The big blue

apricots

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?

octopus

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sardines

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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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tielle&sardines

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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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mimidogs

atthebeach

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.

moulesfrites

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 2 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.

tielle

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.

fennelsalad

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

window

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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portraits

tomatotarttatin

boysinsummer

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.

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brocante

redwinechicken

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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.

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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.

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chicken

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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.

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The busy bees

honey

Mrs Dalloway, Tampopo and me

Next to my bed there is a small bookshelf filled with my favorite books. The more I like them, the closer they are, and my absolute favorites are so close I hardly have to lift my head from the pillow to reach them. One of those favorites is Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. I don’t read it very often, but once in a while I get the urge and it’s comforting to know it’s there for me, always. On Monday night, the 26th of May I felt restless and impatient, I was one day overdue (at least) in my pregnancy, I had expected the baby to come earlier, let’s just say I felt a little anxious. So I reached for Mrs Dalloway and she calmed me down. Tuesday was a beautiful sunny and warm summer day. Perhaps inspired by Clarissa Dalloway the first thing I did after I got dressed was to cut roses for the house. I cut some for every room (and we have many rooms) and filled every vase I could find. I wanted everything to be clean and shiny and beautiful. I wasn’t planning to throw a party but Mrs Dalloway had inspired me to act as if I was. Next on my list was the laundry, nothing beats the scent of freshly washed sheets drying in the sun, hanging just high enough so our little puppy, James Joyce, can’t get a hold of them, try as he might. In late afternoon when the kids came home from school I had already baked them a pear tart for goûter and was on my way to making a cherry clafoutis for dessert. Oddur kept encouraging me to take it easy, especially since I was having some contractions but it was as if I had acquired some mystical power and though I sat down from time to time I felt somehow invincible and strong.

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magret&honey

One of my favorite films about food is a Japanese classic called Tampopo. It’s lighthearted and very funny but most of all it always makes me hungry for noodles. It has a main narrative which is broken up by several little sketches that all have to do with food. One of my favorite little stories is that of a woman who rises from her deathbed to cook her family one final meal. By evening I felt like that woman, not because I expected to die but while the sensible thing would have been to lie down and rest I still felt strong enough to cook one last meal. I chose a family favorite, what we call mafia chicken. An Italian style dish with lots of tomatoes, parmesan and rosemary, served with roast potatoes. I laid the table and went to bed. I gave Oddur instructions to carry out the meal at eight, by then we both knew something was stirring.
They served me some mafia chicken in bed and though he had to defend it with his life my dear husband managed to save me a small piece of cherry clafoutis. We discussed when to leave for the clinic. “I am not staying any longer in a stale room with plastic floors than I need” I said. Oddur sort of agreed, “It’s all up to you, we go when you are ready” he said. He doesn’t like plastic floors either. Just before ten I had a big contraction and said to Oddur “It’s time to go”. The contractions had been regular but not that regular and the experience I had from my previous four children told me we still had ample time. At this point I didn’t really feel that close but I decided to play it safe. Oddur got my suitcase in the car, locked up the dogs and gave instructions to the kids who were all washed and dressed in their pyjamas but couldn’t sleep (adorable looking I might add). While he was doing this something big happened, one more contraction but a serious one and I felt I couldn’t move after that. Oddur insisted, quite firmly, “I’ll carry you to the car”. “I’m not moving, and I mean it” I howled back like a wolf. He had a look on his face that implied that he was considering taking me into the car against my will. Then he thought better of it and called the emergency services who advised against moving me at this stage. Did I say the water broke?
While the doctors and firemen were hurriedly on their way the two of us just brought the baby into this world as naturally and effortlessly as people have been doing for thousands of years in their own homes. For a brief moment I got slightly worried but when he placed that little girl on my chest I knew everything would be fine. Those few precious minutes that followed were pure magic and a privilege to live through them. She was so precious, so perfect, a rosy colored baby that came into the world through a room full of roses. Then the show started. I don’t think my bedroom has ever drawn a bigger crowd, doctors, firemen with heatblankets and endless gadgets, my father-in-law on the road guiding them with a flashlight (one that he bought in case of emergency – he likes to think ahead, a trait I might add that has not been passed on to his son).

We called her Audrey May.

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gaiastairs

mimi&audrey

When the cat is away … the mice cook!

In France a father has to go to the local townhall and declare a baby’s birth. Our little commune has no hospital and therefore hardly any births, perhaps one a year. So the officials are a little rusty when it comes to issuing birth certificates. At the clinic Oddur entertained me with the story of his encounter with an official at the mairie (townhall). The thought of having to deal with a birth was already a big task for her but when she realized that the baby’s surname would, due to Icelandic traditions, be derived from the father’s first name and not his surname, she just threw up her hands and made a lot of oh lah lah’s and ce n’est pas normal!. Calls were made, papers were ruffled, but like our other daughters she finally ended up Oddsdóttir (the daughter of Oddur).
It gave me great joy to learn that while I was at the clinic my husband, with the help of the children, cooked almost exclusively from my new cookbook, “A kitchen in France”. We recently received a mock up/galley of the book and while it’s in black and white it feels great to have it on the shelf, next to all my favorite cookbook authors. They went for all the “manly” dishes in the book. Entrecôte à la Bordelaise, veal liver, à la Bordelaise, rustic potatoes with onion and duck breasts grilled over vine sarments. I am happy to report that they all worked out and to quote Louise (almost) as if mom had cooked them. Every recipe has been tried and tested, every text read and re-read but then, when it’s out of your hands, at the printers, you start to worry if there are any mistakes. According to this random selection, it’s all good.

mimi&audrey2

garage

bees&honey

The scent of strawberries and honey

My family picked me up at the clinic after a trip to the market on a glorious Saturday morning. Audrey and I had gotten up early and sat in our little outfits by the window at the hospital waiting to see the world. They brought us home in a car perfumed by basil and placed us in that familiar bed with freshly washed (again as you can imagine) sheets and more roses from the garden. I promised to take it easy, I did not. By evening I was cooking up a pepper steak and spinach, hospital food leaves a lot to be desired and all the wonderful dinners they had been having in my absence stirred my food envy.
Audrey is a good baby and, knock on wood, sleeps through the night (elle fait ses nuits as we say here in France). She’s already been to an important meeting regarding our new house and last Friday she had a big outing with her parents and her big sister Gaïa (I can’t believe that little girl, the so-called “our last child ever” is now a big sister). Our first stop was at a honey farm less than a mile from our house. We had often seen a simple sign at the turn of the road that simply read “MIEL” (honey). We had inquired in May about the miel but were told to return in June when the bees had done a bit more work. This honey farm is a little paradise, a handsome stone house, surrounded by forests and meadows with a beautiful manicured rose garden, an orchard and the loveliest cherry trees. Though officially retired the beekeeper, Bernard Seguin and his wife Liliane are every bit as busy as the bees, keeping a garden this pretty requires a lot of work and they say it keeps them young and fit. The honey tastes delicious, a mixture of all the various flowers found in the garden, a bit of acacia, blackthorn, a hint of cherry, a tiny bit of roses, a mix of everything local. It’s a small production and not their livelihood but Bernard says it allows him to meet people and chat and he is a man of many opinions judging from our brief encounter. A former chemist, with a passion for collecting ancient coins and fearless amongst the bees, his favorite band to this day are the Doors, probably he says, because those were his halcyon days. They are a wonderful, interesting couple, Bernard and Liliane, with the most beautiful, thick grey hair. It must be all that honey. We bought a kilo’s worth at the cost of 9 euros, not a penny more not a penny less.
One of my favorite memories of last summer are the moments I spent at the Arnould’s strawberry farm near St. Vivien de Médoc. Strawberries really taste better in the moments after they are picked, and no matter how fresh you get them at the market, a tiny bit of flavor will already be lost. I had breastfed Hudson as an infant at Strawberry Fields in Central Park, now I would take Audrey to a real strawberry field, with actual strawberries. When we arrived the clouds were winning their battle with the sun, it was still hot but the breeze was gathering force. Caroline was delighted to hold Audrey while Gaïa and I picked a handful of strawberries before it was time to pick up the big kids from school.
It may be a far-fetched thought, and Audrey is certainly still very little. But a part of me believes that one day she’ll be standing in a field of strawberries, the wind blowing in her hair and filling her nose with the sweet scent of fresh strawberries and she will think “I don’t know why, but this feels strangely familiar”. The seeds of her first déjà-vu are already in place.

You are never too young to pick strawberries.

ps: The Arnould family have 4 gîtes located in St Vivien de Médoc (basic fully-equipped rooms with kitchen/pool/max 6 people) and there are still availabilties  in July. The prices range between 390-490€ for the whole week! Click here for more information.

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Recipes

Seared or sarment-smoked magrets de canard (duck breasts) are amongst our favorite family meals. I love to partner this versatile meat with something sweet, like peaches or pears, as well the the classic French side dish potatoes Sarladaises. I usually start cooking the duck at the same time as the potatoes Sarladaises, so I can use the rendered duck fat immediately. And when you add the peaches, pear and cherry tian, you end up with a lovely embellished dish fit for any occasion.

magret

Duck breasts with honey & balsamic vinegar
Serves 4 (a generous 4)

3-4 magrets de canard/ duck breasts 350-450g/ 3/4 to 1 pound each
5 tablespoons honey
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Fleur de sel & freshly ground black pepper

For the duck
Score the magret duck breasts on the fatty side using a sharp knife, cutting in a cross hatch pattern (making the cross-hatches about an inch across). Season the magret duck breasts with salt, and place them on a pan, fatty side down. Heat the pan to medium. Cook the breast until the skin is crispy and most of the fat has rendered, about 15 minutes, depending on thickness of breast. Pour off the fat from the pan frequently and reserve in a bowl. It’s best to have the meat on the rosé side. Turn magret breast over, and cook for 5 minutes. Leave to rest for a few minutes, and slice breast into slim slices. Set aside on an oven-proof plate and keep warm in the oven (90°C/200F) while you make the sauce.

Keep 2 tablespoons of duck fat in the pan, add the honey and balsamic vinegar and stir gently. Cook for 30 second on a medium heat (or the sauce will caramelize very quickly), add the juices from the duck and pour in a serving dish.

Serve with the potatoes Sarladaises.

Sarladaises potatoes

900 g/ 2 pounds new potatoes
3-4 cloves garlic, sliced finely
6-8 tablespoons duck fat (use the duck fat rendered from the duck magrets/fillets)
A small bunch of parsley, leaves picked
Fleur de sel & freshly ground black pepper

Slice the potatoes in rondelles, chop the parsley and slice the garlic cloves thinly.

