simmer, turning the pears occasionally so they cook evenly, until they are tender, 30 minutes.
Let the pears cool, then refrigerate for 24 hours in the syrup. To serve, divide the pears among shallow bowls and spoon some of their syrup over them.

cover

Reflections on a cookbook

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As I am writing this, three days have passed since my cookbook, A Kitchen in France, was officially published. Three days since I was in Paris giving a talk at the American library, three days since people all over the world could go into their local bookstore and whether they noticed it or not my book would be there, somewhere in the room, waiting to be picked up, explored, judged, bought or even criticized. It’s also been three days since my husband and daughter walked into a bookstore on rue de Rivoli in Paris, finding the book in stacks on a table in the middle of the room. I wasn’t there but I am told that Louise, our 6-year-old, looked at the stack for about 30 seconds and then asked “why doesn’t anyone want to buy mommy’s book”, then she headed to the cashier and simply asked “Do you know Mimi Thorisson?” The lady answered “The woman who cooks?”. Louise beamed with pride “I am her daughter”. Later that night, when so many people were getting a copy at the American library, waiting in line to have their book signed, she seemed relieved – people seemed to like it after all. We all know that Louise is the businessperson in the family – in fact her father jokes that we can all just comfortably retire now that she’s around.

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I went to WHSmith and Galignani on rue de Rivoli all the time when I lived in Paris, probably three times a week. Getting books for me and the kids, magazines, even sweets and tea. Sometimes I would see an attractive book on display in the center of the store, something recently published and beautiful. I always wondered what it would feel like to be among the shelves, to be an author of some kind, to have my own book in the spotlight of a bookstore.
Now I’ve had three days to reflect on the fact that my book is actually for sale in a real bookstore with real customers who in turn choose to buy it even if they could do otherwise. It’s a thrill, I must admit, but it has made me think, now that I’m there “what does it all mean?”
I’ve come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t mean anything at all if I wasn’t proud of it, and I am.
It will be there for our children and their children as a souvenir of the life we had and the food we cooked. It will be there to remind me and my husband that once we were young and had dreams and hoped that our dreams might give wings to the dreams of other people.

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But most of all this book is a celebration of good food and mainly good French food. What is French food, is a question I am frequently asked. Is it just frog legs and snails or mainly croque monsieurs and cassoulet’s. What’s the difference between an American steak and a French one? What makes an omelette French and a frittata Italian, are French fries really French? How about French toast?
Go to any city in the world and you can easily find a pizzeria or a trattoria, a noodle bar or a burger joint around the corner. But mostly the bistrots are few and far between. French food is the fancy dress you have in your closet for the annual ball, it’s the tuxedo you take out once or twice a year. It’s a complicated dish best served in a place with three Michelin stars. A tomato and mozzarella salad is so easy to make, that plate of pasta so convenient or just throwing a steak on the grill. But French food is for the chefs … and of course the French.
I guess what I am saying that after three days of reflecting what makes me most happy about this book is not just that it’s there, that I did something exciting or that some people may know my name. It’s the fact that tonight, more people will be making simple, delicious French food, perhaps opening bottles of wine, thinking of France and all is has to offer.

So all there is left to say is bon appétit.

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Merci mille fois

This week is a celebration and joyous spirits. It’s also a time for thank you’s and hope to see you again’s.
Thank you ever so much to my readers to take the time to read my blog and share their thoughts and ideas. Many of you have been with me from the very beginning when a garden cake, photographed on an iPhone traveled the world through cyberspace and increased my readership from a few hundred to many more.
And thank you to everybody who’s contributed to Manger with their products, insights, generosity and general wonderfullness.
A big thank you to the dream team at Clarkson Potter who have made this whole process pure joy.
The wonderful Anna Mintz who trotted up and down Manhattan with the pregnant me in sub-zero temperatures in March yet made me feel warm. Kevin Sweeting who is as sweet as his name suggests.
The incomparable Jenny Kate who designed the book so beautifully. Anna Bond from Rifle Paper Co. for her beautiful illustrations.
And finally the best editor in the world, Rica Allannic, so sharp, so quick, so absolutely wonderful to work with.
Of course our story continues, new house, new adventures but that is, as they say, another book!
I wanted this to be a special post and what better way to make it special than to share two of my absolute recipes from the book. In the year that has passed since I handed in my first manuscript I think I must have made these two more often than any other in the whole book. As for the images in this post, they are photographs that we did specially for the book but did not get into the final version. I thought they deserved a chance to shine.

‘A Kitchen in France’, published by Clarkson Potter available for sale on
AmazonB&NIndiebound

pears

cabbage

choufarcie

Chou farçi

One of my favorite things to serve alongside meat is braised Savoy cabbage. Wonderful things happen when you cook this bitter vegetable with butter and let all the flavors come out. This little dish is really a variation of serving meat with cabbage—it’s all wrapped together in a pretty parcel. Serve it on its own, as a weekend lunch, or as an appetizer for a decadent feast. It’s the sort of dish that will make those at your table wonder, “If this is the starter, what are we having for the main course?”

Serves 6

1 head Savoy cabbage
Unsalted butter, for the pan
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, finely diced
2/3 pound/300 g ground beef
2/3 pound/300 g good-quality pork sausage meat
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 to 3 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon Rabelais spice or ground allspice
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
½ (7-ounce/200-g) can whole tomatoes, crushed, with their juices
1 large egg

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, core the cabbage leaves and separate them, discarding any coarse outer ones. Cook the leaves in boiling water for 8 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

Grease the bottom and sides of a deep 7-inch/18-cm soufflé dish or charlotte mold with butter. Put a large pretty cabbage leaf, domed side down, in the dish. Top with another leaf and continue arranging the leaves one on top of another until the entire base and sides are covered. You won’t use all of the leaves at this point (reserve enough for 4 or 5 layers).

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the onion and carrots until softened, 4 minutes. Add the ground beef, sausage, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, spice and season with salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring once or twice, until the meat is browned.
Pour in the crushed tomatoes, with their juices, and simmer until nearly all the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

When mixture has cooled, discard the thyme and bay leaf. Add the egg and mix well.
Put a layer of about ½ inch/ 1 cm of the meat in the cabbage-lined dish and top with a cabbage leaf. Repeat until you’ve used all of the meat and filled the dish, about 4 layers. Finish with a final layer of cabbage, making sure to tuck in the leaf on all sides.

Bake for 40 minutes. To unmold, invert a plate over the soufflé dish, flip the plate and dish, and remove the mold. Serve immediately, cut into slices.

Note: Rabelais spice is a mix of allspice, nutmeg and curry – a traditional spice in France since 1820.

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Galette Pérougienne

This is a wonderful speciality from the medieval town of Pérouges, near Lyon, made from a lemony yeasted brioche dough that is sprinkled with a generous amount of sugar, dotted with butter, and baked in a very hot oven. the sugar caramelizes and each bite is a pure delight. I am very fond of this medieval cake. It is so authentic and simple in taste – exactly what I look for in a dessert.

Serves 4 to 6

3 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup/ 80 ml lukewarm water
12 tablespoons/ 1 1/2 sticks/180 g unsalted butter, plus more for the bowl, at room temperature
1 large egg
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of fine sea salt
1/2 cup/ 100 g granulated sugar
1 1/3 cup/ 160 g all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for rolling

Mix the yeast in the lukewarm water in a small cup. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow the yeast to dissolve.

In a large bowl, mix together 8 tablespoons/ 120 g of the butter with the egg, lemon zest, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Add the yeast mixture and then gradually add the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until you have a soft and elastic dough.

Shape the dough into a ball, put it in a buttered bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm spot . Press doubled in size, at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven, 450°F/ 230°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a parchment-paper-lined surface.roll the dough into a 9-inch/23-inch circle about 1/2 inch/1 cm thick. Press on the edges to make a 1/2-inch/ 1-cm wide raised border. Sprinkle the remaining 6 tablespoons/ 75 g sugar over the dough and dot with the remaining 4 tablespoons/ 60 g butter.

Transfer to the baking sheet and bake until golden and caramelized, 15 minutes. let cool for 5 minutes and serve warm.

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In Vino Veritas

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Uncle Henry: “Max, have I told you why I enjoy making wine so much?”

Young Max: “You don’t make the wine, Uncle Henry – that guy Dufot does.”

Uncle Henry: (Reproachfully) “In France it’s always the landowner who makes the wine, even though he does nothing more than supervise with binoculars from the comfort of his study. No, I enjoy making wine, because this sublime nectar is quite simply incapable of lying. Picked too early, picked too late, it matters not – the wine will always whisper into your mouth with complete, unabashed honesty every time you take a sip.”

From the film A Good Year based on the Peter Mayle novel

Making wine is dreamy proposition, especially if you love wine and like … making things. It’s a movie-like fantasy many of us share, to buy a plot of land, plant some vines, watch them grow. To open a bottle of the family wine to match the Sunday roast, to set aside a few cases of your children’s birth vintages to celebrate their achievements in the fullness of time (and perhaps a few bottles extra for the failures).

