Plenty of mussels

moules

Cooking is my passion. This summer, I’ve been cooking more than ever before in my life. Not only am I preparing meals for my big family (all 9 of us), but I have also been cooking recipes for my upcoming cookbook. I am very excited to finally announce that my book will be published by Clarkson Potter in New York, the publishers of some of my favorite cookbooks. The book is scheduled for fall 2014. Ever since this spring I have been experimenting, adjusting and savoring all my favorite dishes. The impatient side of me would love to share some of the recipes (I never could keep a secret), but I just have to keep them warm until the book comes out. I remember once, a few moons ago when we lived in Paris, I was in my tiny kitchen on rue de Grenelle talking to our sweet au pair Amanda. She was eighteen, full of promise, and we had a little chat about dreams and aspirations. We corresponded recently and she reminded me of our conversation, how I had mentioned my thought of moving to the country one day and perhaps do something with all my knowledge on food. Maybe a book someday…
Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams we never thought we had, or the dreams we had forgotten. I think our subconscious sometimes takes over and leads us down the right, and in my case, muddy path.  Bonjour Médoc!

mimimoules

Back to food, I went to the fish market last Saturday and explored the crustacean world. I am the type who loves talking to everyone (something I picked up from my father) and I can start conversations out of the blue with just about anyone, as long as it’s about food. I also have a ‘food sense’ which allows me to smell out fellow foodies. My neighbor in the queue looked like a fellow food lover, her gaze so enthusiastic and precise, she was looking at squid with such happiness and anticipation, just like a child in a candy store. We chatted about her lunch recipe, squid in a cocotte, with lemon juice, wine and olive oil, and the obligatoire garlic of course. She fell for the squid, I fell for the mussels, it was love at first sight. They were glistening black, with a hint of electric blue when the light hit them in a certain way. How could I resist them, such vivid yellow meatiness, such promise.
I associate mussels with two places, forever stored in my food memory. ‘Les Vapeurs’ in Trouville for some delicious moules marinières (and à la crème!), and ‘Chez Hortense’ in Cap Ferret, about an hour away from where we live in Médoc. After much deliberation I chose to cook mussels inspired by ‘Chez Hortense’, a restaurant we love to visit in the summer for some finger licking good mussels and an exquisite view of the dune of Pyla.
Imagine mussels cooked with Bayonne ham, sausage meat, garlic, shallots, breadcrumbs, white wine, parsley. Most of my favourite ingredients combined with little gems of the sea. Irresistible. Served with fries or a great baguette, or both, to soak up the beautiful sauce.

moules&garlic

peaches&melon

I came back home with more than 5 kilos (the five I asked for plus the ones they threw in as a bonus), half of them went straight into my book, the rest I cooked for my family.

biscuits

garlic

Talking of family, let me tell you about Þórir (Thorir). He’s my 16-year-old stepson and he’s the hungriest boy I ever met. Stick-thin and handsome he’s ever worrying if we will have enough food. Usually I boil about 750 grams of pasta, he’d rather I would do a kilo. In fact he makes sure I do. Last night, we had pizza night which my husband always turns into competitions with sore losers and gloating winners. Thorir was more worried about getting enough than winning the prize. “Is it two pizzas per person?” he asked with a hopeful look. These are big pizzas by the way.

moulesbefore&after

On Saturday he volunteered to help me with the mussels, probably because he thought I was being slow, he did a pretty good job at cooking and even better job of eating the spoils. Watching him sitting there in the glorious sunshine, blissfully working his way through what seemed like a mountain of mussels, reminded me of myself and of my father.
I guess when it comes to food, all of us food-obsessed people are kindred spirits.

mouleprep

Mussels with sausage meat (serves about 4)

1.5-2 kilos / 4 pounds fresh mussels
2 shallots, finely sliced
4-5 garlic cloves, finely sliced
6 slices Bayonne ham, finely chopped
300 g good-quality pork sausage meat
1 glass white wine
A large bunch of parsley, chopped finely
4 slices of fresh breadcrumbs (pain de mie, white loaf bread, crumbled finely in food processor)
120 g/ ½ cup unsalted butter
Black pepper for seasoning

1) Clean the mussels under cold running water. Place them in a large pot, add white wine and a dash of black pepper. Cover and cook on a high heat for 5 minutes approx, or until mussels are open. Drain and set aside in a large bowl, reserving a few ladles of the liquid in another bowl.
2) In the same pot, melt the butter on a low heat and fry the shallots and garlic until golden. Set aside. In the same pot, add more butter and fry the sausage meat and Bayonne ham on a medium heat until golden. To avoid lumps, use a fork and press to crumble.
3) At the same time, heat one to two tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and fry the breadcrumbs until golden and slightly crunchy. Set aside.
4) Return the mussels to the pot. Mix all the ingredients together making sure that the sausage meat/Bayonne ham/garlic mixture coat the mussels. You can add a ladle of mussel cooking liquid if you wish. Add the fried breadcrumbs and parsley, mix well. Serve immediately with French fries on the side.

biscuits2

Traou Mad (salted butter cookies)
(serves 6-8)

To add a sweet touch to this exciting meal, I craved the tasty Traou Mad, little salted buttery biscuits, sort of like the French version of shortbread, originally from Britanny.  They are rich,  no wonder Traou mad means ‘good things’ in Breton.  I improvised the recipe, adding a dash of honey (just like my madeleines), using a muffin pan so they don’t lose shape and an egg cup to press them.  It’s all about improvisation!