In a large sauté pan, heat the duck fat (on a medium heat), add the potatoes and stir gently for 10 to 12 minutes. When the potatoes start to be golden, season with salt and pepper.
Lower the heat and continue to cook for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked and tender. Add the garlic and parsley towards the end. Serve immediately.

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Cherry, peach & pear tian

Per person: 1 pear, 1 peach and 6 cherries. A few sprigs of rosemary & one tablespoon honey. You will need a small recipient (I use a round ramekin) for individual portions.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350F

Peel and slice the pear and peach. Slice finely into small rondelles (round slices). Align the slices alternating with each fruit, and place cherries on each side (see picture). Place the sprigs of rosemary on top and drizzle with the honey. Cook in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve as a side dish with the duck and potatoes.

strawberrytart

Summer strawberries are irresistible, and I can’t think of a better dessert than a lovely strawberry tart to serve your guests. The lemon flavored crème patissière is light yet creamy with a little twist and I love throwing a refreshing handful of mint leaves to decorate the tart. Enjoy!

Strawberry tart

1 pack strawberries/ 450 g approx.
2 tablespoons redcurrant jelly/gelée de groseille
A handful of mint leaves

For the shortcrust pastry
125 g/ 1 cup plain flour
75 g/ 1/3 cup butter (softened at room temperature)
15 g/ 2 tablespoons sugar
30 g icing/ 4 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (sifted)
40 g/ 1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 egg
1/2 pinch of salt

1) In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together until the mixture forms a soft dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
2) On a floured parchment covered surface, roll out the dough to fit the tart pan. Line the tart pan & gently press the edges of the pastry against the interior of the tart pan and prick the base with a fork. Use a piece of leftover dough to press down the edges (this trick will prevent any over-stretching or finger marks).
3) Cover with cling film and place in the freezer for a least 30 minutes (the longer the better). This is a good trick to prevent shrinking.
4) Cut out a piece of parchment paper and line the bottom of the tart. Place beans/marbles/any oven proof weight and blind bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350°F for 15 minutes. Remove weight and parchment paper and bake for a further 5 to 8 minutes, or until slightly golden. Set aside and leave to cool for at least 20 minutes before unmoulding.

For the lemon crème patissière
240 ml/1 cup whole milk
120 g granulated sugar
3 egg yolks + 1 egg
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise, beans scraped or 2 tsp vanilla extract
The zest of 2 lemons
150 ml/2/3 cup heavy cream
Juice of 1 lemon
30 g/1/4 cup plain flour

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs and flour until light and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice.
Place the milk, cream and vanilla seeds in a large saucepan and bring to a soft simmer. Gently pour the warm mixture into the egg bowl, whisking continuously and return the mixture to the saucepan. Continue to whisk on a low heat, until the mixture thickens to a custard. 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.

Spoon the crème patissière into the tart and smooth with a spatula.

Place the strawberries on the tart (see picture), starting from the edge in a circular pattern.

Heat the redcurrant jelly and 1 tablespoon water. Leave to cool and brush the strawberries with the mixture for a glossy and sweet glaze. Decorate the tart with the mint leaves.

hortensia

From one mother’s day to another

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Mother’s day comes twice a year

One of the privileges of having a melting pot of a family are the frequent occasions to celebrate. More meals to cook, feasts to have and, sometimes, more presents to enjoy. Like everyone else in France we celebrate the New Year but then we also have a little feast some weeks later to celebrate the Chinese New Year. My husband has introduced into our household an Icelandic tradition called “husband’s” day (very clever of him) and since Louise shares a name with a saint she has a special day to celebrate in addition to her birthday. Social media has further accentuated this tendency, how is it possible not to get caught up in other people’s festive moods, displayed on instagram or facebook. So I often find myself having pancakes and barbecues on the 4th of July, my husband speaks with an Irish accent (very bad one) on St Patrick’s day and has a Guinness. We go ghouly on Halloween, romantic on Valentine’s day and reflective and thankful for peace on Armistice day. It seems there is always something to celebrate, somewhere.
My point is, how is it possible not to get caught up in other people’s joyous celebrations, how can a food lover like myself wake up to photos of roast turkeys with cranberry sauce and pecan pies, and act as if it’s just another day? The answer is I can’t, if someone is celebrating mother’s day I will celebrate it too. Mother’s day in America is ahead of ours here in France by two weeks and two whole weeks is a long time to wait. Last year around mother’s day in France the black locust trees of Médoc were in full bloom but this year they went yankee on us and burst out in early May. So I had two great reasons to do something special, the ripeness of the black locust flowers and mother’s day in America.
In a few days we’ll have another mother’s day, the French one, it’s next Sunday, the 25th of May. That is also my official due date. I’ve never been a particularly punctual person but that would be the ultimate mother’s day celebration.

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The best poule-au-pot I’ve ever had

So I woke up on Sunday the 11th of May determined to celebrate Mother’s day (the first). Black locust (Acacia faux-robinier in French) flowers would somehow be on the menu but something else, something bigger, was on my mind. Months ago our good friends Florence and Fabien Courrian were over for dinner and I served them chicken Marengo. They loved it and it sparked a conversation about chicken dishes. Florence kept raving on about her mother’s poule-au-pot, the best one she’d ever had. Let’s just say it planted a seed in my appetite and that seed soon grew into a full-blown craving. Weeks later we were at Flo’s and Fabien’s for dinner and after apéritifs and delicious starters, Florence put a huge cocotte on the middle of the table. Could it be, was I finally to have the famous poule-au-pot? She lifted the lid and out she scooped the most flavorful, spicy … langoustines. When you are being fed something delicious you couldn’t possibly be disappointed, but that moment of anticipation only served to feed my determination. What had been a lingering thought was now a full-blown obsession. At the end of the meal I praised the langoustines and then kindly asked for the recipe … of the poule-au-pot!

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On Saturday we had bought the finest chicken (at the Vertessec farm of course), bought crates of vegetables at the market on the way home and when I awoke on Sunday all these goodies were waiting for me like parts on a mechanics table, waiting to be assembled into a masterpiece. Louise was very happy to put on a pretty dress and go look for flowers but Hudson wasn’t really buying the whole mother’s day thing. “I know that mother’s day is not today because we are making things for you at school and they are not ready” he said. After a crustacean lunch I quickly made a stuffing for the chicken and then took Louise with me for some flower hunting. The other girls were under the weather – another good reason to make a luxurious but ultimately comforting chicken dish. It all went according to plan, flowers were picked, a cake, filled with love and petals, was baked. Hudson who was already sceptical about the mother’s day thing was even more sceptical about putting all the flower petals into the dough. He asked “is there another dessert too?” Later that night the chicken came out of the pot and the look on Oddur’s face said it all, this was it, a triumph – after countless other versions of poule- au-pot, in bistros, brasseries and my own kitchen, some of them bland, some of them very good – Florence’s mother’s version is without a doubt the best one. It’s really a winter dish but I think I’ll have to have it every year on Mother’s day, the first one!

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woods

acaciaflowers

Should I stay or should I go

One thing you may not know about me is that I’m fairly indecisive, always weighing my options. When I’m planning a menu I change my mind right up to the moment the butcher or grocer takes my order. It’s the same in restaurants, I need to order last, I listen to everybody else’s order, I picture all the dishes and imagine how they will fit on my palate. Then in a split second I make up my mind. I’m having such a dilemma right now. I’m fairly sure that this will be my last pregnancy, and these are my last days with a bump. Meaning that next time I write a post I’ll be back to normal. I can’t wait to give birth to my little girl, I’m dying to meet her. But there is a part of me that won’t mind keeping her in the oven a few days more, so she’ll be well-baked and ready for life.
The good thing is that it’s not really up to me, she’s on some sort of timer, not one that I set, and if she wants to make a big entrance Sunday the 25th is there for the taking – to be a mother on mother’s day!
p.s. Had this baby been a boy his name would have been Marcel. Marcel Reynard, the second name upon my husband’s insistance as he is infatuated with all things fox. I think it’s a good name and it’s yours if you want it.

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Poule-au-pot

This dish is such a national treasure of France that one of its kings, Henry IV, is reported to have said that even the simplest of peasants should be able to have it every Sunday. Of course this says a lot about France, a place where the quality of life is measured in food. Poule-au-pot has long been a staple in French homes and bistros, it exists in countless yet similar versions and can be, at its best, pure heaven. For me the most important thing is, as always, to start with a quality chicken and a delicious stuffing. This recipe comes from a mother of my good friend Florence who is more than an excellent cook. She slides the stuffing under the skin as well as in the cavity, giving the chicken an extra special flavor and texture. Traditionally, the broth was served as a starter with garlic croûtons, followed by the chicken, slices of stuffing and vegetables, as well as rice (boiled in the broth) and a mushroom sauce on the side. As a little bonus, I used the leftover chicken, broth and vegetables the next day to make a very comforting chicken noodle soup with angel hair pasta. The kids loved it!

(serves 6)

1 chicken, approx. 3.3 pounds/1.5 kilos

For the stuffing/farce
4 ounces/110 g stale bread
1/3 pound/ 150 g Bayonne ham
1/3 pound/ 150 g bacon
Gizzards & liver of chicken
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
2 eggs
1/3 cup/ 80 ml milk
Salt & pepper
A small bunch of parsley, leaves

Soak the bread in the milk. Squeeze out the excess milk. Chop all the ingredients finely, add the eggs and combine together in a bowl. You can also place these ingredients in a food processor and blitz for a few seconds. Season with salt and pepper.
Prepare the chicken. Gently lift the skin away from the breast meat on each side, gradually lifting as much skin as you canall over the chicken. Be extra careful not to tear the skin. Gently place stuffing, with the help of a small spoon or your fingers, under the skin. Place leftover inside the chicken’s cavity and tie the chicken legs together with kitchen twine. Set aside.

For the stock
2 leeks, white part only
2 carrots, peeled
1 celery stalk
1 onion and 8 sticks clove (prick the cloves in the peeled whole onion)
3 garlic cloves, peeled

Prepare the bouillon/broth. In a large dutch-oven pot, pour 3 to 4 litres of water (enough to cover the chicken) and place the leeks, carrots, onion with the clove sticks, the bouquet garni, the garlic cloves, coarse sea-salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil and place the chicken in the broth so it’s entirely covered. Cover with a lid. Depending on the size of the chicken, cook for 1h 15 minutes to 1h 30 minutes on a low heat.

For the rice
1 pound/ 450 g basmati rice
About 30 minutes before serving, pour some of the chicken broth on the rice (about 1 inch above the rice/ 2.5cm), cover with a lid and steam on a medium to low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the rice is al dente.