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This summer we bought a beautiful château, albeit one without vineyards. In it’s heyday our new house was part of a larger estate, a proper wine making château that produced glorious wines, but as time passed land was sold, perhaps to settle debts, and now all that remains is a magnificent building with enormous corridors, high ceilings and the grandest rooms. But with no vineyards.
The empty cellars are crying to be restored to their former glory, the shelves dream of being once again stacked with thousands of bottles of wine. (There are of course some hundred bottles of wine in a far corner of the “cave”, pleasing on the eye but much less agreeable on the palate. The previous owner told me I could use them for sauces, but I think even that won’t work – maybe for Halloween?).
So how do you solve a problem like a château without wine? Oddur and I discussed this at length and indulged in fantasies of buying land, building a winery and hopefully making decent wine. We drove around the vineyards near St Yzans, talked about blends and character, we even agreed on the label. There would be a dog on it, a Smooth Fox Terrier, it would be simple, either white or red and in the end we agreed on the name “Humfri”. So that’s as far as we got until more practical matters occupied our plans, things like plumbing & electricity. So Humfri the wine remained just an imaginary bottle, something that only the ghosts of St Yzans could enjoy.

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One of our favorite winemakers are the Cazes family of château Lynch-Bages. They along with a number of other winemaking families have evolved from being a name on a bottle that we loved to drink in Paris to becoming friends in Médoc. Late this summer I had a conversation about my winemaking aspirations with Jean-Michel Cazes and his daughter Kinou, asking them for advice on my little “dilemma”. For them the solution was staring me in the eye, I should make a wine with Viniv, a winemaking enterprise they co-own with a charming French/American named Stephen Bolger (who is now the proud owner of one of our Smooth Fox Terrier puppies from this summer).
I was vaguely familiar with Viniv, had always thought it interesting and this was an opportunity to find out more. To make a long story short Viniv has several vineyards in Bordeaux, in Médoc and on the other side of the Gironde, which we call the right bank. So we visited the vineyards, got to choose which plots we’d be making the wine from (Merlot from the right bank, Cabernet Sauvignon from Pauillac and St. Estèphe – sounds good right?). We accompanied the technical gurus of château Lynch Bages to the vineyards as they chewed on grapes, debating when would be the ideal time to harvest and on several occasions the whole family participated in the “vendanges” itself, picking the grapes by hand, row after row and then sorting the good from the bad once we had returned to the winery. In the fullness of time we will be choosing our blends, guided by one of the finest oenologues in the world, Eric Boissenot, who is already a friend. The good news: 2014 will be a spectacular vintage for Bordeaux wines.

So if you find yourself one day, holding a bottle of Humfri, you will know how it all started.

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Of course the best thing about the harvest are the harvest lunches and we’ve been to quite a few this year. These are joyous affairs, where the châteaux reward the hard work of those in the field, us included, with good wine and a hearty three-course meal. In France nobody goes hungry during the vendanges. We’ve had Basque pork chops and museau de boeuf, pot-au-feu, poule-au-pot and the most sumptuous desserts. All these lunches have inspired me to make a vendanges menu of my own, a seasonal, luxurious but fairly easy to make three course meal that would satisfy any vigneron. Since cepes are literally everywhere and we’ve been having them every day, those had to be included. This summer we had a delightful mushroom dish in San Sebastian at a tapas restaurant called Ganbara (which I highly recommend), pan-fried cèpes with a simple but a game changing egg yolk in the middle. For the main I had to go with pigeons, infused with more cèpes and figs, just like a walk in the woods. And what could be more fitting for a harvest lunch dinner than Chasselas grapes from my grandmother’s hometown of Moissac in the south-west, drenched in the richest red wine caramel and paired with even more figs.

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Truth in Travel

This summer we had the pleasure of shooting a story for Condé Nast Traveler, a ten-page feature on our beloved Médoc. It turned out much more eventful than we could have ever imagined, we fell in love with the creative director of the magazine, Yolanda, and her family, they fell in love with Médoc and the rest is history … and of course a feature in the November issue. We are thrilled to bits to promote Médoc, I think the story turned out great and we even got the cover. I think this must be the first time that the word Médoc is on the cover of that illustrious magazine and to think that I had something to do with that makes simply makes me proud.
Here is a link to the story & photos and there is even a lovely little video on Médoc, shot by Yolanda’s husband Matthew Hranek.
And talking about travel, in about 3 hours we are heading to Paris with a dog and two girls to be there for the launch of my book, A Kitchen in France, that (even if it’s hard to believe) comes out TOMORROW!. Oddur and I will be giving a talk at the American Library in Paris (Rue Camou, 7ème) on the 28th October at 7:30 pm (yes, tomorrow!) and it would make me ever so happy if some of you could come and have a chat with us. Click here for all the details.

daniel

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The Prints

When one thing begins sometimes another ends. Tomorrow is the first day of my book’s life but it also marks the end of the pre-order period and the complimentary prints for those who pre-order.
But you still have one final day to get yourself a print.

Available for presale on
AmazonB&NIndiebound

To receive the print, you simply have to click here and fill in your details.

In Canon-Fronsac.

In Canon-Fronsac.

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cepes&girolles

Cèpes & girolles with egg yolk

This simple and amazing dish was inspired by this summer’s visit to San Sebastian, Spain. We dined at Ganbara, a superb restaurant with local specialities. Each dish arriving at the table was a pure delight, but the one that stuck me most was the grilled mushrooms with the golden egg yolk in the center.

Per person
A handful of cèpes and girolles
1 organic egg yolk
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
A sprig of parsley, leaves picked and chopped

Slice the cèpes 1/4 inch thick.

Heat the sauté pan until very hot. Add the sliced cèpes, season with salt and pepper. Cook on each side until golden, then add a knob of butter. Transfer to a serving plate and place the egg yolk in the center. sprinkle with chopped parsley. Pour yolk over mushrooms. Serve immediately.

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Pigeon with figs & cèpes

There’s something so autumnal about this meal, so deep in colors and flavors… as if you entered the forest. The pigeon, cooked with the figs, the cèpes and the red wine makes this dish unforgettable.

Serves 3-4

3 tablespoons butter, unsalted
2/3 pigeons, cleaned and cut into 4 pieces
1 onion, sliced finely
1 large turnip, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced finely
160 ml/ 2/3 cup red wine
160 ml/ 2/3 cup chicken stock
A few sprigs of thyme
8 figs, quartered
About 2 to 3 large cèpes, sliced
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

In a large dutch oven, melt the butter on a medium heat. Cook the pigeons on all sides until golden. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside on a plate and keep warm. In the same pot, cook the onions and garlic for 5 to 8 minutes. Add the sliced turnip. Pour the wine and reduce for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, figs and thyme – stir gently. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan until very hot. Add the sliced cèpes, season with salt and pepper. Cook on each side until golden, then add small knob of butter. Add to the pot. Return the pigeon to the pot and cover. Transfer to a preheated oven 170°C/ 340°F for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

figsnsyrup

Roast figs and Chasselas grapes with a red wine caramel

Serves 4

8 figs, cut in quarters
A few small sprigs of Chasselas grapes

For the red wine caramel

1/3 cup/ 65 g granulated sugar
1/3 cup/ 80 ml red wine

Make the sauce:
In a small saucepan, combine 1/3 cup/65 g of the sugar and the wine and bring to a low boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat slightly and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens to a syrup, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Slice the figs in quarters and place in an oven-proof dish. Place a few small sprigs of chasselas grapes all over. Transfer to the oven on the grill setting until the fruits are roasted, about 3 to 5 minutes depending on oven strength. Drizzle the red wine caramel over the fruits and serve immediately.

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MUSHROOM STORY, A RECIPE FROM MY COOKBOOK

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Around this time last year we were putting the finishing touches on the first draft of my upcoming cookbook, A Kitchen in France. One of the last recipes we photographed was the one for pork cheek ravioli with cèpes (porcini mushrooms). By then we had been spoilt by so much success in the field of mushroom foraging that we never made any plans ahead when it came to girolles or cèpes. They were simply there, waiting to be snapped up wherever and whenever one of my recipes required. My kids love making ravioli and since this was on a week-end we decided to shoot this recipe with the mushrooms we already had, and made plans for a big cèpes hunt the following monday. My husband & “official” photographer had very ambitious ideas, he wanted to get at least fifty big ones and then he planned to photograph them in the most beautiful way for the book.
Monday came and off we trotted, armed with our Opinel pocket knifes, some brushes to clean the cèpes, a couple of baskets and two reliable dogs, who though they are useless for finding mushrooms are swell company and fairly obedient. After about two hours we hadn’t found a single cèpe, my hair was starting to get all frizzy and unphotogenic from the rain, spirits were dropping fast. By noon the situation had improved slightly, we had found one “mushy” mushroom and another pretty good one. Not fifty but not exactly zero either. Though we were loath to give up and continued for a while, our total stayed the same, a paltry two.

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undercover&woods

Some days later, when we were looking at the photos, choosing which ones to send to my editor, we noticed a pretty nice, proud looking cèpe in the middle of the photo (it’s there if you take a close look). We had walked past it many times, we had even photographed it but somehow we missed it. And how could we miss it, so glaringly obvious in that photo, was it even there for real or was this some foul play of the forest, a cèpe that’s invisible to the naked eye but apparent to the lens of the camera?
It has been proven many times over that the things we look for are often right under our noses, that we usually find the things we need when we are not looking for them. We didn’t really need this mushroom story to tell us that. But what this story teaches me is not to take the forest for granted. You can count on the baguette at your local boulangerie, if you plant sage or thyme or tomatoes in your garden they will be there when you need them. The forest, however, gives when it wants to give. So I approach it with humility, I make no assumptions. If I find two cèpes or twenty I’m just happy with what I get.

