Town & Country
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Potato parcels with veal and herbs with a white wine sauce
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
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).
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.