300 g / 2 & 1/2  cups plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
150 g/ ¾ cup granulated sugar
50 g/ 2 ounce honey
4 egg yolks
200 g/ 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp salted butter (set aside one tbsp to brush cookies) – at room temperature
A pinch of salt (sel de Guérande)

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and add the butter (save a tbsp of butter to brush the cookies), egg yolks, sugar and honey. Mix until you get a good dough. Place dough on a cling film and roll into a sausage shape approx 5 cm/ 2 inches approx wide. Place in the refrigerator for about 4 hours.
Slice the dough 1 cm thick and place in a muffin pan (so they don’t lose shape) – they usually have 6-8 moulds).
Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350 F for 10-12 minutes until golden (depending on oven strength), 5 minutes before the end, take the pan out, brush the cookies with melted butter and use the base of a standard eggcup to press them. (This last step/pressing is optional).

blmoules

Bastille day barbecue

peachsoup

On the 14th of July we, like the rest of France, celebrated Bastille day. I woke up in a state of relaxed excitement (if that exists), I knew what I wanted, fabulous food, balloons and champagne but I also wanted to have it nice n’easy. For me Bastille day is all about spending time outdoors, enjoying life, embraced by family and not making too much of a fuss (a little bit is ok, though). When we lived in Paris we used to take the kids to watch the celebrations on the Champs Elysées and Place de la Concorde, they were always mesmerized by the colorful uniforms, the fighter jets and the music. This year we’ve become so “countrified” that we even forgot to watch it all on TV. Typically we have Brittany lobster with tarragon butter on the 14th of July but this summer we seem to be in a barbecue state of mind, simply loving the taste of meat infused with smoky vine sarments. We were well stocked for the weekend so we had a bit of choice but everyone voted for crispy ventrèches de porc Basque (Basque porc belly). I served them with steamed new potatoes sprinkled with mint and parsley, and had a last-minute idea to make little zucchini flans from the zucchini mountain that had been gracing my kitchen table and was threatening to lose it’s luster if I didn’t tend to it. I was in no mood to further heat up my furnace of a kitchen with cooking or baking so I went for a simple yet elegant chilled peach soup for dessert. So refreshing, such lovely colors.  Talking of peaches, nothing quite says summer like a beautiful ripe peach.  I think we have about a crate every day, in Bellinis, tarts, for breakfast, for dessert. Bellini’s are my husband’s duty most afternoons, everybody needs one, with sparkling wine for us, sparkling soda for the kids – all done by hand, the Harry’s bar version – our summer tradition. You can’t beat the feeling as they say.

ventreche

balloons

peachsoup3

carambar

After a very long, lazy and enjoyable lunch the beach beckoned, it’s where everybody gathers in the evening to have more food & wine and watch the fireworks. We joined some of our friends, met some new ones, and most importantly I finally got some champagne, just before sunset. Louise danced with Mathis on the beach (her chosen one, just 4 years older), I chatted with a very lovely Irish/French couple who we met through mutual friends and Oddur chased after their dog, Elvis, who is trying to abandon his origins as a German Schnauzer with a very hippie hairdo. Through these newfound friends, Paul and Karine, we were introduced to another lady who offered everybody a lovely apricot clafoutis, her husband’s recipe it turned out, a very good one I might add. This is what I love most about food, enjoying it with people I like, new friends, old friends – discovering new techniques and recipes, sharing it all.
We arrived safely at the house, late but not too late. Everybody escaped the guillotine which on Bastille day is quite a feat.

squiffy

jeanie

hudson&ventreche

peachsoup4

peaches

On another, and slightly off topic note, as I am writing this it’s approaching midnight and we’ve had yet another smashing meal, perhaps the most amazing entrecôte à la Bordelaise I’ve ever had. I guess the stars aligned. The kids came back so happy from the beach today, apparently the waves were amazing. Tonight we’re blessed by the gods, the steak, the wine …
What a difference a few shallots make.

mimi&zucchiniflan

Zucchini flans (makes about 10 small flans)
2 large zucchini, sliced in half-rondelles
5 eggs
4 tbsp cornstarch (maïzana in France)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
A handful of chopped mint
150 g grated cheese (Emmental or Gruyère)
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely
½ tsp nutmeg
Salt & black pepper

Preheat oven 180°C/ 350 F
Slice zucchini thinly in half rondelles. Slice shallots and garlic finely. In a large frying pan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil and fry shallots, garlic and zucchini for a few minutes, until slightly golden.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs and cornstarch, then add grated cheese, nutmeg, salt & pepper. Combine zucchini/shallots/garlic, lemon juice and sliced mint – stir gently.
Pour mixture into a muffin pan. Bake in oven for 20 minutes, until slightly golden on top.

ventreche&zucchiniflan

Grilled ventrèche (pig flank/ pork belly) (for 4)

For this recipe, we grilled them over a sarment vine branches barbecue.

8 slices of good-quality pork belly (here we call it ventrèche, cut into 5-6 mm thickness slices – mine were from a Basque farm) – count about 2 per person
Sea salt/ Fleur de sel & black pepper

Season the pork belly slices generously with salt and a dash of black pepper just before cooking – keep in the refrigerator until grilling time.
Grill on barbecue a few minutes on both sides until golden and nearly crispy.

peachsoup2

Soupe de pêches blanches (white peach ‘soup’) (serves 4)
10 white peaches
1 organic lemon – you will need the zest (chopped into small specks) and the juice
300 g granulated sugar
200 ml white wine
A small bunch of mint leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod – slit lengthwise
Peel the skin off the lemon and slice them into tiny specks.
Plunge the peaches in boiling water for 10 seconds. Peel and cut them in half.
In a large saucepan, combine the wine, sugar, cinnamon stick, vanilla pod (slit & vanilla beans scraped off), lemon juice and lemon zest. Bring to a boil and add the halved peaches for 3 minutes.
Set aside to cool. Sprinkle with mint leaves, cover and refrigerate 3 hours minimum before serving.

Bastilleday

Duck burger & cherry clafoutis

cherryclafoutis

It’s officially the summer holidays in Médoc.  We’ve been longing for hot sunny days, sun-kissed hues and al fresco meals everyday.  The feeling is free and easy,  I am happily compiling the recipes for my book, writing away under my favourite trees.  My office is very simple. I usually place a table under a tree, where the gentle breeze makes me feel cool and inspired.  My laptop, a cool drink and a few dogs by my side.

fieldofflowers

My adorable step-kids Gunnhildur and Thorir arrived last week from Iceland for the summer vacations.   The ‘little ‘ kids have been counting the days forever and it’s such a joy to have the whole family reunited.

pool&coccinelle

On their first day, Gunnhildur requested a little tour around Pauillac and the vineyards, while Thorir and the others decided to have a fun pool day.  We took part of the gang on a lovely drive, zig-zagging through the jade green vineyards and stopping by for ice-cream.  We saw the most amazing flower fields near St Estèphe, and couldn’t resist picking a few flowers, as well as taking some photos of course.  It really was a field of dreams, seeing Louise through the flowers with Jean Genie (our smooth fox-terrier) was a bit of a technicolor vision, like one of those fantastic Japanese animated movies about the spirit of the flowers.  Simply breathtaking.