Maybe there is a story in that.

All dressed up for the big day.

My cookbook is a “her” and not a “the”, let’s be clear about that. She’s very excited about her big day, 28th of October, and she counts the days until all of you can flick through her pages. You’ve seen her outfit, which is a scene from a kitchen. That’s how she will be dressed for her big day. But what most of you may not know is that underneath, if you take off her dress, she’s wearing another nice little number, a few glistening red berry barquettes. I just thought you should know in advance so you wouldn’t think that there were two versions. It’s just one version, with two layers.

Available for presale on
AmazonB&NIndiebound

And because I wouldn’t want any of you to miss out, one more reminder for those of you who have or will order my cookbook “A Kitchen in France” that you have a nice print waiting for you and all you have to do is click here and fill in your details.

cepes3

cepes4

porkcheekravioli

Pork cheek ravioli with cèpes – a recipe from “A kitchen in France”.

I frequently make pasta at home, especially ravioli, usually with Italian-inspired stuffings and sauces. The filling in this one, though, is all French and I serve it with an equally French creamy wine sauce. It’s a dish I like to make when I have some time, typically on a Saturday, with a bit of music in the background. The kids enjoy helping me roll out and cut the ravioli, then we fill them together and prepare a fine little feast.

Serves 6

For the filling and garnish
¼ cup/ 60 ml extra-virgin olive oil
10 ounces/ 300 g pork cheeks
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bouquet garni
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup / 180 ml dry red wine
12 ounces/ 340 g fresh cèpes (porcini)
1 shallot, minced
A handful of finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons / 30 g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons (or additional) port or red wine
2 tablespoons/ 30 ml heavy cream
A handful of finely chopped fresh parsley
For the pasta dough
4 cups/ 480 g all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more as needed
Pinch of fine sea salt
5 large eggs
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Start the filling. In a medium pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Brown the pork cheeks on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and cook the onion, carrot, and half of the garlic until lightly golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Return the pork cheeks to the pot, add the bouquet garni, and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the red wine and bring to a low simmer. Add water just to cover the meat. Cover with a lid, lower the heat, and simmer until the meat is very tender and falling apart, about 2 hours.
While the pork is cooking, make the pasta dough. Put the flour on a clean work surface and make a well in the center. Add the salt, eggs, and olive oil. Using a fork, mix the egg mixture; then gradually mix in the flour, using your hands when the dough is too stiff to stir. Then knead with the heels of your hands, sprinkling the dough with additional flour if it gets too sticky, until it is soft and elastic, but still lightly sticky, 6 to 8 minutes. Shape into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Continue with the filling. Cut half the mushrooms –the nicest ones-into quarters and reserve for garnish. Thinly slice the remaining mushrooms.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and season with salt and pepper, then add the shallot and the remaining garlic and cook until the mushrooms are slightly golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley and set aside to cool.
Drain the pork cheeks, reserving the broth, and transfer to a plate to cool for 10 minutes.
Transfer the pork cheeks to a food processor, add the cooked mushrooms and 4 to 5 tablespoons of the broth, and process for about 3 seconds to gently mix. Season with salt and pepper.
With a rolling-pin, roll out the dough on a floured surface just until it is thin enough to fit through the rollers of a pasta machine. Using the pasta machine, roll the dough as thin as possible, starting with the widest setting and progressing to the thinnest one possible.
Cut the pasta into 3-inch/8-cm squares. Spoon 1 tablespoon pork cheek filling into the center of half of the squares. Moisten the edges of one square with water, top with another pasta square, and press the edges firmly together to seal, taking care not to include any air. Repeat with the remaining pasta squares. Cover the ravioli with a damp towel so they do not dry out.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
Meanwhile, cook the mushrooms for the garnish. In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter over high heat. Cook the quartered mushrooms until lightly golden, about 30 seconds on each side. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and melt over medium heat. Add ½ cup/ 120 ml of t he reserved pork broth and the port and simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat, add the cream, and return the cèpes to the pan. Stir for 5 seconds to combine, then take off the heat. Keep warm.
Drop the ravioli into the boiling water and stir gently. The ravioli are cooked when they float to the surface, about 1 ½ minutes. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and transfer to warm shallow bowls. Top with the mushrooms and sauce, sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.

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AND SUMMER LINGERED ON

grapetart

The thing that wouldn’t leave

As a kid watching TV I used to love the sketch on Saturday Night Live “The thing that wouldn’t leave”, about an awful houseguest that overstayed his welcome. Later, regrettably, I must confess that I’ve come across this being in various shapes and sizes, though not too often or too severely. It’s the most comic of situations, Mr and Mrs are ready to head to bed but the visitor, doesn’t get or doesn’t want to get the signals. In any case he stays too long.
Then there is that other character, the darling uncle that everybody wants to stay forever, his welcome has no expiry date. He’s the one that you’ll gladly put up on the couch in the living room, or better yet, in the five-star guest bedroom. He doesn’t want to leave, you don’t want him to go, and thus, though goodbyes have been said, though he’s had the last sip of port many times over – he’s still there and everybody is happy about it.
Lately we’ve had an uncle like that, he’s called summer. After dinner, after port and cheeses and sweets we said goodbye to him, but he’s still here, and nothing could make me happier. For weeks now we’ve been predicting autumn, every al fresco meal has been thoughtfully appreciated as if it were the last one for a while. But then a new day comes, out go the plates of summer salads, the chilled wine, the refreshing desserts. The swimming pool thought she’d be off duty by now but she’s more in demand than ever.
As I am writing this they are writing summer’s obituary once again, apparently sweater season is soon upon us.
Autumn is welcome in this house but until then we’ll be happy to entertain that other uncle, the summer that wouldn’t leave – write him off at your own peril.

cyclamen&wallpaper

lambroast3

wallpapere

alfresco

lentilsoup

Bat in a glass

Apart from amazing weather these last few weeks have been dominated by another “thing”, a very large and mysterious old château that will soon be our home. The main work is focused around the heart of the house, the kitchen, and the adjoining rooms where I will open a restaurant next summer and where I will host cooking workshops very soon. Seeing it come to life is so rewarding and promising and we can’t resist going there almost every day. The previous owner left us lots of little treasures to discover, cases of wine in the cellar, oddities in cupboards and chests, an old French flag, a framed certificate of a “Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur”, old recipe diaries, coins and curiosities. A treasure hunt in our very own house, finding interesting objects but also clues that bring us closer to the past history and spirit of la maison. Last weekend we were excited to see how the work was progressing in the kitchen so after our outdoorsy lunch we headed to St Yzans to monitor the travaux. All the kids tagged along, their favorite thing is to peel away the wallpaper and argue who gets which room (although that has long since been decided).
We love to put on music in the old gramophone we found in one of the soon to be guest rooms and the nostalgic music, more precisely Tony Murena’s ‘café au lait‘, echoes throughout the house. On one of our first visits, we were surprised by a bat that seemed to have taken up lodgings on the top floor and though we haven’t seen it since, Hudson, our eight year old boy is very much on alert, once he even brought an umbrella for protection. Last Saturday, we found a beautiful, old glass dome and it reminded me of a trip to the taxidermy shop Deyrolles in Paris. It was just before Christmas and Oddur desperately wanted to buy a skeleton of a bat, gloriously stored in such a glass display. I wasn’t too keen, the item itself … and the price tag were rather off-putting to me. If I remember correctly I gave him an overcoat instead and stupidly a stuffed toy dog (talking about opening Pandora’s box).
On the whole I think I much prefer an empty glass dome and a live bat flying somewhere outside it – a much more hopeful display. And years from now, when people ask me “why do you leave that beautiful dome empty?” I will simply say “It’s a long story … but it’s got to do with a bat”.
Of course if I change my mind I can always use the dome for cheese.

ps: Once again, just a quick reminder for those of you who have or will order my cookbook “A Kitchen in France” that you have a nice print waiting for you and all you have to do is click here and fill in your details.

portrait

lambroast

glassdome

grapetart2

fireplace

lentilsoup2

Lentil soup
(Serves 6 as a starter)

There are so many different layers in this soup, from the nutty lentils to the crispy breadcrumbs and pancetta. The garlic cream gives this soup and extra punch. The soup is very easy to make – just make sure to prepare the garnishing while the soup is cooking.

230 g/ 8 ounces dried green lentils
1 large carrot, peeled & sliced
1 onion, peeled & sliced
60 g/ 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
A few sprigs of parsley, leaves picked and chopped finely
100 g/ 1 & 2/3 cup stale bread, ground coarsely
30 ml/1/8th cup olive oil
150 g/ 1/3 pound sliced pancetta
120 ml/ ½ cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, peeled
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

Heat half of the butter in a large pot, cook the onions and carrots for 4 to 5 minutes on a medium heat.
Add the lentils and thyme. Pour about 1.5 1iters of water. Season with salt & pepper.
When the soup starts to boil, turn down the heat and leave to simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the following:

For the garlic breadcrumbs
Place bread and one clove of garlic in a food processor. Pulse until coarse crumbs form. Heat olive oil in a large pan and sauté the breadcrumbs on a medium heat until golden and crisp. Leave to cool and set aside. Season with salt.

For the pancetta
Heat a sauté pan on a medium heat and cook the pancetta on both sides until golden. Drain on paper towels and chop finely.