For the mushroom sauce
2/3 pounds/ 300 g mushrooms
1 onion, sliced finely
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the roux sauce
6 tablespoons/ 90 g unsalted butter
¾ cup / 90 g plain flour

In a large sauté pan, sauté the mushrooms and onion on a medium to high heat with 2 tablespoons of butter for 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set the pan aside.
On a medium heat, melt 90 g/ 6 tablespoons unsalted butter in a saucepan. Add 90 g/ ¾ cup plain flour off the heat in one go, mix well with a whisk, and return to the heat (medium to low heat) until the color turns golden. Add a ladle or twoof chicken stock to thicken the sauce and mix well.
Return the mushroom pan to the heat, add the roux sauce to the mushrooms adding a little chicken stock until desired thickness. Check seasoning.

Remove the chicken from the broth and set aside to cool for 3 minutes. Cut into serving portions, remove the stuffing from the cavity and slice into rounds. Arrange chicken pieces, stuffing slices and vegetable on a serving platter. Serve with the rice and mushroom sauce on the side, and generously drizzle the chicken broth.

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Black locust flower cake

12-15 locust flowers clusters, pluck the petals only
3 eggs
¾ cup/ 150 g plain sugar
1 tablespoon honey
6 tablespoons/ 90 g unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp  baking powder
1 &1/4 cup /150 g plain flour, sifted
¼ cup/ 30 g corn starch (maïzana), sifted
¼ tsp salt
1 tablespoon orange flower water

Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350 F
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix the flour, corn starch, salt and baking powder together in another bowl and add into the eggs & sugar mixture. Add the butter, orange water and honey – mix well. Fold in the flower petals and gently mix.
Butter a cake mould and pour in the batter.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
Leave to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and unmould. Decorate with flowers all over.

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Sorrel, Rhubarb & Squid

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It’s been quiet in the countryside of late. The little girl inside me (the actual little baby girl inside me) is starting to take her toll on my back so I find myself increasingly sitting down as I continue with the cooking. My father-in-law says I shouldn’t make such a fuss about every meal (although he enjoys them as much as anyone) but there is just nowhere I’d rather be, sitting in my chair shelling fava beans, like an old lady from Sicily. The weather has been fickle but charming, warm winds, rain and sun. My oven broke down, which for me is a disaster, I am still waiting to have it back, the repair got delayed because of the “Bridges of May” – in France one holiday on Thursday calls for Friday off too. In the meantime I have put my frying pans to good use and I can always count on my cocottes (dutch ovens), they never let me down. This calm won’t last though, the little girl has some exit plans and then we collectively have an exit plan of our own as I mentioned in my last post. It was overwhelming how many of you reached out, commented and sent me emails. I promise we’ll be up and running as soon as we possibly can and I can’t wait to meet you all. Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement – they truly mean a lot to me. Merci, merci et merci!

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rhubarb&humfri

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In the midst of all this calm something strange but wonderful happened. I was lying in bed one morning trying to figure out a whether my back would prefer to stay in bed or do some gardening. There was a light, polite knock on my door. The kids were at school so I thought it must be Gaïa, or even a dog with manners (not that we have many of those). I was wrong. When I opened the door I was greeted by the curious trio of a Sorrel, a Squid and a stalk of Rhubarb. They seemed to have something important to say.

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“Mimi, we need to talk”, said the Sorrel. “We feel we’ve been in the chorus long enough, now it’s time you give us some starring roles”.
“Yeah”, said the Squid.
The rhubarb just looked down. “Guys I’m not sure about this” he mumbled.
I spoke directly to the Sorrel “but I use you all the time, in sauces, with other vegetables, non?”
The Sorrel spoke confidently back to me, “Nobody notices me in those dishes, they rave on about the lobster, they praise the sauce but no one ever says – wow that Sorrel tastes amazing, they probably think I’m estragon.”
“But that’s your job” I said, “you’re a character actor, not a star, there aren’t that many starring roles for Sorrel” (this is when his cousin  the Rhubarb just quietly disappeared).
“That’s your problem, not mine” the Sorrel said, “I want a portrait, not a group shot with tons of other vegetables, I want top billing, I want to be the hero for once – A Sorrel monologue – just me!” “Otherwise I quit and you just have to find yourself some other herb to flavour your sauces.”
I thought about it for a while then said cautiously, “Well I have to pair you with something, potatoes maybe.”
He thought about it for a while, then nodded approvingly. “Potatoes are fine.”
“Yeah”, said the Squid.
The following day I presented them with my suggestions. A soup dominated by the slightly acidic and punchy taste of Sorrel, a warm Squid salad with colorful peppers and fennel. The Rhubarb was there but still looking down.
“I like it” said the Sorrel, “don’t forget the solo portrait – and we have a deal”.
“Yeah” said the Squid.
“What about you” I asked the Rhubarb.
“I’m not comfortable talking in front of the others” he said.
As the Sorrel and Squid were leaving the former suddenly turned and said “It’s Sorrel soup and Squid salad – no funny business like Sorrel AND potato soup, right?” Then they left.
The Rhubarb edged closer and said, half whispering “Look, I know I’m not star material, I’m no George Clooney. I’ll never be a peach or a cherry, and I know some people find me sour. But please find something for me to do, I’m dying here.”
“Why don’t I introduce you to some strawberries and we’ll make a nice compote for a panna cotta”. “I would love to roast you but I have no oven and the strawberries will give you a nice red color”, I said.
“I love panna cotta” the Rhubarb said and he was flushed with pride, even his green side turned red.
“So panna cotta it is, and don’t worry, we’ll have more photos of you than any of the others” I said encouragingly.

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pannacotta

And so it was that we, during our quiet days in the country, had three wonderful little dishes, where these auxiliary players of my food universe stepped up to stardom … and might I add, got rave reviews.
Apart from a short trip to Paris this week, having this quiet time has been wonderful and prepares us all for what lies ahead, it’s the calm before the storm. Although I am hoping that we’ll just breeze through it all, that there won’t really be a storm.

Let’s just call it a summer wind.

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Sorrel soup
(serves 4-6)

110 g/ 4 ounces (a small bunch) sorrel leaves, stemmed and chopped
450 g/ 1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced coarsely
45 g/3 tablespoons butter
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Crème fraîche, approx 1 tablespoon per serving
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot, melt the butter on a medium heat and add the sorrel leaves. Stir for a few minutes, until the leaves have melted, then add the diced potatoes. Continue to cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add the nutmeg. Pour 1.2 liters/ 5 cups of water into the pot and bring to a soft boil. Turn the heat to low and leave to cook for 30 minutes. Blend soup with a stick blender, season if necessary and serve into individual bowl, with a spoon of crème fraîche if desired. Serve with grilled parmesan tartines, with a drizzle of olive oil.

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Venus Clams sautéed en persillade
(serves4-6)

These clams are particularly fleshy, excellent in every ways. I love roasting them with a garlic & parsley butter stuffing (just like snails à la Bourguignonne), but I also enjoy cooking them simply, sautéed in a persillade, with a dash of wine.

1 kg/ 2-2.5 pounds Venus clams/ in French they are called praires
A bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced finely
3 tbsp olive oil
1 glass of dry white wine
Sea-salt and black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
A dash of piment d’espelette

Rinse clams in cold water several times and drain.
Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a medium-sized pot or large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, stir for 1-2 minutes. Add clams and white wine, season with salt and pepper. Cover, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until clams open. Add a handful of chopped parsley and sprinkle with piment d’espelette. Grate the zest of 1/2 lemon just before serving. Serve immediately.

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Squid and fennel salad

1 kg fresh squid, cleaned (you can ask your fishmonger to prepare them)
1 large fennel (reserve the feathery leaves), thinly sliced
2/3 small red peppers
3 /4 garlic cloves
1 bunch of parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
Zest of one lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
6 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying
A dash of piment d’espelette or chili flakes
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the squid under cold running water and pat dry. Halve the tentacles lengthwise and cut bodies crosswise. Cut 5 cm /2 inches slices. Season with salt & pepper.
Using a sharp knife, lightly score to mark parallel lines 1/2 cm wide on the cuttlefish flaps. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. When the pan is sizzling hot, cook the squid on both sides, just about 30 seconds or less on each side. Set aside.
Add a bit more olive oil to the pan and sauté the diced red peppers for 4 to 5 minutes. Return the squid to the pan, sprinkle a dash of chilli flakes, add the garlic and cook for 3 mores minutes. Turn off the heat, add the finely chopped parsley, the fennel and set the pan aside. Drizzle the lemon vinaigrette and toss everything together. Just before serving, grate the zest of one lemon all over, and sprinkle the feathery leaves of the fennel.
Serve immediately.

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Rhubarb & strawberry panna cotta

This delightful dessert is so incredibly easy to make! I always keep pretty yogurt pots, either in terracotta or glass – they come in very handy for this treat. Make sure to prepare these well in advance, as they do need time to set, at least 1/2 day or overnight in the refrigerator. The gelatin I use comes by pack of 9 sheets weighing 17 g – so 5 sheets is approximately 10 g. The rhubarb & strawberries compote is a perfect match – I usually make a double dose of compote, as I love having some for breakfast or mixed in my porridge bowl. Enjoy!

For the panna cotta
(makes about 8 small jars)

750 ml full-cream/whole milk
250 ml heavy cream
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
150 g/ 2/3 cup granulated sugar
5 gelatin sheets – (10 g)

Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water.
In a saucepan, heat the milk, cream, vanilla beans and sugar on a medium heat. Bring to a soft simmer, take off the heat and add the gelatin sheets (squeeze off excess water). Stir with a whisk until completely dissolved. Set aside.
Fill the ramekins 3/4 full. Leave to cool at room temperature, then refrigerate until set (at least half a day).

For the rhubarb and strawberries compote

250 g/ ½ pound rhubarb, chopped
150 g/ 1/3 pound strawberries, halved
65 g/ 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

Rinse rhubarb and strawberries. Cut the rough ends of the rhubarb and slice into small chunks. Halve the strawberries.
Place fruits in a saucepan, add the sugar, lemon juice and water. Turn the heat on medium and cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 to 12 minutes.
Leave to cool, store in a glass jar with a lid, and store in the refrigerator.
To serve: When the panna cottas are set, fill the panna cotta jars with the rhubarb & strawberries compote.

Mimi's bump

37 weeks and counting…

While we’re still young

snacking

In this family we have a habit of finding things we weren’t looking for. Or at least things we didn’t know we were looking for. Years ago we went looking for a hound and ended up with a terrier (which has since multiplied), then we thought we might move to Normandie but ended up in Médoc, I studied finance but found myself in the kitchen. Let’s just say that with us, things happen rather than being planned. Last year we went searching for yellow flowers, which we found, but the flowers also led us to the the château of one of the nicest guys we’ve ever met, Fabien Courrian. Earlier this spring, through Fabien, we found something so special that it might change our lives forever. I am guessing I have your attention now?