duckburger2

On our way home, I bought some duck magret filet and decided to make duck hamburgers, another family favourite.  We brought home some sarment de vignes (vine shoot of the grape vine) for the barbecue. In the winter months, the vines are pruned and the branches are cut off.  They are then dried and used for barbecues. I just love the smell and that smoky vine-like taste you get from this type of grilling.  It’s called a barbecue à la Bordelaise!

pool

field

cherryclafoutis2b

For the duck magret, it’s best to mince the meat ‘au couteau’ (with a knife) – all you have to do is slice the meat finely, then dice and mince.  You keep all the juicy flavours preparing the meat this way.  Then I just add salt, pepper, shallots, parsley and mustard et voilà, you have a very gourmand burger.  I also make my own burger buns and fries – it’s all these little extra touches that make a fabulous meal.  I recently discovered an amazing flour made by Elodie Aubert, the daughter of farmers Pierre and Marie-Noëlle, producing organic vegetables in St Vivien de Médoc.  Elodie bakes high-quality bread, and makes her own organic flour which is of exceptional quality.  I have to admit, it’s the best I have ever used.  She sells her bread and flour at the local markets in Médoc.  So now I make my hamburger buns with her flour, and they are a real hit at home.  Once you make these, it will be hard to buy the ones at the store.

alfresco

alfresco3

We had a wonderful dinner al fresco,  all dressed up, candlelight, flowers and lovely duck burgers & fries.  We couldn’t really ask for more…  perhaps an extra slice of cherry clafoutis?  Oh how I love summer nights…

For a bit of dog passion (and fashion), check out Oddur’s piece here.

Our dinner was ‘gram of the week’ on Food 52!

duckburger

Duck burger patties (for 8 patties)

4 duck filets (magret de canard), trimmed, sliced finely then minced with a sharp knife.
4 tbsp parsley, chopped finely
1 tbsp mustard
2 small shallots, finely chopped
8 slices of cheese, Ossau Iraty (or any of your choice) – optional
Salt & black pepper, for seasoning

Trim the fat on the duck filets, leaving a little for extra flavour.  Slice finely, then dice into small cubes.  Mince the meat finely.
Mix all the ingredients together (except the cheese) and shape into small palm-sized patties.  Place in the refridgerator to keep them cool.
Season patties. Prepare a medium-hot sarment (vine shoots, or alternatively, charcoal) fire (if you don’t want to grill, heat a tablespoon of peanut oil in a large frying pan).
Grill patties, flipping once, for a few minutes on each side, depending on the ‘cuisson’.
Optional – if you want a cheeseburger: Place on top of each burger a slice of cheese Ossau Iraty for me) during the last 2 minutes of cooking.  You can also try to cover with a disposable aluminum pan to melt.
Serve burgers on buns with lettuce, red onion slices and tomato.

Little tip:  I love mixing ketchup, mayonnaise, finely sliced pickles and capers  – it’s my favourite cocktail sauce for any burgers.

Hamburger buns (makes about 16-18 buns)

1 kg/ 8 & 1/3 cups organic flour, T80 type (farine blé bise)
25 g/ 5 tsp fresh yeast (I use hirondelle fresh yeast, sold in speciality stores or at the bakery)
15 g/ 3 tsp salt
350 ml/ 1 & ½ cup  lukewarm water
2 eggs
160 ml/ 2/3 cup milk, lukewarm
50 g/ ¼ cup granulated sugar
60 g/ ¼ cup plain butter, softened
1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water, to brush the buns
A handful of sesame seeds, optional

In  a very large bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar.
Crumble fresh yeast into dry mixture (alternatively, you can mix the fresh yeast with the milk/water and wait a few minutes until frothy, but I prefer crumbling it in the mixture).
Mix ingredients and slowly add the water, milk, eggs and butter.  Start kneading until you get a soft dough.   I prefer kneading by hand, for about 10-12 minutes.
Shape into a ball.  Grease the bowl with a little bit of vegetable oil and place dough in bowl.  Cover with cling film or a humid kitchen towel.  Leave to rise for 1 and a half to 2 hours in a warm environment.
Shape into individual balls and place on a parchment paper lined oven tray, leaving at least 5 cm space between each ball. Cover with kitchen towel and leave to rise for an hour. Brush each buns with the eggwash and sprinkle with sesame seeds (optional).

Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a preheated oven 200°C/ 390 F, or until buns are golden and puffy.

sliceofclacoutis

Cherry clafoutis

What I love about this recipe is the salted butter aftertaste that go so well with the cherries.  The most simple cake to make!

500 g/ 1 pound cherries
4 eggs
50 g/ 3 & 1/2 tbsp  salted butter, melted and extra for lining the cake pan (you can use plain butter if you prefer)
200 ml/ 0.8 cup full milk
100 g/ ¾ cup + 2 tbsp plain flour
60 g/ 1/3 cup plain sugar
1 packet of vanilla sugar (7.5 g/ 1 1/2 tsp)
1 tbsp orange blossom water
Icing sugar, for dusting
A pinch of salt

Preheat oven 200°C/ 400 F

Butter (generously) a cake pan.
Rinse cherries and pat them dry.  I leave the stones but you can remove them if you prefer)
Place them in the bottom of the cake pan.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and vanilla sugar.  Add milk and eggs (one by one), whisking gently.  Add orange blossom water and butter, mix until you get a smooth batter.
Pour batter on top of cherries.
Bake for 15 minutes at 200°C/ 400 F, then lower heat to 180°C/ 350 F and cook for a further 30 minutes.  Leave to cool and set (the clafoutis will be all puffed up and set evenly).
Sprinkle icing sugar and serve immediately.