Garlic cream

Mince garlic with garlic crusher. In a small saucepan, heat the cream and crushed garlic on a medium to low heat, stir well until mixture is warm. Pass the sauce through a sieve. Set aside.

Mix the soup with a stick blender. Add the remaining butter and stir until melted.

Serve the soup with a spoonful of garlic breadcrumbs, chopped pancetta and parsley on top. Drizzle with a bit of garlic cream.

lambroast2

Roast leg of lamb with basil cream

(serves 6)

This classic dish is a family favorite, and I love this refreshing basil cream sauce – it flavors the meat in all the right way. Serve with roast potatoes so they can soak up all the goodness.

1 leg of lamb – gigot d’agneau (about 2.5 kg 5 to 6 pounds)
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 large carrot, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
1 large bunch of basil, leaves picked
120 ml/1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
120 ml/1/2 cup heavy cream
Olive oil
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F

Heat olive oil in a large ovenproof /heatproof roasting pan on a medium heat, and brown lamb on all sides. Season with salt & pepper. Add the garlic cloves, sliced carrot & onion, transfer to the preheated oven and roast for 45 to 55 minutes for medium-rare, adjust timing depending on desired ‘cuisson’.
Remove lamb from pan and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.

Make the sauce
Heat the roasting pan and all its juices on a medium heat, scoop out the excess fat with a spoon, and bring to a boil. Add chicken or vegetable stock and reduce to half. Season with salt & pepper. Add the heavy cream and chopped basil. Stir the sauce for a couple more minutes until it thickens slightly and take off the heat. Pass the sauce though a sieve.
Serve the carved leg of lamb with a generous drizzle of basil cream sauce and roast potatoes.

grapetartclose

Grape tart/ La tarte aux raisins
(Serves 6)

This seasonal tart is a recipe given by my friend Claire. It’s actually her mother’s recipe, using grapes from her local vineyard. She recommends using smaller purple grapes, so you don’t have to de-seed them. The almond-based cream is delicious, and I love the combination with the sweet and tangy grapes.The perfect wine-harvest season tart. Merci Claire!

You will need ¾ to 1 pound purple grape (preferably smaller ones), rinsed

For the pastry
240 g/ 2 cups plain flour
1 egg yolk
90 g/ 6 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature
75 g/ ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
60 g / ½ cup almond, ground
45 ml/ 3 tablespoons cold water
1 pinch of salt
In a large bowl, combine the butter with the egg yolk, sugar and salt. Add the ground almond,flour and enough water. Mix until you get a smooth dough. Make a ball and store in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

For the cream
60 g/ ½ cup almond, ground
65 g/ 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
60 g/ 4 tablespoons plain butter
25 g/ 1 tbsp cornstarch
50 ml/ 3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F

In a saucepan, melt the butter on a medium-low heat, add the ground almond, cornstarch and milk. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy. Take off the heat and add the egg yolks/sugar mixture and vanilla extract. Mix with a wooden spoon until the cream is smooth, return to the heat stirring constantly until the cream has thickened to a custard. Take off the heat, pour into a bowl, cover with a film and leave to cool.
Line your tart pan with the pastry, prick the bottom several times with a fork and fill the tart with the custard, smooth the top with a spatula and transfer to the oven for 15 minutes. (I put the tart on the upper part/level of the oven)
Place the grapes (if you prefer, you can halve and seed them – place cut side down) on the custard and return to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Leave to cool and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Just before serving, heat 2 tablespoons grape jelly (if you don’t have grape jelly, use cranberry) in a saucepan and brush over the tart.

corridor

Oysters in the afternoon

oystershells

There are times when I feel my culinary life has been taken over by a certain fruit or flavor. When every market stall, my kitchen table and even my brain is immersed in a single-minded symphony of strawberries or tomatoes, when the choice seems so limited but the possibilities endless. The last few weeks have seen us up to our knees in tomatoes and I don’t think I’ve cooked a meal for over a month that hasn’t included tomatoes in some shape or form. These food invasions are part and parcel of being on that carousel of seasonal cooking and the thing I love most is that they are all so predictable and comforting in their repetitiveness, for what are traditions but a repeat performance of last year’s feast. The fava bean deluge of April, the artichokes of May are no less predictable than Christmas or Easter – you know they’re coming and you prepare to enjoy them. But then there is that other type of food invasion, the ones that don’t dance to the tunes of the calendar but rather to fashion and whimsy and blind chance. You might come home from a holiday in Italy and have Aperol Spritz every day (until you’d never want to have it again) or you suddenly get a delivery of 30 kg of rice and you deliberately cook around it. You start with curries and Chinese dishes but then you start thinking of French ways of including them like blanquette de veau or a colonial dish like kedgeree.

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oysterswithsausagemeat

gaia&oysters

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Two weeks ago we were attacked by molluscs. Living in Médoc oysters are very much part of every day life, and while they are, in my mind at least, associated with the colder months, such rules have little meaning when you live close to oyster paradise. Every market in the region has at least one or two oysterman and on weekends roads are lined with little trucks or tables offering oysters to passersby. So we tend to have them about once or twice a week, usually as a starter and almost always raw, with just a squeeze of lemon or with a drizzle of shallots in vinegar. To have more than 6 or 12 at a time or to have them three days in a row, that hardly ever happens. Until two weeks ago.

oysterpark

capferretboat

figs

figs&shallots

It all started in Bordeaux. We had gone there for some business that must have been very tedious since I have completely forgotten what it was. To make the day more enjoyable we had decided to try a new bistrot, recently opened in Bordeaux, called Le Glouton. It’s owned our friends, Ludovic le Goardet and his wife Elisabeth. He used to be the chef at our beloved Café Lavinal in Pauillac. Due to poor planning and Friday traffic (mainly poor planning) we arrived so late that everyone else had left and to make up for lost time we just phoned ahead to ask the chef to serve us what ever he liked and was most convenient for him. First we had baked oysters with Béarnaise sauce, then chicken in puff pastry, beef cheek raviolis and the richest grilled chocolate mousse. All delicious but afterwards I kept thinking about the oysters. I’ve had baked oysters a thousand times, with shallots, wine, en persillade … but this I’d never had. And I wanted it again. The next day we bought some oysters at the market and I tried my own version. It worked, not least when paired with rosé. It’s a decadent combination, feels modern and old-fashioned at the same time, and so fitting for the season, like a swan song to summer and a welcome for autumn.

oystersreadyforoven

mimihuitres

rawoysters

boatplay

We did, however, want more oysters. The next day, a Sunday, we headed for Cap Ferret which in September is as close to perfection as you can get. The crowds have mostly gone but it’s still lively, with less traffic and no reservations. We had the loveliest of Sundays, and we had oysters … lots of oysters.
One of our rituals are the mussels with sausage meat and french fries at Chez Hortense but because we were in an oyster mood we added a sneaky order of baked oysters en persillade and another of baked oysters with foie gras. Then we headed to the oyster shacks that are everywhere, local producers who make oysters for the rest of France but offer visitors a chance to taste the delicacies. These are simple, no fuss institutions, with (sometimes mismatched) wooden tables and chairs, with extremely limited choice (read only oysters) and a choice between white, rosé or red. If you don’t like oysters these are not the places to be.

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oysterswithbearnaisesauce

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boatplay2

oysterpark3

Driving home, enjoying the fluidity of the road I decided that my next post (if I would ever have the time to do one) would be dedicated to oysters. In fact, considering how much I love them I feel like I have been neglecting them. They are such ideal food, low in calories, easy to prepare, fantastic little proteins that are rich in calcium and iron. And simply so delicious. The following Tuesday we bought 6 dozen oysters at the market. I wanted to recreate some of the flavors from my oyster weekend and perhaps come up with a few of my own. Mainly I just wanted more oysters. Oddur and I did what we love best, threw all the oysters on our blue table and started opening them side by side. In the course of the day I made one recipe after another, we shelled, cooked and shot. My mother-in-law who doesn’t like oysters at all asked “what are you going to do with all these oysters when you are finished photographing them?”, eating them was for her out of the question. The kids were all at school so no help to be found there (most of them have come to appreciate oysters). In the end we just ate them all, one type after another, paired with rosé and white and Sauternes, between lunchtime and “pick-up kids from school time” 72 oysters found their way into our stomachs and each one tasted better than the next. It was where gourmandise meets gluttony.
Having 72 oysters in one sitting is a small achievement but when compared to the endeavours of a much more famous glutton, Honoré de Balzac himself it simply feels like a very light lunch. Balzac was famous for discipline when writing his books, working for 18 hour stretches and keeping himself hungry by feeding himself only fruit and the strongest “stomach burning” coffee. When the book was finished Monsieur Balzac completely changed his tune, headed to his favorite restaurant and famously cried out “Garçon, un cent d’huîtres!” or “Waiter, a hundred oysters!”. This he washed down with four bottles of white wine, followed by a dozen lamb chops, a duck with turnips, partridge, a Normandie sole and finally dessert. I don’t think I will ever scale the heights of Monsieur Balzac but one can always aspire.