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gaia&fava

mimikitchen

What we found was the greenish-blue door of an old house in the center of a quiet village in the middle of the vineyards. As I walked through that door I had the most powerful serendipitous feeling I’ve ever had – this house was meant for me. As in a haze I glided like a ghost through the vast dark corridors, the shutters kept most of the sunshine out but what little pierced through led my way. Slowly the house unveiled itself and as we rushed to open more and more windows it was gradually exposed. This house was too good to be true. But wait, it gets better. The house was previously owned by a woman called Plantia, a formidable woman, famous for her black dresses and her wonderful cooking. Hmm, black dresses, cooking – it does ring a bell. There is far more to her story but that is for another post, in fact it is worthy of a book, my next one? She ran a restaurant and a hotel in the house, yes it’s that big and as I walked into her kitchen, adorned with a dreamy fireplace, I could almost smell the cooking of times gone by. It’s all so mythical that it makes me feel like I’m right in the middle of an Isabel Allende novel – it really is a house of spirits and my future lies in it.

roof

fontainebleau2

girlsroom

lamb3

To make a very long story short – we decided to buy it, and so we’re moving this summer from our beloved home in the forest to live amongst the vines. It is also the beginning of a new chapter for us in a different way. The house is so grand, so big, with two kitchens, and a terrace on the roof no less, that I can do what I’ve been dreaming about for a while, forever, which is opening a seasonal restaurant (table d’hôtes). It will be the bistrot of my dreams where I’ll serve all my favorite food and source the best products available. Let’s imagine it together. I can picture you walking through the big front gate (that needs to be painted) and I (or maybe Oddur) will greet you with a glass of rosé or perhaps Pineau if you prefer. There might be a little fox terrier puppy fooling around in the courtyard and some folks playing pétanque. You will nibble on the amazing baguette from Soulac and some charcuterie from Louis Ospital. I might give you a bit of tuna rillettes while you make up your mind on the menu and if it was your lucky day, some freshly picked cèpes mushrooms too.

outsidestyzans

snack2

snack3

snack4

The menu will be ever-changing but you can rely on always finding my parmentier de canard, my crème fraîche with herbs chicken and my chocolate swirl meringues. The wine-list will be fairly small and personal with a selection of the best wines that have ever graced my table. Of course you will find Fabien’s Tour Haut Caussan, Olivier Compagnet’s Elise, as well as one of my husband’s favorites the Clos du Marquis from St Julien. For rosé, I can’t think of a better choice than L’Ostal Cazes, so fresh and perfect for summer. Some Drappier champagne to celebrate anything you want… And I hope I’ll manage to offer the ’96 Château Lynch-Bages that I had last summer and am still dreaming about.
I am so excited as I write this that my chair has now lifted from the floor and I am floating in air (mythical meets Mary Poppins). And there is more news to tell. As you know I am very fond of people who love food with passion. Now I’ll have a chance to finally meet some of you as I am planning to host cooking ateliers (workshops). We might start as early as late this fall, hopefully the rooms will be ready and we’ll be roaring to go. Of course I will give more details later but I’d love to hear from interested parties. There will be fun and there will be food & wine (too much of both).

salon

lamb6

hudson

staircase

I might be walking on air but I certainly can’t live on it so despite all this excitement this Mary Poppins as been as busy as ever in the kitchen. I’m still under the spell of fava beans – in all honesty I have them every day and sometimes twice. They are the meatiest of vegetables, so versatile and just so good. Last Wednesday I bought all they had at the market but we still managed to finish it in one day. First I made a delicious steamed flan, with peas and asparagus on the side. La douceur ressort dans la vapeur. Then, because Easter is near, I wanted to try something with lamb and ended up including fava beans in that too. The campagnarde sauce is courtesy of my trusted butcher M. Manenti – a bread, garlic and parsley delight to accompany the lamb. For dessert, a fontainebleau so delicate that only the finest muslin can dress it. Who knows maybe you’ll find yourself sitting at my restaurant next summer and I’ll be serving you a fontainebleau with a smile on my face.

lamb&mimi

One more month to go till baby arrives!

lamb2

fontainebleau

bedroom

Some people find what they are looking for (or not looking for) at the end of the rainbow but I found my house at the end of the alphabet, x marks the spot for me just before the YZ of Saint-Yzans de Médoc. I’ve had it in the back of my mind for a while now to branch out and open a little bistrot. I’ll put all I’ve got into it and give it my best shot. After we’ve restored the gem of a kitchen to its former glory, after some wallpapers have been updated and a few floorboards put into shape, I hope everything I’ve learned about food and cooking through the years will pay off and that my passions will land firmly on your plate. My enthusiasm and spirit for this project is boundless, blind luck and bottomless ambition have merged and it just feels the time is right – while we’re still young!

lou&jack

frontofhouse2

favabeans

p.s. My husband has been listening non-stop to a song called ‘La mia seranata‘ by Jimmy Fontana while he’s been preparing the photos for this post. He says it goes perfectly with the mood of the house. It’s a nice, quaint little serenade, don’t get me wrong I like it, just not twelve times in a row. Nevertheless he recommends you try to find it and play it, in low quality (like directly from an iPod) from another room or even put it inside while dining outside – to imitate the sound coming from a far away old gramophone. So there you have it (yes his instructions are often this detailed).

styzansview

favabeanflan2

outsidestyzans2

favabeanflan

Fabien Courrian & Louise. Fava bean flan (right).

Fava beans and peas flans

180 ml/ ¾ ml full cream/crème entière liquide
240 ml/ 1 cup whole milk
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4 eggs
¼ tsp nutmeg
100 g/3/4 cup + 150 g/ 1 cup for garnish fava beans, peeled
50 g/ 1/3 cup peas + 50 g/ 1/3 cup fresh peas
10 green asparagus
A small handful of fresh mint leaves
Lemon zest of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

For about 4 to 6 ramekins depending in size

Heat milk and cream with garlic in a saucepan, add 100 g peeled fava beans and 50 g peas. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a soft boil and simmer on a low heat for a few minutes, until fava beans and peas start to be tender. Take off the heat. Blend mixture with a stick blender until smooth. Whisk the eggs in a bowl and pour in the cream mixture.
Prepare to boil the water in the steamer. Pour about half a teaspoon of olive oil in the ramekins and swirl them around so the oil covers the sides as well. Place 2 fava beans and a few peas in the bottom, and pour the mixture in (3/4 full). Place the flans in the steamer, cover and cook for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until the flans are set.
While the flans are cooking, sauté the asparagus, the rest of the fava beans and peas in a tablespoon of olive oil for 3 minutes on a medium heat in a pan. Add 2 tablespoons of water and continue to cook for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are al dente. Season with salt and pepper.
Prepare a serving plate, unmould the flans using a palette knife, and place the sautéed vegetables on top. Sprinkle with chopped mint leaves, a drizzle of olive oil and a few gratings of fresh lemon zest. Serve warm.

lamb

Roast rack of lamb and campagnarde sauce

Serves 4

1 rack of lamb, about 900g -1 kg/about 2 pounds
650 g/ 1 1 1/22 pounds ratte potatoes
8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
250 g fava beans, peeled
Olive oil
A few fresh rosemary sprigs
A dash of piment d’espelette
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the lamb rack

Parboil the potatoes for 10 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water. Halve them horizontally.
Season the lamb with salt and pepper and sprinkle piment d’espelette. Brown the meat until golden in a large sauté pan with olive oil on all sides and place lamb in a roasting pan, along with all the juices and 6-8 unpeeled garlic cloves (we call them ail en chemise). Scatter fresh rosemary sprigs on top, place the halved potatoes and fava beans around the meat. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper.
Place in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350 F. Cook for 20-30 minutes, or until desired cuisson.

For the campagnarde gravy sauce

Sauce from the pan
120 g/2 cups bread crumbs from stale bread (like baguette), crust removed
60 ml/ ¼ cup white wine
180 ml/3/4 cup veal stock
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
A small bunch of parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Process the stale bread (crust removed) until loosely crumbled. Pour the juices from the lamb rack pan into a saucepan, add the stock and cook on a medium heat. Bring to a soft boil, add the wine, salt and pepper, and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Add the butter and take off the heat. Add the breadcrumbs (adjust more or less if you want a thicker or thinner sauce), finely chopped parsley and garlic – stir gently. Pour into a serving gravy dish. Serve immediately with the lamb.

fontainebleau3

Fontainebleau

Serves 4-6

Faisselle is made from fresh curds, hand-ladled into colander molds, so the liquid is drained to your liking. If you can’t find faisselle, then I would suggest to use full-fat/whole fromage blanc as an alternative. Let the faisselle drain for at least 4 hours (or even overnight), either in its own container or place it in a colander and over a bowl in a refrigerator. Fontainebleau is sold in French cheese store, wrapped in muslin cloths and placed in a small cup. My favourite ones in Paris are sold at the fromagère Marie-Anne Cantin, 12, rue du Champs de Mars, 75007 Paris.

350 g/ 12 ounces faisselle (alternatively fromage blanc if you can’t find faisselle)
160 ml/2/3/ cup heavy cream/ crème entière liquide (for whipping)
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise and seeds scraped (optional)
Whip the heavy cream, add the vanilla seeds (optional). Discard the drained liquid and whip the faisselle (or fromage blanc). Fold in the whipped cream to the faisselle (or fromage blanc).
Place the mixture, about the size of a tennis ball) on a square of muslin cloth, join the four ends and twist on top (just like in the photos).
Make a fresh coulis by blending 250 g strawberries and 120 g fine/caster sugar in the mixer. As simple as that.
Serve the wrapped fontainebleau desserts on individual serving plates. Let your guests unwrap the little parcels and serve with strawberry coulis.

fin

Travels in Time

porkchop

As a young girl spending summers with my grandmother near Toulouse I fell in love with a Frenchman. It was so long ago that I’ve forgotten his name but he was a charming fellow, a bit stocky with rosy cheeks and a smile on his face. Sometimes he was perfectly dressed, in a double-breasted blazer with shiny loafers and a pretentious little foulard around his neck, other times he just wore a simple shirt and trousers. He was always in a good mood … and he was almost always eating. On our way home from the market we would drive past him in my aunt’s car, as we turned down the little country road that led to her house. He would sit there, bathing in sunshine, a half-finished bottle of red wine on a table next to him. He would be slicing a sausage or a piece of bread with his pocket knife. He would waive to us. Sometimes he was invited to my aunt’s house for dinner which, as you can imagine, was very exciting for me. He would bring foie gras, armagnac and camembert. His rosy cheeks would turn red, as would mine (remember I was in love with him), he would tell charming stories and, on at least one occasion, he would start dancing when dinner was over. Except with him dinner was never really over. In between  songs he would nibble on a strawberry tart or a slice of brie. On Sundays we would see him, heading straight from the church to a local bistro where he would join his buddies in epic celebrations. What were they celebrating? Who knows, being French, having a day off? I think they mostly celebrated life and good food.

mimi&gaia

potatogalette

prunes&sauce

Now I remember his name, he is called Bon Vivant. He lives in every French village and town. In the Pyrénées he loves a bit of black cherry jam with his Ossau Iraty but in Jura he swears by a little yellow wine with his Comté cheese and walnuts. Funnily enough he is as present as ever, after all those years. Even with the rise of supermarkets and take-away coffees he’s found a way to keep his integrity … and I still love him.