A day in the life of Yves Lajoux

flambe

One morning, around two weeks ago, Oddur, Hudson and I woke up extra early (and believe me we always wake up early) and headed for the lovely village of Lamarque which lies near the banks of the Gironde estuary, south of Pauillac. We drove into the quiet town and headed for the church where we had a rendez-vous with a man known as the ‘forest whisperer’. We said quick bonjours and then he led us down a ‘road’ to his fishing cabanon where he planned for us to spend the first part of what was to be a schorchingly hot and beautiful day. We lowered the big round fishing net and then we waited … and hoped. Yves Lajoux spoke with great enthusiasm of Médoc, the estuary, the forests. They are his playground where he spends most of his free time surrounded by nature, hunting, observing, loving every minute and dedicating his life to the wilderness.

catchingamule

greentomatoes

mimi&mule

But our story doesn’t really begin here, how does one get an appointment with a man like that? In our case it was pure luck. Lucky to have been invited to a lovely dinner party hosted by the Cazes family (of château Lynch-Bages) at château Cordeillan-Bages some weeks before, lucky to have been seated next to a most gracious and gentle man who on top of being a delightful ‘voisin de table‘ is also one of the most highly rated oenologist in the world or as my host put it ‘Monsieur Eric Boissenot is responsible for 60% of the best wines in Médoc‘. Eric’s laboratory near his childhood home in Lamarque happens to be next to Monsieur Lajoux’s house and the more we talked about him the more intrigued I was to meet him. When you are in love with a place, like I am with Médoc, you want to meet the man who knows it better than anyone.

cherries&lajoux

cabane

cherries

After a few minutes Hudson’s impatience was growing so he asked permission to see if we had caught anything. Indeed we had, a lovely mullet and only a few minutes into our morning. This was a good start but alas the only thing we caught all morning (aside from a few shrimps that we set free again). The real catch of the day, though, was meeting the man himself. He spoke with great enthusiasm about preserving nature and living in harmony with the creatures of the sea and forest. He took us on a trail of the surrounding area, showed us a few sights and even took us to the top of Lamarque’s St Seurin church with its panoramic dome so we could better see what he was talking about. Of course a lot of time was spent discussing food and cooking, like many hunters and fisherman in the region he has a few cooking tricks up his sleeve and I was eager to know them all. His favorite food it turns out is gambas flambéed in cognac. A second favorite is anything made from wild boar, he makes sausages at his house and once a year he and his hunting buddies have a feast near his cabanon on the 14th of july and this year we are invited. Think Asterix and Obelix.

yveslajoux

pate

mimi2

Yves invited us to his house for lunch (surprising his wife I might add, who had prepared a lunch for just the two of them), he said it would be simple, it was anything but. He opened some Sauternes, brought out the terrines he makes himself and delighted us with endless stories. My husband spent a good deal of time with Yves’s dogs who are taking it easy and recharging their batteries until hunting season begins again. He has beautiful griffons and recently had a litter. Luckily for me he had given away all but one which he’s training to be his next hunting champion. Repeatedly my husband asked to pick up the puppy (who was huge by the way) and I could see that dangerous look in his eye that I’ve seen too many times in the past. I don’t think that man has ever looked at a puppy without considering the possibility of owning it. Yves and I kept talking about his love for terrines and he gave me a recipe I used as a base to improvise on.

yves

yves&mimi

cabin&gambas

You would expect the prince of the forest to have a few skeletons in his closet and he did, a real one that he wanted to give to us. His wife is quietly removing all the hunting mementos from their walls and Yves was generous enough to give Hudson a hunting trophy, the head and antlers of a deer to hang on his wall. Hudson was thrilled,  as for me, I guess I have to get used to it. Perhaps in the children’s playroom?

mimi&hudson

yves&hudson

Back in my kitchen I was filled with emotions, feeling a little bit like an Amazon forest girl (one of my childhood dreams), coming home from the wilderness with a freshly caught fish for dinner. This is why I love life in Médoc so much, all this rawness, the untouched side of nature so rare these days. So I opened my notebook, scribbled a few recipe notes inspired from the day spent with Yves and there I was on a culinary adventure all over again. Yves told me to make a carpaccio out of the filets of the mullet, so I did. All you need is a great sharp fish knife, salt, pepper, olive oil, chives, lemon juice & rind. The lemon juice slightly cooks the fish, just like kitchen magic. The next day I bought fresh gambas and all the ingredients for the chicken liver terrines, Yves and I are kindred spirits when it comes to terrines (I always make at least 3, we are a big family and terrines go fast). I relived all those fantastic moments in the fishing cabanon, so grateful to have met the real man about Médoc. For that is what he is.

mulecarpaccio

Mullet fish carpaccio (serves 4)
4 extremely fresh mullet fish fillets (you can use halibut, turbot, sea-bream or swordfish)
Lemon rind of 1 lemon, sliced into tiny slivers
Olive oil
A handful of chives
Sea salt & black pepper

On a serving plate, sprinkle sea-salt and black pepper. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and squeeze a quarter of a fresh lemon.
With a very sharp knife, slice the raw fish filets as thinly as you can across the grain. Place the slices on the plate. Sprinkle with finely chopped chives, lemon rind (sliced into tiny sticks) and squeeze a bit more lemon juice. Add more salt if desired. Serve immediately.

dogs&pate

Chicken liver terrine (makes about 3 terrine pans)

5-6 chicken livers
1 kg/ 2 & ¼ pounds pork throat (gorge de cochon in French, which is commonly used for terrines & pâtés), alternately you can use fatty pork shoulder meat)
2 tsp sea-salt
1 tsp ground pink peppercorn
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
A small bunch of fresh thyme
2 shallots, sliced finely
120 ml/ ½ cup Armagnac
60 ml/ ¼ cup port
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
20 bay leaves

You will need a meat grinder with a medium hole plate or you can ask your butcher to mince the chicken livers and pork meat for you.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl (except the bay leaves), mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Scoop mixture into terrine or loaf pans (round or rectangular), leaving half an inch to the top. Decorate with bay leaves and cover with aluminium foil.
Preheat oven to 200°C/ 390 F
Place terrines in a large roasting pan and prepare a ‘bain-marie’ (pour boiling hot water in the roasting pan so it comes up nearly half-way to the terrine pans). Cook in oven for 45 minutes on 200°C/390 F, then lower heat to 180°C/ 350 F for a further 45 (to 1 hour depending on oven strength). Remove aluminium covers 25 minutes before the end.
Leave to set until cooled and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. Enjoy!

gambas&tomatoes

Gambas ‘flambéed’ with cognac (as a starter, 5 gambas per person)

20 gambas, uncooked
80 ml/ 1/3 cup cognac
1 garlic clove, sliced finely
1 shallot, sliced finely
½ tsp ground nutmeg
A pinch of piment d’espellette
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
A handful of chopped parsley
Olive oil
Sea salt & black pepper