When the children came home from school that night and asked the question they always ask “what’s for dinner?” I simply answered “Not oysters!”

ps: Just a quick reminder for those of you who have or will order my cookbook “A Kitchen in France” that you have a nice print waiting for you and all you have to do is click here and fill in your details.

freshoysters

oysterman

Oysters in a Béarnaise sauce

12 oysters
1/2 cup/ 120 g clarified butter
2 tablespoons/ 30 ml white wine
1 tablespoon/15 ml white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons lukewarm water
2 egg yolks
1 shallot (chopped very finely)
A few sprigs of fresh chervil (chopped finely) – save some
A few sprigs of fresh tarragon (chopped finely)
6 tablespoons heavy cream, whipped
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

Clarify the butter – melt the butter in a saucepan on a low heat. Simmer gently until the foam rises to the top. You should see the milk solids separating. Set aside to cool slightly, discard the foam, and pour the clear clarified butter in a bowl. You only want to keep the ‘clear’ butter which is perfect for cooking on high temperature and making sauces. (You might want to use a fine strainer if you wish).

In another saucepan, combine the vinegar, white wine, finely chopped shallot, the herbs, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer on a medium heat. Remove from heat, add the 2 egg yolks and the 2 teaspoons of water and whisk continuously. Return to a low heat, continue to whisk, and remove from heat every 1 minute – repeat this process for 8 minutes, constantly whisking until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and add the cooled clarified butter, continue to whisk until smooth. Return to the heat and whisk for 30 seconds, or until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Set aside and leave to cool.

Whisk the heavy cream until stiff, and fold into the cooled Béarnaise sauce.

Shuck the oysters. Place a teaspoon or 2 of the sauce (depending on oyster size) on top of each oyster. Arrange oysters in an oven-proof dish or tray and place under a preheated grill for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and golden. Sprinkle fresh chervil on top (optional) Serve immediately.

oysterpersillade

Oysters en persillade
(recipe from Ludovic Le Goardet at Le Glouton bistrot in Bordeaux)

24 oysters (I used Cap Ferret or Marennes Oléron)
1/2 cup/ 120 g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2 garlic cloves
1 small bunch of parsley, leaves picked
1 teaspoon fleur de sel/ coarse salt
A dash of freshly black pepper
1/2 pinch ground nutmeg
3/4 cup/45 g breadcrumbs

In a food processor, mix garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg and mix for 30 seconds. Add the butter (at room temperature) and mix 10 more seconds until you get a smooth paste.
Shuck the oysters. Place a teaspoon of garlic butter on top of each oyster and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Arrange oysters in an oven-proof dish or tray and place under a preheated grill for about 5 minutes, or until the garlic butter is bubbly and golden. Serve immediately.

oysterswithfoiegras

Oysters with foie gras & Sauternes wine

12 oysters
150 g foie gras (raw)
1 to 2 teaspoons of Sauternes wine
Coarse sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

Shuck the oysters. Place a small slice of foie gras on top of each oyster, then pour one to 2 teaspoons of Sauternes wine. Season with salt and pepper. Place oysters in an oven-proof dish or tray and transfer to a preheated grill. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

oysterswithsausagemeat2

Oysters with sausages

6 oysters
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or if you prefer, olive oil)
2 or 3 sausages,
1 clove garlic, sliced finely
1 shallot, minced
A dash of ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons of red wine
Olive oil, to drizzle
A few sprigs of chives, finely chopped
Coarse sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the garlic breadcrumbs
3/4 cup/45 g breadcrumbs
1/2 clove garlic, minced
Mix both ingredients together in a small bowl.

Slit the sausages sideways and squeeze the meat out of the skins.

Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the shallots until softened, add the sausage meat, garlic, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir, until the meat is cooked. Pour in the wine and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Take off the heat & set aside.

Shuck the oysters. Place 2 teaspoons of the sausage filling on top of each oyster. Sprinkle garlic breadcrumbs on top and drizzle a bit of olive oil. Arrange oysters in an oven-proof dish or tray and place under a preheated grill for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden. Sprinkle the chives on top. Serve immediately.

onions&figs

PRINTS, POTATOES & LAST YEAR’S FEAST

cover

“You are having two babies this year”, a lot of people kept telling me this spring. They meant, of course, the one living in my bump and my cookbook which was by then on its way to the printers. As many of you know by now the first one arrived, if not altogether surprisingly, at least surprisingly quickly at the end of May. The second baby is still on its way but at least in this case the delivery date is firmly fixed, the 28th of October, not a day later or before. The element of surprise is how many of you have already pre-ordered the book. It warms my heart that you should have such faith in my cooking that you are prepared to buy it unseen. Merci mille fois. I had a discussion about this with the good people at Clarkson Potter/Random House and we all thought it was a good idea to reward this faith in some way, our little way of saying thank you. After some deliberation we felt that offering all you pre-orderers a little print from Manger might be appreciated, and to be totally honest (for this is an honest blog) we certainly won’t mind if this encourages even more people to pre-order the book.

It works like this. Those of you who have preordered the book or will order the book before the official publication date can click on http://app.snapapp.com/AKitchenInFrance and fill in your details. If you have any problems with this procedure or questions please feel free to contact akitcheninfrance@penguinrandomhouse.com The person on the other end of this email is a fine fellow called Kevin Sweeting. I had the pleasure to spend some time with him at Random House in NY in March and I think we are all in good hands with him. We chose three prints that we feel represent well what we are doing and hope you will agree with our selection. Those who fill in their details will receive one of the prints, which one will be a surprise. I hope you are happy with this arrangement and our selection of prints, that is all that matters.
Available for presale on
AmazonB&NIndiebound

The three prints

meringueprint

treeprint

pearsprint

A feast in October

Last year in October we had one of the best outdoor feasts we’ve ever had. We had already passed our deadline for the book but some recipes had not yet been photographed. The team from Canal+ were arriving the following Monday and we knew from experience that shooting for TV leaves little room for anything else. So we had this idea to throw one final glorious feast the Sunday before, cook everything that was missing from the book and have a blast of a time. And we did. We invited some of our favorite people and I started at the stove. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful feast. Of course it wasn’t seamless, we had a few mini-crisis. There were no cèpes to be found, the weather was fickle at best, Oddur forgot to buy gambas. In the end it all worked out, our friends unexpectedly brought the gambas, our other friends, the snail farmers sorted out the cèpes. Even the weather showed a kind side. If there was ever a “Manger event”, this was it. Oddur jumping on tables to photograph, dogs stealing food, more wine than perhaps was necessary and so much food that everyone left happy and heavy.
A standout dish from that day was funnily enough not the quails, gambas or even the foie gras. Not even the cèpes tartlets or harvest soup or apple tart with orange flower water. That day the dish that we all wished we had more of was the simplest, humblest of all. The potatoes, Lyonnaise style. We’ve had this dish countless times this year and speaking of babies, when I was in the clinic with Audrey May, Oddur made it practically every night with his steak, quails and other extravaganzas. This summer he’s been cooking it with both our boys and some of the girls, I’ve been cooking it, it seems, every other night. If there ever was a dish for every season and every occasion this is it … and here it is, in all its simple glory. Anyone can do it, and that’s what I love about it – you see for me cookbooks are there to inspire and encourage, to give recipes but also ideas.

Potatoes and Onions, now that’s an idea.

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Potatoes à la Lyonnaise

Serves 4

2 pounds/ 900 g new potatoes, peeled
About 11 tablespoons/ 150 g unsalted butter
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions, thinly sliced
A bunch of fresh parsley, leaves removed and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

Put the potatoes in a large pot, add enough salted cold water to cover, bring to a boil, and cook until parboiled, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cool running water. Let cool for a few minutes, then slice the potatoes into 1/8-inch/3- to 4-mm-thick slices.

In a large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add about one-quarter of the potatoes and fry, seasoning them with salt and pepper, until golden, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Continue frying the potatoes, adding more butter each time (you should use about 8 tablespoons / 120 g in total), until all of them are cooked.

Meanwhile, in another sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons / 30 g butter over medium heat. Cook the onions until golden, about 5 minutes.

Return all of the potatoes to the pan, add the onions, and mix gently. Cook for 5 more minutes for the flavors to combine.

Transfer the potatoes and onions to a large baking dish. Bake until gently sizzling, about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the parsley over the potatoes and serve.

feastgeorge

Jour de Fête

meringue

Choices, choices
On the last Saturday in July I was standing behind a table lined with rows of vegetable tarts and meringues, little delights that I had made and was now meaning to SELL! “How utterly odd” I thought to myself, after years and years of going to markets, buying delights, to be at the opposite side of the table presenting people with my own little creations. And how fun! Growing up this was not really a scene I could have imagined, nor was having 7 kids, countless dogs or basically anything that’s happening in my life today, including writing a cookbook. I was recently reminded of how unpredictable life is, how the wars we prepare for are not necessarily the wars we fight. This reminder came from an unlikely and, frankly, a rather unwelcome source – but it did serve its purpose, at least I am writing about it now. Some person left a comment on one of my instagram photos, one where I am coming out of a pastry shop with my two daughters and a dog in tow. It’s a beautiful green storefront with the most sumptuous pastries on display and I’d like to think we all look very content. The comment (which I deleted – but now sort of regret having done that) said something along the lines of this: “You promote childbirth and cooking but women should be in boardrooms making important decisions as CEO’s”. One has to wonder if the commentator thinks that CEO’s never buy pastries, even on weekends, or perhaps that they don’t have children. Maybe just that they’d look miserable buying strawberry cakes with their kids because they’d much rather be … in the boardroom. I suppose a top CEO would have a nanny, and a personal assistant for buying pastries but let me go on record and say that even if I was the president of France I would still buy my own pastries. My life was always filled with food and cooking but being practical I did actually prepare myself for the boardroom. I studied business and finance, I worked in business development. I am quite sure that had I persisted I might even have made it to the boardroom. Now I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the boardroom, it’s a perfectly acceptable room. No worse in fact than the kitchen, the little shop, the atelier, the classroom or any other room I can think of. I guess what I am getting at, is that this little comment reminded me of how grateful I am to have had a choice. A choice that my grandmother and great-grandmother perhaps didn’t have. They were never destined for the boardroom, they didn’t get the chance to choose. Choice is freedom. Finding something you like to do, something you are, hopefully, reasonably good at and then having the chance to do it – that is the path to a good life, the path to happiness even. So to the person who left that comment I’d like to say this: “I understand where you are coming from, thanks for the input – but your comment would have been more appreciated had it been less aggressive and more polite. Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it.”

p.s. Since I am opening a little table d’hôtes/ chambres d’hôtes, with cooking workshops etc I guess I am technically the CEO of that operation. I will still be buying my own pastries though.