Sunday was my birthday and that called for a trip to town. Impatiently I wanted to go on Saturday instead – to have a pre-birthday lunch, get some flowers (my husband saw to that – the prettiest renoncules) and goodies for my big day. Unexpectedly we ended up in the loveliest belle époque brasserie called Le Noailles (the oldest one in Bordeaux), the type of establishment I adore, with black clad waiters, white tablecloths, a pastry tray and red banquets. The food and the atmosphere were so excellent, the room was filled with such joy – it was the comfort of Saturdays at its best. I had a sole meuniere (as I often do in such places), Oddur had the foie de veau, my mother-in-law the salmon and the kids a bit of everything. The food was all excellent but the desserts were to die for, perhaps because the birthday girl in me was in a pastry state of mind. What pleased me most is that my childhood sweetheart, the bon vivant, was sitting at practically every table, enjoying his meal as much as we were. Sometimes he was with his twin, the other bon vivant, but their younger brother, the gourmet, was all over the place too. They were the cutest elderly couple who had a three-course meal with cheese, a younger man and his elegantly dressed daughter with the impeccable table manners and a woman whose two teenage children seemed to be savoring every bite. I could hear them discuss the food, the wine, the desserts. It felt like I could have been here a hundred years ago and met the same people, it was a great way to start a birthday weekend.

hudson&james

girlsmerveilleux

gaia

We left this world of yesteryear, fulfilled and happy, expecting to walk right back into modernity but in the square opposite the restaurant we spotted a vintage car exhibition. I know next to nothing about cars, don’t even drive myself (thus the bicycle), but I do appreciate a nice belted Jaguar when I see one, in racing green. From the bon vivants of the restaurant to the connoisseurs of automobiles – everybody has their thing, especially on a Saturday. Our automotive adventures were followed by a stroll through the place Quinconces and the Jardin public where we caught a matinée exhibition of Guignol’s adventures at the puppet theatre. Children were shouting and screaming, warning Guignol on stage. The story is always the same with Guignol landing himself in peril but persevering in the end. This little outdoor venue echoed with the laughter of countless other children from a different time, when there were no ipads or iphones, not even TV.

Lemon meringue tart

Ludovic Le Goardet, chef at Le Noailles.

Ludovic Le Goardet, chef at Le Noailles.

merveilleux2

The chef at Le Noailles is a friend from the time he worked at Café Lavinal, one of our favorite places in Médoc. He treated us with little extras and after lunch took the time to sit with us and share recipes and ideas. Talking about the bon vivant and the gourmet. They have a cousin called the glutton. Le Glouton is also the name of a bistrot that Ludovic and his wife Elisabeth are planning to open in Bordeaux this August. A glutton is, of course, less mannered and greedier than the other two but I am sure Ludovic will put some manners into him – it is a bistrot opening that I am eagerly awaiting.

Talking about time passing and remembrances of things past, when it is your birthday you reflect and you look forward. But mainly I just want to have a blissful day with family and friends and food. Inspired by Le Noailles and the atmosphere there, the bon vivants, gourmets and gluttons I have been revisiting classic dishes such as the pork chops with prunes and the marvelous ‘merveilleux’, an old-fashioned meringue dessert covered in cream and chocolate flakes. Simply wonderful!

My day was made even lovelier by all your countless birthday wishes and kindness. So I had to steal Ludovic’s meringue tart recipe and make it as a special treat for all of you, even if I already had another dessert planned.

On your birthday you are allowed to have two desserts.

p.s. On Monday I got the sweetest email from a girl, a reader of the blog. She’s American but is currently an au pair in Bordeaux. She said she saw me entering le Noailles, wanted to say hi but felt it was too intrusive. She should have – I would have offered her a lemon meringue tart!

potatogalette2

Potato galettes with sautéed asparagus with fresh peas

(makes about 8 galettes)

4 large potatoes (about 700 g/ 1&1/2 pounds)
3 small shallots, finely chopped
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
4 tbsp plain flour
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
A bunch of asparagus (3-4 per person) (I used the sables des Landes white/violettes asparagus)
1 cup fresh peas, shelled
A small piece of Comté cheese (or cheddar)
A dash of piment d’espelette
A few sprigs of fresh chives
A dash of freshly grated lemon zest
A tablespoon of crème fraîche per serving
Butter & olive oil for frying

Peel the potatoes and grate them into a large bowl. Add the chopped shallots, nutmeg, egg and egg yolk, flour. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
Heat the 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in a sauté pan until sizzling hot, scoop about a tablespoon or one and a half tablespoon (depending on how large you want the galettes), flatten them with a spatula. Cook them on both sides until golden. Grate a teaspoon of Comté cheese on top. Place them on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil.
Peel the asparagus and cut off the stiff ends. Slice the asparagus in half. Sauté the asparagus in a pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter, stiring gently. After 5 minutes add the peas. Season with salt & pepper. Add a few tablespoons of water and continue to cook until absorbed and asparagus and peas are tender yet al dente.
To serve:
Place the potato galette on a serving plate, place the asparagus and peas on top, add a tablespoon of crème fraîche, season with salt & pepper and a dash of piment d’espelette. Sprinkle with lemon zest and finely chopped chives.

porkchop2

Pork chops with prunes & red wine sauce

For the pork chops
4 pork chops/ côtes de porc
230 g/ ½ pound dried prunes, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
4 tbsp/ 60 g unsalted butter
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
A few sprigs of parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
A few cloves of unpeeled garlic
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce
1 carrot, diced
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
180 ml/ ¾ cup red wine
30 ml/ 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
60 ml/ 4 tbsp chicken or vegetable stock
2 ½ tbsp unsalted butter
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce
Chop the carrot and shallots. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a sauté pan and cook until slightly golden. Add the bay leaf, thyme, season with salt and pepper, then add the vinegar, wine and reduce for a few minutes. Add the stock and bring to a soft boil, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the remaining butter. Drain the prunes and add them to the sauce. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes and set aside.
In a large sauté pan, heat the butter and olive oil on a medium to high heat. Sauté the pork chops and unpeeled garlic cloves on both sides until golden and cooked through. Season with salt & pepper. Spoon excess fat from the pan, then pour the prunes and wine sauce on top of the pork chops. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve immediately with steamed potatoes.

merveilleux

Merveilleux

This old-fashioned marvellous dessert is a little gem. A French meringue, covered in whipped cream and chocolate flakes, how simple and delicious! Especially with a name like ‘Le Merveilleux’ – simply irresistible.

Tip: Place the chocolate in a warm environment for a few minutes to facilitate the grating. You’ll get nicer & richer flakes.

For the meringues
3 egg whites
100 g/ ½ cup fine sugar
100 g/ 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
½ tsp corn starch (maïzana) or cream of tartar

To garnish
350 ml/ Heavy cream, for whipping
150 g dark chocolate, grated (I use a vegetable peeler)

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites on a high-speed until frothy. Add the cornstarch and sugar/ confectioner’s sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually and continue whisking until stiff and glossy. Transfer mixture to a piping bag and pipe small meringues (about the size of a round plum).
Bake in a preheated oven 140°C/280 F for 25 minutes, then lower heat 95°C/200 F and continue to bake for 2 hours. Switch the heat off and open the oven door. Leave the meringues to cool in the oven.
When the meringues are completely cooled, grate the chocolate into flakes (I use a vegetable peeler) and whisk the cream in a large bowl until stiff.
Cover the meringues evenly with a thick layer of cream and sprinkle with the chocolate flakes. Serve immediately.

lemonmeringuetart

Lemon meringue tarts

(makes about 8 small tarts)

Last Saturday, the first thing that caught my eye as I entered the brasserie Le Noailles was the cabinet à desserts (the dessert cabinet), especially this lovely lemon meringue tart. The base is a Breton sablé biscuit, so rich and buttery and slightly flavoured with rum. Ludovic, the chef, is from Brittany, so this sablé is extra delicious.It’s then covered with lemon custard and an Italian meringue on top. Pure pleasure. Merci pour cette recette Ludovic!

For the sablés

250 g/ 2 cups plain flour
130 g/ 2/3 cup fine sugar
240 g/ 1 cup unsalted butter
1 pinch of fleur de sel/ salt
2 egg yolks
1 tsp dark rum
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
1 egg yolk, for the eggwash
A bunch of redcurrants/groseille – to garnish

On a clan surface, mix all the ingredients together until you get a smooth dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film/ plastic wrap and refrigerate for a least 2 hours. On a floured surface, roll out the dough and cut out 8-10 cm circles (my circle molds have a little round trim/cannelé). Brush the sablés with eggwash. Bake on a parchment lined baking tray in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350 F for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool on a pastry rack.