Place fresh gambas in a dish and drizzle with olive oil, sea-salt, black pepper, nutmeg, a pinch of piment d’espellette and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Cover and leave to marinate 3 hours or overnight.
Just before cooking the gambas, warm the cognac so it’s slightly heated. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and sauté gambas, shallots and garlic for a few minutes, until golden. Off the heat, pour cognac on gambas and light a match. Take a step back and be careful not to burn yourself! Let the gambas flambé for a couple of minutes or until it stops, tossing the pan from time to time. Return to heat and reduce for a minute. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Rendez-vous across the river

poultryman2

Médoc, a peninsula northwest of Bordeaux is generally known as the left bank (in wine world terms). The left bank produces some of the best wines in the world, has beautiful unspoilt nature and magical châteaux. It is also, as you might know, where we live. The left bank, however, is only half the story. On the other side of the Gironde estuary is a whole other magic kingdom the crown jewel of which is St. Emilion. The two sides have a friendly rivalry and endless speculation on who produces the best wines. They have Petrus of Pomerol and Cheval Blanc from St. Emilion, we have Lafite, Latour and château Margaux. We have the beaches and the forests, they have the postcard pretty hills of the Dordogne valley. Since we moved here three years ago we have been so busy discovering the wonders of Médoc that we’ve frankly neglected “the other camp”. Lately I’ve been looking for a good excuse to renew my acquaintance with the right bank and last week I found not one but two excellent reasons to finally go.

patisserie

cherries

flowergirl

ari&audur

The first reason was that our good friends, Ari and Auður were staying with us and dying to discover St. Emilion. The second reason was even better. Recently I was contacted by Stéphane Gabart, a fellow gourmand, food blogger of My French Heaven, bon vivant and a native of the right bank. We decided it would be fun to meet and he said he’d love to have us over for a little feast, that it would be fun to cook together. Last Friday we set off with four kids, my mother-in-law, one dog, Auður and Ari. We expected the day to be good, we were certainly not disappointed.

makingravioli

duckravioli2

salmontartar2

We started at the very pretty farmer’s market in Libourne where Stéphane introduced us to all the “players”, his favorite handsome cheesemonger (not the one in the photo although he was very good too) where we got amazing truffle flavored butter, the poultry man where we got a chunk of foie gras and his favorite pâtisserie where we got a selection of little delights. Our last stop was at “the best boulangerie”, Sylvain Marie. on the right bank where we got lots of baguettes fresh from the oven.

thecherrytree

The next few hours were spent cooking, laughing, drinking and eating at Stéphane’s home in Libourne, so full of memories and mementos from his family. I particularly enjoyed Stéphane’s story of his aunt who makes the best foie gras. She has a secret recipe and doesn’t share it with anyone, ever!  She is very fond of her nephew so to everyone’s surprise she gave him the coveted formula. Before she gave it though, she swore him to secrecy. He must not share it with anyone, not even the family. I bet it’s delicious (and will try to get the recipe, somehow…). Stéphane had decided to make something with duck and foie gras because he had read they were my favorite food and we had the best time making duck raviolis together. For starter, he had prepared a lovely salmon tartare, his signature dish that never fails to please. It was all so tasty and melted in the mouth, we felt spoilt and happy. The meal ended on a high note with Stéphane opening the bright green pastry box from pâtisserie Lopez so everyone could choose their favorite pastry. It was baba au rhum for me.

duckravioli

morilles

After lunch (which lasted for hours), we headed to St. Emilion. We drove through Pomerol, stopped at Stéphane’s parent’s château where he runs a charming B&B, had a stroll in the hills above where we spotted picturesque windmills. Finally we found ourselves in St. Emilion, just in time to get a bottle or two for dinner and take in all the beauty. Our last stop was to get the legendary macaroons from Nadia Fermigier, typical of the village and a reminder of a time gone by. Stéphane told me that he used to get them as a boy and when he had finished eating them he licked the paper they came on. It was easy picturing him as a little garçon with his macaroons, it reminds me of myself as a little girl in Hong Kong having dumplings with my parents and savoring every bite. Once a gourmand always a gourmand.

stephane

stemilion

They say that food brings people together and last Friday it certainly did. We have, of course, invited Stéphane to come and stay with us, get to know the dogs (he’s dying to have one), cook a few feasts. We can’t wait to have him over.

Merci Stéphane for sharing these wonderful recipes!

salmontartar

Stéphane’s salmon tartare

Ingredients (serves 8 to 10 as an apéritif dip – 6 as an appetizer):

1 red onion, sliced finely
3 big tablespoons of heavy cream
6 medium slices of smoked salmon (preferably Scottish)
2 or 3 salmon steaks raw (sushi grade!)
1 fist full of chopped chives
1 teaspoon tabasco
2 big table spoons of trout eggs (NOT SALMON. THEY BREAK TOO EASY, don’t pop as much in your mouth and they are too fatty)
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop both types of salmon in quarter-inch cubes or even a little smaller (DO NOT mix in a blender!!!)
Chop-up every other ingredients
Mix everything up with the cream (reserve eggs)
Add trout eggs at the end and mix carefully one more time

duckravioli3

Duck confit & foie gras raviolis

Ingredients:

30 wonton sheets (3 ravioli per person)
2 legs of duck confit
Half a pound of fresh (raw) foie gras
A pound of morels or any other tasty mushroom
Persillade (1 clove of garlic with a fist full of chopped fresh parsley)
3-4 tablespoons of heavy liquid cream
Half a small glass of Port or Muscat
Salt and pepper
2 shallots, sliced finely
Chives, chopped finely

Steps (prep the sauce first, then the ravioli):

1) Prep your sauce first by lightly browning the chopped shallots and whole morels in canola oil
2) Add a small glass worth of veal stock
3) Add persillade (1 clove of garlic with a fist full of chopped fresh parsley)
4) Add the Port
5) Add the cream with some salt and pepper and stir. You may need to add cream and/or water to the sauce when you reheat it before serving so it has the taste and thickness you like…
6) For the ravioli, warm your confit up, debone it, take skin and fat away and chop the meat
7) Lightly brown the meat in a pan over high heat
8) Take the pan off the stove. Wait 5 minutes and add foie gras cut in half inch cubes. Mix everything up
9) Put a tablespoon worth of the mixture in the center of a wonton sheet, dip your finger in water and humidify the borders. Add top sheet. Make sure there is no air trapped inside and that the borders are sealed properly.
10) Bring water to a boil and dip the raviolis in it for 10 to 20 seconds by batches (3-4 at a time). Make sure the water doesn’t boil too hard.
11) Take the ravioli out one by one with a spatula and dispose them on a plate right before serving
Reheat, taste and adjust your sauce
12) Add the sauce on top of your ravioli and serve as soon as each plate is ready.