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Meringues at midnight
I had originally planned to make duck burgers for my stand at the Fête de village in St Christoly. But there wasn’t enough time and we didn’t really have the facilities to fry burgers at the square. Next time! This time I just wanted to make something light and tasty that everyone likes and could be made in advance. Tian tartlets seemed to fit the bill, all the ingredients are in season, they are easy to make, lovely to look at and so tasty with a sprinkle of salt and olive oil. The real challenge was making a hundred meringues with one oven. Meringues take more than an hour to cook and as I wanted them as fresh as possible most of the“meringuing” happened after midnight on Friday night and then in the early hours of Saturday. The whole family helped out (some more and others) slicing vegetables, carefully arranging them on top of the tarts. Thorir went on an excursion deep into the forest to gather bunches of fern that we meant to decorate our table with. When we decided not to use them (mainly because we ran out of time) he contemplated selling them but as Médoc woods are 50% covered in fern he realized there wasn’t really a market for it. We had a small worry that all our efforts would be in vain, what if nobody wanted tian tarts and meringues, especially since they were waiting for duck burgers. The small queue that waited for us when we arrived was most encouraging and I am happy to report that everything we had sold in under two hours. We had our share of little mishaps, I sprayed creme chantilly over a woman who was very gracious about it and Louise fell and got herself a bloody nose, her first ever.

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In the end we ran out of cream, out of sauce, so we started giving the meringues for free. The two tian tarts we gave to a lovely couple, readers of the blog who had come all the way from Bordeaux to have duck burgers. Hudson and Louise, ever competitive, were mesmerized by all the money that we put into an old biscuit box. Hudson even embarrassed me by counting it from time to time in front of everybody. The best thing about that box though was taking money out of it and using it to buy food from all the other stands around us. We had the tastiest duck sausages from one stand, Moroccan biscuits from another. Oddur bought some wine, the kids some candies. I can’t think of a more fabulous, old-fashioned experience than staying up late, making little “plats”, then taking your efforts to the market and trying out what the others have to offer. It is country life at it’s best.
I love writing this blog, cooking and communicating, reading your comments and answering them. But meeting people face to face, your neighbours, some readers of Manger, old faces, new faces – that’s even better. That’s what I hope to achieve with my cooking workshops. Meeting people, enjoying food, sharing stories. I may be going out on a limb here, and we are behind schedule, but I am determined to get started with the workshops later this year. All roads lead to St. Yzans.

mimi&audrey

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veal

That Saturday night, exhausted but happy, I made an old-fashioned veal roast with summer vegetables. It wasn’t supposed to be a blog post, it was just something I wanted to make and thought could be delicious. Hudson kept asking me how big his share of the proceeds would be. “Gunnhildur did the most” I said, “So don’t you think it’s fair she gets the biggest share?” I asked. He wasn’t sure about that. In the end we settled it all amicably. Bigger efforts got bigger rewards. That box still stands on a shelf in my bedroom. It’s empty now but for a cheque of 12 euros that someone used to pay for meringues and tarts. I think I’ll keep it as a souvenir of a good day. Sometimes a cheque is worth more than the number that’s written on it.

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Tian tartlets (for eight tartlets)

These pretty and rustic tartlets look like small bouquets, perfumed with thyme and bay leaves. the trick is to slice the vegetables as thinly as possible to create a pretty tartlet.

230 g/ 8 ounces x 2 shortcrust pastry/pate brisée
1 small eggplant/ aubergine, sliced finely
1 zucchini/ courgette, sliced finely
2 tomatoes, sliced finely
2 cloves garlic, sliced finely
A few springs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
Olive oil
Coarse sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200°C/395°f.

Grease with butter 10 cm/4 inches wide tartlet pans x 8
Use pastry to line base and sides of tartlet pan. Trim excess pastry. Using a fork, pierce pastry base.
Slice zucchini, aubergine , tomato and garlic finely. Line slices alternating zucchini/aubergine/tomato to create a rose-like pattern until you reach the center. Slide in 4 garlic slices between the vegetable slices. Drizzle with olive oil all over, sprinkle salt, black pepper, fresh thyme and 1 small bay leaf (see photo).
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until vegetables are golden. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before unmoulding.

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Old-fashioned summer veal roast

This delightful summer veal roast is so easy to prepare and has become a family favorite for dinner. The tomatoes stand out in this recipe, and the sauce mixed the vegetables and pancetta is heavenly with mashed potatoes.

1.3 kg /2.8 pounds veal shoulder roast(preferably with bone, but rolled is good too)
60 g/ 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 onions, sliced
230 g/ 8 ounces pancetta, sliced finely into matchstick size
2 cups/500 ml dry white wine
80 ml/ 1/3 cup veal stock
3 small carrots, sliced finely
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 celery branches, sliced finely
15 plum tomatoes
1 bouquet garni
Coarse sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160°C/ 320°F

In a large cast-iron dutch oven/cocotte, melt the butter and sauté the onions until soft but not browned. Add the pancetta and continue to sauté for 3 minutes, then add the veal and brown the meat on all sides. Add the carrots and celery, season with salt and pepper, and throw in the bouquet garni. Pour the wine and mix all the ingredients together. Bring to a simmer, add the tomatoes, veal stock & unpeeled garlic cloves. Cover the pot.
Transfer the dutch oven/ cocotte into the oven and cook for 1 hour and thirty minutes to 2 hours, until cooked through and tender. Cut the veal into slices. Serve with mashed potatoes and pour the gravy with vegetables on top.

peachmeringues

Vanilla meringues with peaches & cream

Simply irresistible – this dessert literally sold out within minutes!

For the meringues
(for approximately 8 meringues)

6 egg whites (at room temperature)

260 g/ 1 1 1/3 cup caster sugar

50 g/ ½ cup icing sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch (maïzana)
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
A pinch of salt

For the ultra-easy coulis

For the raspberry
230 g/ 8 ounces raspberry, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. Blend together in a mixer.
For the apricot
230g/ 8 ounces apricots, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. Combine pitted apricots with the sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on a medium heat until they are soft and the sugar is melted. Process in a mixer and leave to cool before serving.
To garnish:
1 cup/ 250 ml heavy cream, for whipping
8 yellow or white peaches (count 1 peach per person) – peeled and sliced

Pre-heat your oven 140°C/280°F.

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites on a high-speed until frothy. Add the cornstarch, pinch of salt and sugar/ confectioner’s sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually. Add the vanilla essence. Continue to whisk until stiff and glossy. Transfer mixture to a piping bag and pipe meringues (about the size of a medium-sized orange) on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Bake in a preheated oven 140°C/280 F for 25 minutes, then lower heat 95°C/200 F and continue to bake for 1 hour (2 hours if you prefer them slightly crunchier). Switch the heat off and open the oven door. Leave the meringues to cool in the oven.
 When the meringues are completely cooled, whisk the cream in a large bowl until stiff. To serve, tap the meringues to create a little nest, add a few spoons of whipped cream, scatter the sliced peaches on top and drizzle with the coulis.

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The big blue

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In search of “perfect happiness”

“Don’t you think Audrey May looks a bit like Marcel Proust?” I asked my husband last week. As he is quite accustomed to nonsense, his own and that of other people, he gave it some thought and then said “Do you mean as you imagine he would have looked like as a baby or simply as we know him, moustache and all?” This of course prompted me to place some of my own hair on Audrey’s upper lip, a trick that always draws a laugh or two in the family.
For me Marcel Proust is linked with something good and admirable. It’s a time that I would have liked to perhaps live in or at least visit. The Proust reference is one I use often. When I am buying plates, when I am describing a room or visit a restaurant. Either Marcel would have liked it or he would not. In school I read his big work “In search of lost time”, which brought me some joy and, at times, some boredom. Years later when I read it again, this time unforced, I loved it unconditionally, this time there was no boredom.
There are things you can’t do without thinking of Marcel Proust. Having a madeleine is one. Funnily enough reading Vanity Fair is another. He is always there, on the last page, presiding over a little questionnaire that bears his name. And not because he wrote the questions. He simply took the test, twice (and since he took in French the questions were probably a little different) It’s the page I always read first in VF, I like the idea of someone revealing themselves through a set of questions. From time to time, out of boredom perhaps, I’ve taken the test myself (though I’ve never written down the answers) but I’ve never really analyzed the questions. The first question is usually about happiness. That in itself isn’t remarkable but the question is actually “What is your idea of PERFECT happiness?”, as if just happiness wasn’t enough. After all these years of reading the Proust questionnaire I finally started thinking about perfect happiness last week. It’s a big question, in fact you have to deconstruct it to answer it. It’s really two questions. What is perfect, what does it mean? And does happiness have to be perfect to be … happiness. Taking it further isn’t just happiness, any happiness something perfect?