For the lemon custard

Juice of 3 lemons
80 g/ 1/3 cup unsalted butter
130 g/ 2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
Squeeze the lemon juice. Pour into a saucepan, add the sugar and whisked eggs. Whisk gradually, adding the butter, until mixture becomes thick like a custard on a medium to low heat. Take off the heat and leave to cool completely. Then refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

For the Italian meringue

4 egg whites
250 g/ 1 & 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
80 ml/ 1/3 cup lukewarm water
1 pinch of salt

Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan on a medium to high – bring to a boil. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved and has thickened to a syrupy consistence and has reached a temperature of 120°C. Now you can start beating the egg whites until soft peaks. Increase the speed and pour the syrup in a slow stream. Lower the speed and continue to whisk until the mixture has cooled, about 10 to 12 minutes. The mixture should be thick and glossy.
Transfer lemon custard into piping bag and pipe a small ball (size of a ping-pong ball) in the center of the sablé.
Transfer meringue mixture to another large piping bag and pipe small meringue shapes on top of sablé and lemon custard, starting from the bottom sides. Brown with a blow torch.

bie&stilton

Red, Green, Blue

green

Red is so hot right now

When I was in New York earlier this month I missed most all those little hands that hug me and hold me, the elbows that sometimes knock me out at night and, of course, the little faces that come with the hands, the ones with mischievous little smiles. These little hands were put to good use this weekend, shelling peas and beans but more about that later. A pair of hands comes with a pair of feet and little feet need little shoes. Gaïa, my youngest (for now), has always had a shoe obsession and changes shoes every hour of the day. Interestingly she hardly ever wears a matching pair, that would be a waste of time (so many shoes, so little time). When we were away she insisted on wearing the same princess dress every day, over her sweater, and a selection of shoes to go with it. My father-in-law was stupefied and asked “Is it normal that the kid dresses like that?” But since we’ve been back in our little corner of the world Gaïa has changed her tune and her outfit. All she wants to wear are red ballerinas. Every morning she wakes up, runs in her red ballerinas to her sister’s room and insists she wears the same. So just in case you had any doubts – Red is THE color right now, even the pears are wearing it!

plenty

aillet&asparagus

cinnamonpancakes

gaiaflowers

Shades of Green

I have to admit that we’re still a long way from the colorful symphonies of summer but nature has taken out its paintbrush and given us a few strokes of green. And what lovely shades they are. The fava beans soup tastes like I’ve never had it before, the asparagus is even better than I remembered. I can’t wait for nature to start dipping into other colors but for now, green does it for me every day (we’re having broccoli pasta for lunch today, just let me finish writing this first). My husband and father-in-law went to the market on Saturday and came back home with crates of the greenest greens. We plunged them on our table and without so much as a human touch they arranged themselves to perfection. “Let the vegetables fall as they may” is our approach to food. All the kids joined in, there were a lot of jobs to be done. Shelling peas and beans, peeling asparagus. Those little hands did most of the vegetable work while I prepared the lamb shanks. I meant to cook them with olives and lemons but in the end I felt the olives weren’t needed so they were introduced to some charcuterie later in the day. Saturdays are market days and family food days, it seems we never stop eating. In the morning we had a huge fry-up, with Irish potato bread, eggs and bacon, then it seems that lunch just lingers on forever and finally changes its name to dinner.

pears&pancakes

Passe-Crassane pears

teamwork

shelling

mimi&asparagus

Blue is the warmest color

If you are a regular reader you will be familiar with a certain blue table that more often than not holds the food I cook. It’s a very ordinary looking table, whose former life was amongst the market stalls. It came with the house when we moved here, stood inconspicuously in a corner. My husband took a liking to it and made it his makeshift desk. It’s by no means in perfect condition, with scratches and splatters of light-blue and yellow paint. It even sways down in the middle, like an old horse, from all the weight it’s carried in all its previous lives.
I would describe the color as a greenish blue but when the light hits the table in a certain way it’s almost indigo (there is a movie quote in here for you clever people). Simply put, it’s a good table and, I must admit, makes my food look good. Why am I talking, at length, about a table? You see, for me, a table is a symbol, an anchor for any family. A table has never been more important. We may not be able to live without our smartphones but we are not able to live decently without our tables. A family that sets a table every night and shares it, is at least doing something right. Food satisfies our hunger, but having it together connects us. People should not forget that. I have lived in France for a long time now and always had roots here, but I never cease to be amazed by the role food plays in our country. We take time to eat, we talk about the food, bien sûr, but the conversation goes further and before we know it stories are flying. A table is also a good place for education, especially for large families. Our kids break the rules all the time but at least they know that there are rules.
Like my mother always says “les bonnes manières commençent à table” (good manners start at the table).

And by the way, the table doesn’t have to be blue.

aillet&asparagus2

miapeas

sorel

lamb2

Here are three recipes to celebrate early spring.

plateofgreen

Asparagus with fresh peas, fava beans and herbs.

This dish is a celebration of spring. It’s all about improvisation, you can add any seasonal greens you like. Here, the portions are light, perfect as a starter dish. The key is to cook the vegetables on a medium to high heat, so the vegetables are just cooked through, everything must be al dente. I love cooking with sorrel leaves, especially with seafood dishes. The lemony sharpness makes any dish stand out. Note: Do not overcook the sorrel leaves, or they will be all soft. Just throw them in, stir for a second or two, and serve immediately.

A bunch of fresh green asparagus, count 3 per person
A bunch of sorrel/oseille leaves
A few sprigs of fresh chives
70 g/ ½ cup chopped ramp/ aillet
2/ 3 sprigs mint, leaves picked
150 g/1 cup fresh peas, shelled
120 g/ 1 cup fresh fava beans, shelled and peeled
1 or 2 tbsp salted butter
2/3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
60 ml/ ¼ cup lukewarm water
Coarse sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated lemon zest, to serve
Shell the peas and fava beans. Peel the rough skin from the fava beans. Set aside. Thinly slice the ramps. Rinse all the herbs so they are ready for usage (you’ll be using kitchen scissors to cut them directly over the sauté pan).
Rinse asparagus under cold water. Peel the rough skin from the bottom half of the spears with a vegetable peeler. Cut off the rough ends. Slice the asparagus into 4 to 5 pieces. Slice the asparagus tips in half and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan on a medium to high heat, add the asparagus, peas, ramps and fava beans, saving the asparagus tips for the end as they are the most tender and cook faster. Stir for one minute then add 60 ml/1/4 cup water in the pan. Continue to gently stir for 2 to 3 minutes, until water has reduced, then add a tablespoon of salted butter. Add the asparagus tips, stir gently. With kitchen scissors, cut a few mint leaves and chives. Add the sorrel leaves. Stir everything gently. Season with salt and pepper, place on a plate and grate some fresh lemon zest on top. Serve immediately. Everything should be al dente.

lamb&lemon1

lamb

Lamb confit with spices and lemon

This comforting dish is my idea for a perfect Saturday family lunch. There’s nothing more pleasurable than a cocotte slow-cooking in your oven, filling up the kitchen with the most inviting aromas. The lamb shanks are juicy and layered in flavors, the sauce is filled with lemon goodness, perfect to drizzle on a side serving of couscous. If you wish, add golden raisins and toasted almonds to the couscous to add a little extra sweetness. Make sure to pre-order the lamb shanks at your butcher’s (in France we call it ‘souris d’agneau’) as they are not always available.

6 small lamb shanks/ souris d’agneau
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon fennel seed
300 ml/ 1 & ¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock
6 cloves garlic for the paste + 8 garlic cloves for the lamb
A chunk of ginger (about 3 inches long)
4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 lemons, thickly sliced
Coarse sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the meat paste
A small bunch of thyme
A few sprigs of rosemary
4 tablespoons liquid honey
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Mix the peeled garlic cloves and ginger in a food processor until you get a smooth paste. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the thyme leaves, chopped rosemary leaves, nutmeg and cinnamon with the honey. Set aside.
Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper, and rub them all over with the herb and honey mixture.
In a large cocotte/ cast-iron dutch oven, heat the olive oil and brown the meat on all sides on a medium to high heat. Transfer meat to a plate. Add the fennel seeds and ground coriander in the olive oil, add the ginger and garlic paste and continue to cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Return the meat to the pot, stir for a few minutes to mix all the ingredients together, then add the chicken/ or vegetable stock. Bring to a soft boil, lower the heat and cover with a lid. Transfer pot to a preheated oven 160°C/ 320 F and cook lamb for 3 hours. Halfway through, add the unpeeled garlic cloves and sliced lemon and continue to cook covered. Serve with semolina (couscous) or steamed potatoes and drizzle sauce all over.

pancakes

Cinnamon pancakes with Chantilly cream and pear

This recipe was kindly lent to me by my lovely Icelandic mother-in-law, Jóhanna, famous for her cinnamon pancakes. All our family members and friends rave on about her delicious pancakes, a staple dish in her household. They are extra special, not only because of the cinnamon flavor, but also for their light texture. A tip I found very useful was to cover them with a plate, then wrapping the plates in a kitchen cloth followed by a plastic bag – they keep their softness and retain all the great flavors. Here I served them with whipped cream and diced pears. Pears are subtle, so sweet and delicious, but I can’t wait for strawberry season, they will be perfect for these pancakes!

Makes about 20-25 pancakes

35 g/ 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
65 g/1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
500 ml/ 2 ½ cups full-cream milk
180 g/ 1 &1/2 cup plain flour
¼ tsp fine salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
To serve
1 to 2 pears, depending on size
250ml/ 1 cup heavy cream, for whipping
In a pancake pan, melt the butter, take off the heat and leave to cool. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine sugar and eggs. Whisk briskly for a minute, then gradually add the milk and flour, salt and vanilla extract, until you get a smooth, yet fluid batter. Add the cinnamon, mix well, then finally add the all butter that was in the pancake pan.
Heat the pancake pan on a medium to high heat. When the pan is very hot, spoon ¾ of a ladle of batter and pour on pan, swirling the pan to evenly cover the surface. Cook for a minute or so, until the edges start browning. Lift the edges slightly with a palette knife and turn the pancake to cook on the other side. For 30 seconds. The pancakes are best golden brown. Place on a plate and continue with the rest of the batter. When finished, cover with a plate, wrap with a clean tea-towel and cover with cling film (or a ziplock/ plastic bag) to keep the pancakes moist and soft. Leave to cool 10 minutes while you prepare the whipped cream and peel/ dice the pears.
To serve
Place 1 tablespoon of whipped cream in the centre of the pancake, add 2 teaspoons of diced pears. Fold in half and fold again to form a triangle. Serve immediately.

gaiatrees

Last week in America

poodle

Where do I begin

It all started with an email from Rica Allannic, my editor. I received it on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday afternoon in early February. It was short and to the point. Would I be up for a quick trip to New York city, to go over my manuscript and do some publicity for my upcoming book – before my bump got to big to travel? A better question might have been “Is anyone ever not up for a trip to New York, with or without a bump?” Wheels were set in motion, my in-laws were lined up as dog- and babysitters, a strategy was outlined to keep them all from harm in our absence. Moments later, it seemed, I was standing in the very impressive lobby of Random House on Broadway. Every single person at Clarkson Potter is an absolute delight and I must admit it was a kick for me to be discussing my book with a view of New York at my feet. The next few days were a blur of yellow cabs that drive far too fast (I am one of those pregnant ladies who’s not good in cars – read nausea) and more impressive lobbies, freezing cold but warm receptions, great food and sadly for me, hardly any wine. I loved every minute. It was one of those trips where everything happens so fast that when you come home you have to ask yourself  “did that actually happen?”

greens

cauliflower

unionsqmarket

Virtual friends, old friends and mixed fortunes

On our first night in NY we had an old friend for dinner (I just had to write that). We met up at a local Chinese place, had noodles and dim sum and, this being America, three fortune cookies to round up the meal. My friend Thao and I got some words of “wisdom” but Oddur got this: “Everyone agrees that you are the best”. We left our fortunes on the table, he put his carefully in the breast pocket of his coat. Talking of “everyone” there were so many people I wanted to meet. Since I started Manger I’ve made great friends from the “monde” of blogs and social networks, modern-day pen pals. Some have already visited us in the French countryside, others have remained virtual friends. But I feel like I know them all intimately, I know what they had for lunch and what it looked like, what toys their kids like to play with … and in some cases what their beds look like after they’ve slept in them (or what they want people to believe that their beds look like when they’ve slept in them). In this brave new world we all have a curated version of one another, now was the time to get real.