moulin

My idea of a gourmet lunch

Fava beans

Over the years I’ve spoken to many great chefs about their approach to food, what’s most important in creating a meal, what is cooking all about? Invariably I get the same answer – des bons produits (good quality ingredients).  If you start with bad food you’re probably going to end up with … bad food. Or at the very least you’ll have a mountain to climb, what should be an enjoyable experience turns into a salvaging operation. So when I go to the market I have all these little chefs sitting on my shoulder saying “I know you wanted this or that but look at those fresh cherries” or “I know you’re in the mood for a steak but how can you resist that fresh sea bass”. These days I go to the market with an open mind and without prejudice. I will simply buy what catches my eye, there is nothing better than a trip to a bustling food market, and when you don’t know what you’ll end up bringing home it’s even more entertaining.

mimifavabeans

The weather these last few weeks has been so fickle, some days are lovely, others seem to be from another season or another part of the world. Don’t they know we are in the south of France? A few sunny days lured out the roses by the hundreds and then the deluge washed over them, drowned them, robbed them of their color. My husband is stoic about all this “In Iceland this would be fantastic weather” he always says. The way I feel about it is that if there is no sun outside I have to create some in the kitchen.

garlic&fava

And so it was last Wednesday that I set out for the market, armed with an umbrella of course, determined to make up for all the rain, buying not only the freshest products but quite simply anything I wanted. The first thing that caught my eye were gigantic fava bean pods with a sign next to them that read “fèves pour soupe”. My aunt once gave me a fantastic simple fava bean soup recipe that everyone loves so that was my first purchase. Next to the fava beans were the most attractive beets. The farmer told me to get them too and reminded me that you can make a lovely juice from the stalks full of vitamin C. I usually add a few carrots as well. We discussed the beets and he told me his favorite way of preparing them was to make them into chips with a pinch of fleur de sel. I couldn’t resist that idea.

favabeansoup

loulou

What goes well with luxury chips? How about a luxury sandwich, filled with all the things I like most. I strode purposefully across the street, to one of my favorite little gems in Médoc, Les délices du palais, an old-fashioned gourmet store with hundreds of jars filled with a thousand delights, cheeses, wine and anything to do with duck. The owner, Pascale, is always in the best of moods and greets her clients with such a sunny smile, just going there is a pleasure in itself. I got some duck magret breast, a little cheeky bit of foie gras, some wine, just the pure necessities.

cherries

delice

We hurried home and called the kids up for fava shelling duties. Hudson went straight to work, Louise just eyed the cherries, peaches and apricots and asked “What’s for dessert”. I had planned on making a meringue to go with all those delightful fruits but time got away from us and instead I just made an easy wine syrup that looks like red caramel, threw in a few vervain leaves, vanilla pods and wrapped them in a parcel like a little present to be enjoyed later.

Pascale Prats Monllao from 'Les délices du palais'.

Pascale Prats Monllao from ‘Les délices du palais’.

It was all lovely but in the end we all agreed that the winner on the day had to be the dessert. For me this is what cooking is all about, you take a few fresh fruits, each delicious on their own but mixed together with herbs, spices and wine, without hardly any effort you end up with something wonderful.

Des bons produits.  Rien que des bons produits.

Les délices du palais, 13 Place Gambetta, 33340 Lesparre-Médoc, France

favabeansoup2

Fava bean soup (serves 4)

450 g/ 1 pound peeled fava beans
1 onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 large potato, peeled and sliced
80 ml/ 1/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil
Water, enough to covet the vegetable
120 g/ 1/2 cup mascarpone
A large handful of fresh mint leaves
2 shallots
5 pancetta slices
A handful of croûtons
Salt and pepper
A dash of piment d’espelette

Cut off tip of each pod and squeeze beans. Peel skin from each bean.  In a large pot, heat olive oil and fry onions until translucent.  Add garlic, fava beans and sliced potato, continue to stir for 2 more minutes.  Add the chicken (or vegetable) stock, and pour water in pot, enough to cover the vegetables.  Bring to a boil and lower heat.  Leave to simmer for 20-25 minutes.  Purée soup in a food processor and return to pot. Meanwhile, prepare the garnishing.  Fry pancetta in a pan until golden and crispy, drain and set aside.  Prepare croûtons – rub sliced baguette bread with a garlic clove and drizzle with olive oil – grill in oven until golden, season with sea salt and set aside.  Chop shallots and mint finely.  Chop pancetta and croûtons to little bits (you can also use a food processor).  Set aside.
Whisk mascarpone with 2 tbsp of chopped mint.  Set aside.
To serve.  Place all 4 garnishing – shallots, mint, croûtons and pancetta (all chopped finely) – in the bottom of each bowl.  Pour soup and add a scoop of mint mascarpone cream.  Sprinkle piment d’espelette. Serve immediately.

gourmetsandwich

Gourmand sandwich (serves 3-4)

1 duck magret duck breast
16 thin slices of fresh foie gras (approx 4 thin slices per sandwich)
2 figs, sliced
1 egg yolk
5 small pickles, chopped
5 capers, chopped
1 tsp tarragon
1 tbsp mustard
1 tbsp & 1/2 vinegar
180 ml/ 3/4 cup olive oil
Salt (fleur de sel de Guérande) & pepper
Beets, fresh & finely sliced with a mandoline, or as finely as possible with a knife
A few leaves of sucrine lettuce
Frying oil
Baguette bread

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 coarse 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 to 20 minutes, depending on thickness of breast. Pour off the fat from the pan frequently and reserve in a bowl (you can use this fat to fry potatoes, it’s delicious!).  It’s best to have the meat on the rosé side. Turn magret breast over, and fry for 3 minutes.  Leave to rest for a few minutes, and slice breast into slim slices.

For the foie gras:
Drain pan, wipe off residue. Sprinkle flour on the foie gras slices on both sides and fry on a sizzling hot pan for 10 seconds approx on each side.  Set aside and sprinkle with fleur de sel and black pepper.