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Something about the sea

These are real summer days filled with peaches and apricots and barbecues. Us being us they are of course also filled with babies and puppies and gardening and big plans of moving house and promoting a book. Then there is the cooking. Now that the older kids can drive a car they can go on excursions of their own and much as I love it, for some reason, call it tiredness, I had resisted for a while to join them on a beach trip. It’s so pleasant staying behind in big empty house, the breeze coming through the windows, just me and Audrey at home, lounging in a comfortable chair perhaps cutting a few roses and putting them in a vase. I guess I just forgot about the sea. Then one day last week they forced me to come along. My mother-in-law said she’d take care of Audrey. We headed to our secret beach and as soon as I could smell the pines, hear the ocean, I knew I had made the right decision. There is something about that particular time of day, when the temperature is just right, the sun is descending but still shining proud. The hues are golden and everything feels … shall we say, perfect. Watching the kids run around making sand castles (and destroying each other’s sand castles), seeing no one but your own family on a vast beautiful beach. Whether you look left or right, nothing but unspoilt stretches of sand and water. Then your little eight year old boy suddenly stops playing and takes a seat next to you and puts his little hand in yours. And the two of you sit there and gaze at the others as if you were watching a movie.
That’s when the idea of perfect happiness doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

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Natural selection (via Marcel Proust)

Happiness in our house does of course not really exist without food. That’s where all the threads of our lives lead, these days more than ever. And for some reason we’ve been having a lot of seafood lately. I’m an impulsive eater, with a lot of instant cravings and now that I’m breastfeeding those cravings and pure hunger are more powerful than ever. This time I’m sharing 4 recipes, not a single menu, just meals we’ve had in the past few days. These four dishes happened upon our table in very different ways, let me try to explain how.

The Sardines

My husband loves sardines, he loves them canned, he loves them fresh. Every time we are in a grocery store, he will go for sardines, especially those in beautiful packaging and then he stacks them in our pantry as if he was preparing for a war. As a kid growing up in Iceland it was one of his favorites – aren’t we all the products of the palates of our youth? Last week he came home with many kilos of fresh sardines. So what is a cook to do? I stood by him but since I’m less keen on sardines than he is I added a bit of tomato, some pastry, a hint of lemon zest. It worked beautifully.

The Moules (mussels)

We saw the most attractive moules at the market and it being mussel season we just had to get some. If moules (mussels) are dark blue and beautiful I just can’t resist them. There are of course countless ways to prepare them but again we fell victim to our memories and I cooked them in the most classic way, just like we used to love having them at Les Vapeurs in Trouville, in our Paris days. Food memories again.

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The Tielle

As a child I spent summers with my aunt and grandmother in Moissac not far from Toulouse. They were both terrific cooks and loved fresh produce. They were, however, originally from a gorgeous seaside town in France called Sète. Often called the Venice of France, due to its canals and number of Italian immigrants, Sète has a “national dish”, the Tielle. I often had it in my grandmother’s kitchen but lately I had forgotten about it. Then one day last week, we were having fish in spicy tomato sauce and boom it hit me, I had to make a Tielle (Proust again). It was a beautiful experience and a first for me, I especially loved the part of telling my kids that this was their grandmother’s real home town food.

The Apricots

Our large kitchen table is always filled with vegetables and fruits, partly out of necessity for a big, ever cooking family, partly courtesy of my husbands fantasy mind where everything must look like a painting. It’s also a place of “natural selection”, and I mean that literally. The kids have a way of sniffing out the newest, freshest, the best. The rest I try to salvage by putting them in tarts, in cakes, in condiments. But this summer we’ve had a particular problem. Apricots. They were exciting at first, went so well with the cherries of May and June. But in July the clear favorites have been nectarines and peaches. My husband thinks apricots are more beautiful than peaches so he keeps buying both. But the apricots just sit there. Let’s just say we’ve been having a lot of apricot desserts.

ps: This week I am featured in French ELLE, 12 barbecue inspired summer recipes in Medoc. For those of you who can’t get this week’s ELLE, click here.

sardinetarte

Tarte aux sardines (Sardine tart)

230 g/ 8 ounces puff pastry
5 medium-sized tomatoes, diced
8 sardines, cleaned & filleted
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Zest of half a lemon
Olive oil, to drizzle
Fleur de sel & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F

Prepare the pastry base. Place pastry on a parchment-lined baking tray, and cover with another piece of parchment paper. To avoid them to puff up too much, place another baking tray on top (or any rectangle shaped cake tin, grill etc) for 10 minutes. Then remove the parchment paper with the added weight and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Dice the tomatoes. Heat olive oil in a large pan and sauté the sardines fillets on both sides for 2-3 minutes, or until cooked through. Season with salt & pepper.
To assemble the tart, scatter the tomatoes on the pastry, then place the sardines fillets on top (see photo). Drizzle with olive oil, season lightly with salt & pepper and sprinkle with basil leaves. Grate the zest of half a lemon and sprinkle on top. Serve immediately.

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Moules à la crème

To be served with French fries & ice-cold beer!

Count 1 kilo/ approx 2 pounds of mussels per person as a main course.

4 kg/ approx 9 pounds mussels, cleaned & scrubbed
700 ml/ 3 cups white wine
A large bunch of parsley, leaves picked
3 shallots, finely sliced
1 onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, halved
1 celery stick with leaves on
1 bouquet garni
350 ml/ 1 & 1/2 cup crème fraîche
A few sprigs of chives, finely chopped

In a very large pot, melt the butter and sauté the shallots, onions and garlic on a medium heat – they should be translucent and soft, not golden. Add the bouquet garni and the white wine. Pour the mussels in the pot, add the celery branch, give it a good stir, cover with a lid and leave to cook for 3 minutes. Lift the lid, give the mussels another good stir and cover again for a minute or two. With the help of a large slotted spoon, transfer the mussels in a large bowl and cover to keep warm. Add the crème fraîche to the pot. Do not boil or the cream will curdle. Return the mussels to the pot, sprinkle with chopped chives and serve immediately with French fries.

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Tielle
(serves 6)

The tielle from Sète is a traditional local speciality, brought to Sète by an Italian family from Gaeta in the 18th century. The octopus is the emblem of the village of Sète. The tielle, in other words octopus pie, consists of a very tasty tomato sauce with a dash of chili and tender octopus. The pastry is similar to a bread, very tasty thanks to the tomato & muscat flavors. I serve this with a simple fennel salad (see below). For this recipe, I used a standard tart pan (26cm/10-inches).

750 g/ 1 & 2/3 pounds octopus, cleaned and prepared
420 ml/ 1 & ¾ cup tomato coulis
1 carrot, diced
2 tablespoons tomato concentrate
125 ml/ ½ cup dry white wine
1 large onion, sliced finely
¼ tsp piment d’espelette (or chilli flakes)
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp paprika
¼ tsp saffron threads
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the octopus:
1 carrot
1 celery stick
1 bouquet garni
10 black peppercorns
Coarse sea salt

Add 1 carrot, 1 celery stick, 1 bouquet garni, salt & 10 black peppercorns to a large pot of water. Bring to a boil and add the octopus. When the water starts to boil again, cover and lower the heat. Leave to cook for 35 to 45 minutes. Test with a fork to see if the octopus is fork tender. Drain and set aside to cool. Once cooled, slice the octopus into small to medium chunks.

In a large skillet pan, sauté the onion and garlic for 5 minutes in olive oil on medium heat. Add the diced carrot and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomato coulis, tomato paste, saffron, paprika, piment d’espelette (or chili flakes) and sugar. Sprinkle with thyme and drizzle with the white wine. Add the octopus, stir so all the ingredients are combined, season with salt and pepper. Cover and leave to cook on a low heat for 45 minutes. The mixture should reduce at least a quarter. Set aside and leave to cool.