mimislobsterroll

unionsqmarket3

unionsqmarket2

endives

The trip in Food

We had a shortlist of around 10 restaurants we wanted to try but most of them didn’t manage the final cut. Largely our food-fate was not in our own hands. And frankly, this trip, all roads led to Estela. We had five dinners in NY, one at our editor’s house and four in restaurants. Two of those were at Estela. It seems that all of NY, or at least our friends, are in love with Estela and these are folks that know what they’re talking about when it comes to restaurants. It’s easy to understand why they like it. It’s a bar-restaurant with amazing cocktails (I’m told), simple decor and simply delicious food that’s fit for sharing. I liked everything I had there and loved some of it. I loved the beef tartare with sunchoke (that I wasn’t supposed to have), the ricotta dumplings, the mussels and salted cod. Oddur loved the chicken hearts. Over lunch, earlier in the week he had mentioned Estela to Pam, the publisher of Clarkson Potter and she confessed that she goes to Estela often and even makes a version of their endive salad at home. Needless to say I managed to get the recipe from her. Another lovely dinner was at a brand new place called Navy, whose chef, Camille, is another virtual acquaintance. A beautiful, small, dimly lit place with lovely food and a hat wearing English chap called Neil who makes great coffee. Which brings me to our finest meal of the trip, unsurprisingly the one meal we had at someone’s house. Aren’t those always the best? We did have high hopes, Rica, a top editor that specializes in cookbooks (who used to work in the kitchen of Daniel Boulud – that’s how she met her beau) and her French chef husband, Cyrille. Who wouldn’t want to be invited to a dinner like that. Like the hosts themselves the dinner was a French-American mix. Local ingredients with a French touch. American wine and cheeses – and without wanting to sound prejudice (wine&cheese are of course national treasures of France) – both surprisingly good, awesome in fact. We had Nantucket scallops with a cauliflower mash, so good that I just had to share the recipe with you. Mr and Mrs didn’t quite see eye to eye on the gremolata and for a while it looked like there would be two versions – in the end they agreed on what tasted heavenly to me. I knew American beef could be good, just not this good. Dinner with friends, that’s what life is about.

So much fun meeting Nicole Franzen, Grace Bonney and Julia Turshen

So much fun meeting Nicole Franzen, Grace Bonney and Julia Turshen

monkshood

brooklyn

The French Connection

Being a mixed breed myself I am always fascinated by the merging of cultures. There is an old ad from the French fashion designer Pierre Cardin that used to run in GQ. I don’t remember it myself but Oddur brought it to my attention recently, the copy reads: “The mystique of France, the energy of America”. On one hand kind of silly and stereotypical, on the other, a little bit true. Towards the end of our meal at Rica’s they mentioned that they were all planning to get up early (and not to get rid of us I might add). Cyrille, a chef, painter and keen triathlete had some exercising to do as did Rica. Adrian, their adorable son (and my future son-in-law) swims five times a week. I may be generalizing but there is a sense of keenness and enthusiasm about Americans that I love but it has it’s downsides too. Every restaurant is either empty or has a queue, a restaurant that was hot on my last visit can now be found in oblivion. Luckily many of the new restaurants are as good or better than the ones they replaced – New Yorkers know how to come up with good concepts. France has long provided the recipes, but America had their own ideas. While American chefs have imported French knowledge and technique, interned at French bakeries to learn the tricks of the trade, it’s the American sense of enterprise that has helped young French chefs break out of the old hierarchies and establish their own successful bistros. A great example of this sort of cooperation of cultures is Spring in Paris, a wildly successful restaurant run by an American in Paris. So I guess Pierre Cardin was right. One of the best things I tasted in NY was a cheese called “Triple Cream”, a French tasting cheese with and American “selling” name.

Outside Reynard at Wythe hotel

Outside Reynard at Wythe hotel

Brooklyn

Brooklyn

grassforpets

Regrets I have a few

I have never had a disappointing trip to NY and neither a trip that left me completely fulfilled. There is just too much to do, no list can be completed, there are always boxes left to tick. No matter how many food trucks I try, lobster rolls I sample or cronuts I eat there is always a dozen things left on my list, people I didn’t meet or restaurants I missed out on. This trip my biggest regret was not to have time to visit my beloved Spotted pig, a source of so many happy moments in the past. 6 days in NY seem like an eternity and an instant at the same time. So little time, so much to do. After our final bumpy yellow cab ride to the airport (one that I almost didn’t survive), Oddur reached for his wallet and when he pulled it out his cherished Chinese fortune flew out of his pocket and into the evening air. I guess it was only valid for a week.

Craig Robinson, Brooklyn

Craig Robinson, Brooklyn

scallops2

wythe

Back home

When you sit at a table outside, surrounded by children and puppies, when the temperature is 30 degrees higher (celsius) than it was in NY and the sun caresses your bare feet, you want nothing more. But then after a while, you want a lobster roll. My way. That’s how I am, the stove beats the chair in the sun and soon I had buns in the oven. I’ve been revisiting NY with my mouth since we came back, we’ve had those heavenly scallops three times, a lobster roll twice. The pears are inspired from pancakes that Jenny, our book designer, ordered at Reynard in Brooklyn. I once read a piece from Jeffrey Steingarten on Chinese restaurants in America, at the end of it he said “Now all I have are memories”. Well, I have the memories … but I also have my own versions.

ps: Thank you everyone for the great tips you gave me for my NYC trip – they are all in my notebook for next trip!

endivesalad

Estela style Endive salad (courtesy of Pam Krauss) 

(serves 4)

3 heads of endive, separated into leaves
Juice of 1 orange
3 anchovies
50 g/ 1/3 cup roasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 & 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (I used Xérès vinegar)
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
50 g/ 1/3 cup Ubriaco Rosso cheese (I used Tomme de Savoie cheese), cut into tiny cubes
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mash up the anchovies in a salad bowl with a little salt and pepper. Squeeze the orange and pour juice into the bowl. Add the vinegar, then the olive and mix well. Finally, add the walnuts and cheese. Scatter the endive leaves on top. Serve immediately.

mimislobsterroll2

Lobster roll

Who doesn’t crave a great lobster roll? This is my Frenchie version, light and tangy, creamy with crème fraîche, and I decided not to add mayonnaise. Instead of a classic bread bun, I made pain au lait (milk bread), a typical bun sold at the boulangerie, very popular with my kids especially for the ‘goûter’ (after school) tea time hour – they love to add a small bar of black chocolate inside. It’s a rich bun that I love serving with savory fillings too.

(serves 6)

Flesh of 2 cooked lobsters (approximately 450g/ 1 pound each)
1 small head of sucrine lettuce (or iceberg)
A large handful of small pink radishes, sliced finely
A few sprigs of fresh chives, chopped finely
A bun of fresh chervil, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 branches of celery, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped scallions
3-4 tablespoons crème fraîche (or more if you prefer!)
¼ teaspoon piment d’espelette

Bring a large pot of salted boiling water, add ½ cup white wine, 2 bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme and a few black pepper corns. Cook the lobsters for approximately 15 minutes. Drain and leave to cool completely. Remove meat from lobsters.
Slice lobster flesh coarsely, place into a bowl. Gradually add all the ingredients together, except for the sucrine/iceberg lettuce and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

Pain au lait - milk buns

For the pain au lait buns

Note: For a slightly sweeter touch, add 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the dough.

300 g/ 2 & ½ cups plain flour
15 g/ ½ ounce fresh yeast
3 & 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream (crème liquide entière)
120 ml/ ½ cup milk, lukewarm
80 g/ 1/3 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon milk for the eggwash

In a large bowl, mix the yeast with a few tablespoons of the milk and leave for a few minutes until completely dissolved.
Gradually add the flour, sugar, salt, cream and butter. Start kneading in the bowl and transfer to a floured surface. Knead for at least 10 minutes, until the dough is soft. Shape into a large ball and place in the bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen cloth and place in a warm environment to rise for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Shape into small oval balls, approximately the size of a large lemon, and place on a parchment paper lined baking tray. Leave at least 4 cm/ 1.5 inches space in-between. Cover with a kitchen cloth and leave to rise for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350 F. Brush the rolls with the eggwash and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until well risen and golden brown.

To serve

Half-slice the buns, place sucrine lettuce in the bun and top with the lobster filling. Scatter with more lettuce and sprinkle a dash of piment d’espellette.

scallops&cauliflower2

Pan-seared scallops & capers with cauliflower mash à la Cyrille & Rica
(serves 4)

1 head of cauliflower, broken into pieces
3 tablespoons salted butter (for the cauliflower)
Zest of 1 organic lemon
80 ml/ 1/3 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons brined capers
Fresh large scallops (about 5 to 6 per person)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

The original recipe called for peeled kumquats, but as I couldn’t find any I used lemon zest instead.

For the cauliflower mash
Break the cauliflower into florets. Blanch the florets in a pot of salted boiling water for approximately 10 minutes, or until cauliflower is fork tender. Try not to overcook as the mash will be too gelatinous. Drain and purée with a stick blender, adding a few tablespoons of butter (adapt to your taste) and season accordingly. Set aside.

For the scallops
Rinse the scallops and pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Heat butter (cut into cubes) in a large sauté pan on a high heat. When the butter starts to foam, stir constantly until the color turns light brown. This is when your ‘beurre noisette’ is ready for cooking. Add the scallops and sauté about for 3 minutes, until cooked. Add the capers in the end and set aside.
In a small pan, heat 80 ml/ 1/3 cup chicken stock and bring to a soft boil. Add 2 tablespoons white wine, season with salt and pepper. Reduce on a high heat for 3 minutes, lower heat and add 2 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle with ¾ of the lemon zest.

To serve
Place the cauliflower purée in a serving dish, place the scallops with the capers along with a generous drizzle of the sauce. Drizzle with the chicken gravy and sprinkle with the lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

pears2

Pecan and pears with maple syrup whipped cream
(Serves 6)

A very simple dessert bursting with all the right flavors. This recipe is inspired from the delicious pear and pecan pancakes my friend Jenny ordered at Reynard at the Wythe hotel in Brooklyn. I ordered a pastrami sandwich, but couldn’t help picking on her plate. So please do not hesitate to serve pancakes with this recipe!