For the tartare sauce:
Combine egg yolk, vinegar, mustard and whisk mixture.  Add oil, drop by drop, while whisking (I use a pair of electric whisks) until you get a thick mayonnaise-like sauce.  Add finely chopped pickles, capers, tarragon, a pinch of salt and black pepper. Set aside.

For the beet chips:
Slice beets as finely as possible with a mandoline or with a knife.  Heat oil in a large deep-frying pan, approx 1&1/2 inch deep.  When temperature of oil reaches 190°C/ 375F, throw in sliced beets by batches for a few minutes.  Drain on kitchen paper or parchment paper and sprinkle with fleur de sel.

To assemble sandwich:
Spread tartare sauce on bread, line with sucrine lettuce, add magret, foie gras, sliced figs.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add more sauce if desired.  Serve with beet chips.  Enjoy!

peaches&cherries

Peaches & cherry papillotes (serves 2-3)
2 yellow peaches, sliced
15 cherries
A small handful of fresh vervain leaves
50 g/ 1/4 cup granulated sugar
60 ml/ 1/4 cup red wine
1 vanilla pod, split and cut in two
1 tbsp granulated sugar, to sprinkle
Aluminium foil

Preheat oven to 210°C/ 410F

To cook in papillote: a method of cooking in which the food is put into a folded pouch or parcel and then baked.  You can use parchment paper or aluminium foil.

In a small saucepan, add sugar and wine and bring to a soft boil.  Lower heat slightly and stir until mixture thickens to a syrup, about 5-6 minutes.  Set aside.
Slice peaches and remove stems from cherries.  Make a papillote with parchment paper or aluminium foil, place all the fruits inside, add the vanilla pod (cut in two and split lengthwise).  Sprinkle vervain leaves and pour red wine syrup.  Sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar.
Close papillote by sealing the edges firmly and bake for 10 minutes.  You can have it straight from the papillote or spoon fruits and sauce on a plate.  Serve immediately while warm.

walkinghome

Finding time for spider crab

spidercrabbrocante

The last few weeks of my life have been all about crabs and clocks. In a literal way but also, and perhaps more importantly, in a symbolic way. The clocks symbolize the time I haven’t had, and crabs, perhaps my favorite food of all, are a good symbol for all the food madness that’s been going on around me. We’ve had very interesting and lovely guests over the last few weeks, lots of exciting projects and many more sumptuous meals. Around two weeks ago I bought the most luscious spider crabs at the market and had all kind of ideas for preparing them. Time did not allow me to cook them how I had planned so I enjoyed them with a simple glass of wine and of course mayonnaise. Since then we’ve been filming a cooking show here in Médoc with lots of good food and even a few crabs but they too were enjoyed in a simple way. We had a marvellous time, making new discoveries every day and made frequent visits to one of my favorite places, the ‘Côté Gironde’ brocante in St. Christoly. Anne Bouteillier has so many beautiful objects, too many, and I’ve got my eye on a clock in her store that may be the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t work which suits me fine, it means there is no rush, that I have all the time in the world.

spidercrab&tomatoes

portraitofalady

pans

Now that the film crew has left us we’re again just by ourselves here in the countryside and time is once again on my side, allowing me to indulge in my cravings. The first thing on my list, spider crab.

I have always had a special fondness for crabs. There are over four thousand species of them, tiny ones, giant ones. They are all beautiful, born in the sea and I love how they move sideways. Ever since I was a child, I have fond memories of seafood restaurants in Hong Kong. In Asia, it is customary to see your seafood order ‘alive and snapping’ brought to your table before being cooked. As soon as the adults would loose themselves in conversation I would slide down from my chair, run off to the seafood tanks and explore the mysterious world of the sea. Great big fish, tiger prawns, all sorts of crabs, and more crabs. Crab is what I wanted most, so I would cheekily tell the waiters that my parents wanted crabs at our table, and if it was possible to fry them in chilli and black bean sauce, as a side dish. Often I would even finish them before anyone noticed what I was up to.

Salicornia as a side dish.

Salicornia as a side dish.

spidercrabmacaronigratin2

spidercrab&glasses

I guess this craving for crabs has never left me, I’m under their spell I think. The long claws are so elegant to my eye, the spiky armour makes them look like little warriors. In a way it’s a shame to eat them, but then I can’t resist the sweet chunky meat.
Here are two recipes I made this week – one is French inspired and the other one Asian. I am happy now.

Many thanks to Anne Bouteillier and her amazing ‘Côté Gironde’ antiquités/ brocantes store, Place de la Mairie, 33340 St Christoly de Médoc.

spidercrabmacaronigratin

Spider crab macaroni gratin (serves 3-4)
230 g/ 8 ounces cooked spider crab meat (1-2 spider crabs, depending on size)
1 leek, white part only, chopped finely
5 leaves of Savoy cabbage, sliced finely
1 tomato, cut into small cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chopped tarragon
30 ml/ 2 tbsp white wine
A few threads of saffron
2 tbsp olive oil
30 g/ 2 tbsp unsalted butter
30 g/ 1/4 cup plain flour
475 ml/ 2 cups milk
150 g/ 1/3 pound comté or gruyere cheese, grated
50 g/ 2 ounces parmesan cheese and 50 g/ 2 ounces comté or gruyere cheese, to sprinkle on pasta
3 tbsp unsalted butter
A handful of fresh breadcrumbs (optional)
350 g/ 3/4 pound pasta shells – I used local shell pastas called Margot – they look like little seashells.
Salt & pepper
A dash of piment d’espelette

Heat olive oil in a frying pan, add leek and garlic. Stir in the crab meat, saffron, salt and black pepper. Add white wine and reduce for a minute and a half. Add tomatoes, sliced cabbage, chopped tarragon and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Sprinkle with piment d’espelette.
Cook pasta shells in boiling water – it’s best to have them slightly undercooked. Drain under cold water and set aside.
Melt butter in a saucepan and add flour – pour milk slowly and whisk continuously for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add 150 g grated Comté (or Gruyère)cheese and mix well until melted. Set aside.
Stir the crab into the cheese béchamel sauce. Pour mixture into the pasta – mix gently and transfer to an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs (optional), parmesan and Comté cheese, dot with butter all over. Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350F for 15-20 minutes until golden.