For the dough

300 g/ 2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp active yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
60 ml / 1/2 cup tomato sauce
45 ml/3 tablespoons water
1 egg yolk
60 g/ 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 tsp honey
1 tsp salt
45ml/ 3 tablespoons Muscat de Frontignan (alternatively , use another sweet white wine)

Place the yeast in a little bowl and add 2 tablespoons of lukewarm water. Leave for 5 minutes until mixture is frothy. Gradually incorporate the water, muscat and tomato sauce. Knead gently and add the honey, olive oil and butter. Bring the dough together into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour before usage.
Roll out 2 circles. Butter a tart pan and line with the first disc. Brush the edges of the pastry with water. Fill the tart with the filling. Cover with the second disc, pressing on the edges to seal the borders. Brush the pastry with the egg yolk. Transfer the tart to the preheated oven 200°C/400°F and cook for 25-30 minutes.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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Fennel salad

Slice one large fennel thinly (I use my magimix slicer) and sprinkle with the feathery fennel strands. Drizzle with olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

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Apricots rôties et crème chantilly pistache(roasted apricots with pistachio cream)
(serves 4)

25g/ 1 ½ tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
8 large apricots, halved and pitted
80 g/3 ounces unsalted pistachios, shelled

To serve with
A large handful of pistachios, shelled & coarsely chopped
120 ml/ ½ cup heavy cream, for whipping

Preheat the oven to 210°C/ 425°F

In an oven-proof skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar, vanilla and apricots. Gently stir so the apricots are covered with the mixture, for a few seconds. Transfer to the oven and roast until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Whip the cream and incorporate ¾ of the pistachios. Serve apricots with the whipped cream on the side. Sprinkle the rest of the pistachios on top.

mimi&gertrud

The Sunflower Thief

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Cast & Characters
If you ever find yourself living in the country you will soon discover how hard it is to avoid your neighbors. Not that you’d necessarily want to avoid them but all the convenient excuses that city life provides are removed by the slow motion of “la vie de campagne”. It’s the difference of driving down a street or walking down it. A car takes you further, faster, but on foot you will see more, learn more. In Paris I lived in the same building for 6 years and though I was little by little on friendly terms with most of the occupants I never really befriended more than a handful. Some I never spoke to. A few, of course, only spoke to us because of the dogs or the kids and they didn’t all have smiles on their faces. The point is, the countryside is a good place to make friends. The local policeman, the one who watches your TV show and calls you “the ambassadrice of Médoc” when you go to the town hall to apply for a passport for your daughter, will also be at the market on Saturdays “stealing” shrimps from the fish stall where his wife works, calling it “inspection”. The polite journalist who interviewed you for the local newspaper will be there buying vegetables and so will your children’s teacher, your doctor and even the electrician who is so nervous that he must have had a shock or two in his time. Let’s just call it a “village thing”. Everybody knows you are moving house, and where to. They’ve either played in the new house as children, dated the previous owner’s daughter or at least had a fight on the corner.

Country life is somehow more old-fashioned than city life, the characters (for they are characters) are painted in more vivid colors, the stage is set for … something. And it isn’t just any old stage, Médoc has it all, the finest wines in the world, glamorous châteaux, deep dark forests, rough hunters that roam them looking for wild boar, oystermen, surfers, adventurers.

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Murder in Médoc, read all about it (one day)
All this rustic complexity gets the imagination going and makes for an interesting plot. The backdrop, the fascinating quirky stereotypes, I could see myself writing a little roman in this setting, or a play even. We already have the characters, an intriguing mix of old families, real Médocains and newcomers. There would have to be a crime of some sort – murder most foul à la Agatha Christie. Once when I was visiting the chais at a friend’s château, climbing up the old wooden ladder right up to the top of the enormous barrel, looking down into a sea of red wine it occurred to me what a great hiding place for a corpse it could be. I have always loved a good mystery and could never resist a bit of plot. Over time the body would dissolve in the barrel and in true “noir” style the wine would win many awards and accolades. Too add a bit of humor the villain would find a way to add the victims name on the bottle. Somewhat in the style of “The Perfume” perhaps but with a different twist. Maybe you’ll read all about it one day.
But it wouldn’t have to be an epic family feud or even murder, maybe just a nice little mystery, stolen antiques, counterfeit wine, a piano player … wait I am getting ahead of myself.

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chateau

Recipes in the attic
Close to St Yzans, where we are moving, is a most beautiful and quiet village called St. Christoly. It’s right on the banks of the Gironde estuary and has a special place in my heart because it has my favorite antiques & brocantes store in the world. I’ve talked about this store before and over time Anne, the owner, has become a dear friend. She’s kept us in props and plates, given me great advice and generous terms and I simply couldn’t think of anything lovelier to do on a lazy Sunday than pop over to Anne’s, for a chat and to see if she has unearthed some gems for me.
Recently Anne was elected to the town council and she has big plans for the future. Coming up first is a fête du village on the 26th of July and in true neighborly fashion I have volunteered to do some catering. I’ll draft all the kids and we’ll be making delicious duck burgers and meringue desserts in the town square. Of course I’ll make a post of it but it would be a thrill if some of you could come – a good excuse to visit Médoc.

tomatoes

brocante

redwinechicken

sunflowers2

An event like this needs some planning so last Saturday we met up at the pretty house Anne shares with her companion Michelle and their German Schnauzer, Ella, just up the street from her antiques store. We did some planning, some cooking, had a few laughs, drank a bit of rosé. All the objects in their house have such stories to tell and I felt compelled to cook something to match, something with a bit of history. From time to time I’ve been inspired by Anne’s collection of old cookbooks and for this occasion I cooked a few things in the “esprit” of those books – sometimes the food just has to match the plates and the mood. A classic tomato tart tatin, a red wine chicken dish you might have had at a country inn 200 years ago, an “exotic” dessert that Parisian society might have been swooning over in the days of Balzac. The children enjoyed playing in the garden and Hudson, smitten by Anne’s house even bought a few items at her store. As he had nothing to pay with Anne just put it on his tab. He says he’ll pay with the 20 euros he has in his bank account, the same 20 euros he’s used so many times in the past year. It was a gift for me so I’m not complaining.

brocante2

fruits&champagne

dancingobjects

It turned out to be a very late lunch or an early dinner, Michelle and Anne had to leave us early, they were invited elsewhere (they are sought after) to watch France’s game with Germany. We took the rest of the chicken with us and headed home too, to watch what we hoped would be a French victory (it wasn’t but let’s not talk about that now). On our way home we were ambushed by the most irresistible sunflower field, so beautifully lit in the late afternoon sun, like a painting so inviting and bright that all you can do is jump in, even if you are late for the big game. For a while we were completly lost in time, wandering around the flowers as if on another planet. Some moments cannot be planned, they just happen. And when they do it’s good to have a camera.

pastila2

chicken

sunflowers3

stchristoly

Back in the car I noticed that Gaïa was holding a little sunflower, beaming with pride. She had nicked it as we were about to leave, somehow managed to tear it up with her little hands. The boys might be thinking about the game, but she was not about to leave this field of treasures empty-handed.
It brought a smile to my face. I might not have caught a killer but I had found my villain, a determined little sunflower thief.

tomatotarttatin3

Tomato tarte tatin

1 & 1/3 pounds/ 600 g cherry tomatoes (or enough to fill your tart pan)
1 pack 8 ounces/230g puff pastry
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons oregano
A few sprigs of fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F

In a large pan, melt the butter and sugar together. When it starts to caramelize, add the tomatoes and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle the oregano leaves and one tablespoon of sugar all over. Season with salt & pepper. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce for 2 minutes. Place the tomatoes in a tart pan. Place the pastry on top of the tomatoes and tuck the sides in. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown.
Leave the tart to rest for 5 minutes, then flip over on a plate. Pour as much excess liquid as possible. Garnish the tart with fresh thyme leaves.

redwinechicken2

Red wine & vinegar chicken

Serves 4

For the chicken
1 chicken 1.3 kg/ 2.8 pounds approx. cut into 6 pieces – keep the chicken carcass or any unwanted pieces and save for the sauce.
3 tablespoons/45 ml Armagnac
3 tablespoons/ 45 g unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely sliced
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled

For the sauce
1 & ¼ cup / 300 ml good-quality red wine
2 tablespoons/30 ml red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons/ 45 g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon tomato concentrate
A few sprigs of thyme & rosemary
Coarse sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:

Finely chopped chives and diced tomatoes ( 1 medium-sized tomato per person).

In a large dutch oven/ cocotte, melt the butter & sauté the chicken until golden. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves and sliced shallots. Season with salt & pepper.
Flambé the chicken with the Armagnac. Off the heat, pour the Armagnac, light a match, and carefully ignite the liquid to flambé.
For the sauce
In a large saucepan, heat the butter and sauté the chicken carcass. Add the minced garlic, season with salt & pepper, add a few sprigs of thyme & rosemary. Pour the vinegar in the pan, along with the red wine, and mustard. Leave to reduce until the sauce has thickened. Sift through a sieve before serving.
Serve the chicken with the sauce, sprinkle with the chives and garnish with diced tomatoes on the side.

pastilla

Orange blossom flower cream pastilla

8 sheets of filo pastry
2 cups/ 475 ml full cream milk
1 cinnamon stick
3 egg yolks
8 tablespoons/ 100 g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch (Maïzana)
1/3 cup/ 80 ml orange blossom water
2 tablespoons butter
Extra butter for the filo pastry
A large handful of mixed nuts: pistachios, pine nuts and blanched almonds
Confectionner’s sugar, for dusting

In a saucepan, heat the milk, cinnamon stick, and half of the sugar on a medium heat– bring to a soft simmer. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk 3 egg yolk with the rest of the sugar. Add the corn starch & orange blossom water – whisk for 3 minutes.
Off the heat, add the egg yolk mixture to the saucepan, stir continuously until blended, then return to the heat on low and stir until the cream has thickened to a custard-like cream. Take off the heat. Add the butter and stir until melted. Pour into a bowl and cover with baking paper directly on top of mixture. Leave to cool completely and place into the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Cut the filo sheets into circles 23cm/ 9inch wide circles.
Heat ½ teaspoon of unsalted butter in a frying pan, fry the filo sheets until crispy and golden on both sides. Repeat with each sheets.

For the sauce
1 orange
1 lemon
1 ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
6 tablespoons/ 80 g granulated sugar

Heat the juice of 1 lemon & 1 orange with the sugar in a saucepan until dissolved. When the mixture starts to thicken, take off the heat and whisk the buuter. Leave to cool.

To assemble, place two sheets of pastry on a serving plate, then spread the cream all over. Repeat with the remaining sheets & cream. Sprinkle with icing sugar on the last top sheet and scatter the nut mixture all over.

girls

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