180 ml/ ¾ cup heavy cream
230 gr/ 8 ounces mascarpone
160 ml/ 2/3 cup maple syrup
4 to 5 William pears, sliced
2-3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
50 g/ 1/3 cup pecan nuts

Place the pecan nuts on a parchment paper lined baking tray, and sprinkle the sugar all over. Roast for 3-4 minutes on the grill/ broiler setting, or until nuts are slightly golden. Set aside to cool.
Whisk the heavy cream until thick, add the mascarpone and continue to whisk until thick, slowly adding the maple syrup.
Slice the pear and melt the butter in a large sauté pan on a medium heat. Sauté pears until golden on both sides.
Place the pears on a serving plate, scatter pecan nuts on top and serve with maple cream.

mimimanuscript

Town & Country

bloodoranges

Have you ever seen the look on a bunch of really surprised dogs? It’s difficult to describe, very subtle of course – dogs don’t really have so many facial expressions (except when in attack mode – the expression “to show your teeth” doesn’t come from nowhere). They gave us that befuddled look last Thursday when we turned our morning routine on its head. Dogs are creatures of habit, and so I guess is my husband. Every night he’s the last one to leave the kitchen and before he exits he puts on comforting cello suites by Bach to make the dogs understand that night has fallen. Then he rids our room of all the children that have not made it to their own beds. If we’re lucky we’ll have a little moment and then at 6 o’clock sharp (and I mean sharp) one of the dogs starts howling. That’s when my husband fumbles for whatever he was wearing the night before and ghosts out of our room (which mysteriously is full of children again). By the time he enters the kitchen the dogs are in full symphony. The rest plays out like a military operation. Team A out, then in, team B out then in etc. Well, last Thursday we had our own covert operation and sneaked up on them around 5 o’clock in the morning.

mimosa1

vineyard

staircase

We had a train to catch, to Paris no less and when you go to Paris you want to arrive early. Especially when your favorite illustrator in the world, the one who did your logo, is co-hosting a little luncheon to celebrate her collaboration with Garance Doré. I am of course talking of Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co. – can’t get enough of that girl. She’s as lovely as her drawings – and so is her husband. His name: James Bond – for real, although he goes by the name of Nathan (his middle name), probably to avoid confusion. It was a fleeting visit and no sooner had we arrived when it was time to think about departure. So we left the luncheon though I would have gladly spent time with Anna for a week, ran through the galerie of Véro-Dodat where they not only have the original Louboutin store but also a fine repair shop, the official one for those red-soled shoes. Fittingly I was wearing my own Louboutins (yes I swapped them for the wellies for a day, when in Paris) sometimes a girl just has to go glamorous. We had just enough time to run a few errands, have a quick ramen and pick up a few books and magazines. Then we missed the train home. (Un)fortunately there was one later train. I lived in Paris for over fifteen years but I can never get enough – and although I absolutely adore my country life I am quite fond of the fact that the people here in Médoc refer to me as “the woman from Paris”. My husband always thought this made him “the man from Paris” but once he was talking to a merchant in Lesparre and trying to explain who he was. The merchant couldn’t place him but suddenly remembered and said with an enlightened look “mais oui, you are the husband of the woman from Paris”. Oddur likes to tell this story – in nordic or anglo-saxon self-deprecating fashion.

louboutin

potatoes2

potatoes

blodorangemeringue

bloodoranges2

While we were in Paris my father-in-law who had arrived the night before was holding the fort. I’ve been trying my best to cook for him and so far I think he’s been very happy. He’s been extremely helpful but perhaps slightly bemused by the household. “Monkey and snake theatre” he calls it and he’s probably right. It’s all snakes and ladders in our world and certainly no shortage of monkeys. Yesterday he got reinforcements. My mother-in-law returned to give us a hand and having cooked a few things for him I wanted to make something delicious for her that I knew she’d want. With Johanna you can never go wrong with potatoes, any kind of potatoes. So I got a big sack of local potatoes, stuffed them with a lovely meat and herb filling and tied them into pretty little parcels. I thought she might enjoy a celeriac soup that I have been making lately so that went on the menu too.  Her arrival inspired me to make something with chocolate and orange mixed together. That’s her favorite, she’s a dessert person. I chose blood oranges because they are somehow just so exciting and beautiful and all over the markets these days.

mimi&anna

mr&mrsbond

oysters

I would have loved to stay longer in town but it’s very nice to be back home, not least because of all the mimosa trees that are now approaching full bloom and can be found in almost every garden. We don’t have one ourselves and I’ve been obsessing about getting my hands on a few branches. A particularly majestic mimosa tree stands not far from where we live, at the edge of a vineyard. I’ve had my eye on it and on Saturday I just had to get out of the car and knock on the door. The owner was very impressed by my “politesse” and complained about some others who had simply cut a few branches “sans” permission. He said I could have as much as I wanted and come again whenever I wanted. You see, politeness pays off every time. Mimosas are a symbol of protection, glory and love, and who doesn’t want that! Then of course there is the unforgettable scent, it fills the house with magic. I adore this time of year, we’re coming out of the darkness and cold and one by one the trees are exploding in color – now the mimosas, then the magnolias, cherry blossom, apple, peach and plum trees.
Not everyone, of course, has the luxury of mimosas just yet. Some parts of the world are still dealing with sub-zero temperatures and snow. I’m thinking of New York. It’s all very beautiful judging from my friends on Instagram and tomorrow I’ll be right in the middle of it all. I´m off to NY for a few days to meet the editor of my book, Rica, and as a bonus she and her husband are going to cook for me (he’s a French chef, the real thing). I’m a little bit proud these days – my book, “A Kitchen in France” is now available fro pre-order online
Seeing it there makes it all feel so real and wonderful, now I just want a copy in my hands. I love books, and bookstores and one thing I keep buying are books, illustrated ones, with stories, with poems, with recipes. To have my own is a dream.
We haven’t met for a while, New York and I, there are so many places I need to visit – most of them have to do with food. On my list: The Mast brothers chocolate factory, such beautiful packaging, such lovely beards – now let’s try the chocolate. And what to wear for an excursion to the NY arctic? I’ve been trying to figure it out and then, as a total surprise I got an Icelandic wool sweater from my friends. Sometimes things just work out. I’d love to do a post about New York and let’s just say I promise you one in about 10 days time. Until next time!

potatoes4

mimosa2

soup

Celeriac velouté
serves 4

1 celeriac (approx 500-600 g/ 1 ¼ pounds-1 1/3 pounds)
30 g/ 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 liter/ 1 quart milk, preferably full-cream milk
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon mustard (I use moutarde de Dijon)
A sprig of thyme, leaves picked
Coarse sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of piment d’espelette
A few sprigs of fresh flat parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped

Peel and dice the celeriac. In a large pot, melt the butter and olive oil. Sauté the celeriac for 4 minutes, add the thyme, nutmeg salt and pepper. Add the milk and bring to a soft simmer. Cover with a lid and leave to cook on a low to medium heat for 30 minutes, or until celeriac is tender. Blend soup with a stick blender, and add the mustard. Mix well. Serve soup with a pinch of piment d’espelette (optional), a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.

potatoes3

Potato parcels with veal and herbs with a white wine sauce
Serves 4-6

This is a beautiful way to cook potatoes, simple and so comforting. I would advise serving this dish with a big loaf of country rustic bread and old-fashioned whole grain mustard, to soak up all the delicious sauce infused with wine and all the meaty flavours. Un vrai délice!

900 g/ 2 pounds medium-sized potatoes
300 g/ 2/3 pound minced veal
150 g/ 1/3 pound Bayonne ham, finely chopped
65 g/ 2 ounces bacon (I used Noir de Bigorre black pig bacon), finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg
3 small slices stale white bread/ pain de mie (without crust), soaked in enough milk to cover)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
120 ml/ ½ cup veal or chicken stock
80 ml/ 1/3 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
A handful of finely chopped fresh parsley (save some for garnishing)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Piment d’espelette, to garnish (optional)
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

Soak the bread slices in the milk. Finely chop the Bayonne ham, bacon, garlic, shallots, chives and parsley. Mix together with the minced veal in a large bowl. Add the egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Squeeze excess milk from bread and add to the mixture. Mix all the ingredients together with a large wooden spoon. Set aside.
Rinse potatoes and pat dry. Halve them horizontally and scoop out the flesh on both sides (see photos), enough to create a nice cavity to fill with meat. Repeat with all the potatoes.
Fill one half of potato with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture (depending on potato size) and cover with the other half. Secure with kitchen twine.

In a large dutch oven pot, melt the butter ad olive oil on a medium heat. Cook the potatoes on both sides, until golden and browned, approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Pour the wine and leave to reduce for 2 minutes, then add the veal or chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then lower heat. Add the bay leaf, season with salt and pepper, and cover with a lid. Leave to cook for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through. Serve on a plate, cut off strings and pour the wine sauce on top. Sprinkle freshly chopped parsley and a pinch of piment d’espelette (optional).

bloodorangemeringue2

Blood orange chocolate tartlets

Makes about 5 tartlets – 10 cm/4 inches width (leaving you with extra dough which you can store in the freezer or use to make little chocolate sablé biscuits – very popular with my kids!). The chocolate crust is rich and fills each bite with extra pleasure. Seriously.

For the crust 

210 g/ 1 & ¾ cup plain flour
100 g/ 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
25 g/ ¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
120 g/ ½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3 egg yolks
A pinch of fine salt

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, salt and butter. Mix well with your hands, until you get a crumbly mixture. Add the vanilla extract, sugar and egg yolks. Mix well and shape into a flat ball. Sprinkle a little flour on a large piece of parchment paper, and roll dough to a ¼ inch thick. Line the tartlets moulds and prick the base gently with a fork. Place the lined moulds in the freezer for 30 minutes.

For the filling
180 ml/ ¾ cup blood orange juice
3-4 teaspoons blood orange zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice
150 g/ ¾ cup granulated sugar
3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
80 g/ 1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes

In a large saucepan, heat all the ingredients together except the butter on a medium-heat. Mix with a wooden spoon constantly, until the mixture thickens to a curd, about 8 minutes, or until mixture coats the back of a spoon. Take off the heat, add the butter and mix well until melted. Set aside to cool.

For the meringue topping

4 large egg whites
200 g/ 1 cup caster/ fine sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
A pinch of fine salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350°C

Take the prepared lined tartlets out the freezer. Pour the blood orange curd into the shells. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes and leave to cool completely in a cool environment.
When the tartlets are completely cool, prepare the meringue topping.
Heat the grill/ broiler in the oven.
In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract. Continue to whisk and gradually add sugar until egg whites become glossy with stiff peaks. Using a spatula, garnish the pies with the meringue topping in a circular movement. Place pies in the top part of the oven for 1-2 minutes or until meringue browns slightly on top. Check constantly as the browning can happen very fast.

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