crabrolls

Cabbage crab rolls (for eight rolls)
8 cabbage leaves (1 per roll)
10 tbsp cooked spider crab meat
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 shallot, sliced finely
1 garlic clove, minced
15 ml/ 1 tbsp Shao xing wine (or sherry)
Sauce:
20 ml/ 1 & 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp grated ginger

Heat olive oil in a pan and fry the cabbage leaves 5 seconds on each sides. Set aside.
In the same pan, add a bit of olive oil and fry ginger, garlic and shallot for a few minutes. Add the crab meat and stir for a further 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Add Chinese rice wine and reduce for a minute. Set aside.
To assemble:
Place one tablespoon of crab meat mixture in the cabbage leaf and roll. Slice the edges to make them even. Serve with sauce on the side.

chocolatebox

So many strawberries, so little time

beautifulstrawberries

Each month is like a new chapter. Now that we have entered the beginning of summer months, I can only see one colour, red. Vermillion red, crimson red, cardinal red, scarlet red.  As long as it’s a juicy and sweet red, just like the strawberries at Caroline and Michel Arnould from Domaine de la Fosse.  I am enamoured with their charming farmhouse in St Vivien de Médoc, their passion for all things natural and most of all their amazingly sweet and beautiful strawberries.  They cultivate the Lambada variety, so plump and aromatic, renowned for its delectable taste and fragility.  We spent a gourmand afternoon picking strawberries, perhaps one of the greatest pleasures in life.  Nothings beats that fine moment when you pick a firing red heart-shaped strawberry, so unbelievably sweet. No wonder they symbolize perfection and love.

strawberries

picking

Michel Arnould and his strawberries.

Michel Arnould and his strawberries.

Domaine de la Fosse.

Domaine de la Fosse.

lapin

Caroline Arnould at her strawberry stand.

Caroline Arnould at her strawberry stand.

buyingstrawberries

Once picked, it’s best to consume them within 24 hours. So this is when my story really starts.

As my eyes are bigger than my stomach, I went back home with a full crate.  We munched on them as we went home, then the kids  had them for their goûter snack after school.  So many strawberries, so little time.  I love classic strawberry tarts, and recently made little dome tartlets, so I wanted something… more.  I always act upon desire, and I couldn’t resist the combination of cream and mascarpone to be involved.  As we live in Médoc, red wine was a must.  My husband Oddur requested strawberries and red wine, and I added the bed of chantilly and mascarpone vanilla cream.  As we tasted them, it felt like falling in love all over again.  Then I made the iconic mille feuille, something I can never resist in any pâtisseries, especially the ones at Stohrer in Paris.  I enjoyed piping little miniature domes between the strawberries to create my very own thousand sheets of happiness.  And for the last one (always the best for last), I just wanted to share my favourite strawberry recipe ever.  Because my palate has never forgotten that pistachio and strawberries are the best of friends.

For those who are interested, the Arnould have charming little ‘gîtes’ at Domaine de la Fosse (fully equipped holiday home).  Can you imagine staying there during strawberry picking season?

millefeuille

Strawberry mille feuille
(serves 6)

230 g/ 1/2 pound strawberries
250-300 g/ 9-10 ounces ready rolled puff pastry
120 ml whipping cream
80 ml mascarpone
1 & 1/2 tbsp rose water
Icing sugar, for dusting
2 vanilla pods (cut a slit on the entire length and scrape off the beans with the tip of your knife)

Preheat oven to 200°C/ 400F

For the pastry sheets:
Line a baking tray with parchment paper.  Roll pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface – it should be as fine as possible.  With a pastry cutter, cut out 3 identical rectangular sheets (3 per cake – 10 cm length/ 5 cm width approx.).  Place the pastry on the lined tray. Sprinkle pastry with icing sugar (generously).  Bake for 6 minutes, take pastry out and dust them again with icing sugar.  Return to oven and bake for a further 6 minutes, or until golden and glazed. With a large knife, trim the edges of the pastry. Set aside and leave to cool completely.

For the cream:
120 ml/ 1/2 cup cream (for whipping)
80 ml/ 1/3 cup mascarpone
1 & 1/2 tbsp rose water
2 vanilla pods (cut a slit on the entire length and scrape off the beans with the tip of your knife)
2-3 tbsp icing sugar (sifted)

Mix all the ingredients (cream, mascarpone, vanilla beans, rose water and sugar) together and whisk for 4-5 minutes until stiff.

Caroline & Michel Arnould from Domaine de la Fosse

Caroline & Michel Arnould from Domaine de la Fosse

Pipe little domes of cream mixture on the pastry, and put the strawberries (if they are large cut in half or quarter) between the cream.  Place another sheet of pastry on top and repeat steps.  Sprinkle top layer of pastry with icing sugar.

chickenlove

Strawberries in wine with mascarpone cream
(serves 6)

350 g-400 g/ 3/4 – 1 pound strawberries

Slice strawberries in half or quarter depending on size.  In a large bowl, pour 250 ml/ 1 cup red wine and add strawberries.  Sprinkle sugar (50 g/ 1/4 cup) and stir. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

mimiwinestrawberries

For the cream:
180 ml/ 3/4 cup cream (for whipping)
120 ml/ 1/2 cup mascarpone
2 vanilla pods (cut a slit on the entire length and scrape off the beans with the tip of your knife)
2-3 tbsp icing sugar (sifted)

Mix all the ingredients (cream, mascarpone, vanilla beans and sugar) together and whisk for 4-5 minutes until stiff.

creme

To serve:
Place a generous amount of cream mixture into dessert bowls or ramequins.  Add the strawberries and wine sauce on top, according to taste.

pigstacchio

Meringue with strawberries and pistachio sabayon
(serves 4)

300 g strawberries
2 egg whites
130 g/ 2/3 cup sugar
A few drops of fresh lemon juice
A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 120°C/ 248 F

For the meringues:
In a large glass bowl (make sure it’s grease-free), whisk egg white gradually from medium to high-speed.  When the mixture gets frothy, add a pinch of salt and a few drops of lemon juice.  Incorporate sugar slowly until you get stiff peaks.  Prepare a parchment paper lined baking tray.  You can either spoon little meringues onto the tray (swirl the spoon to shape), or use a piping bag with a round tip if you want smoother meringues (see photos) with a nice little peak.  Bake in oven for 50 minutes (I used the lower heat of the oven only).  Set aside to cool on a pastry rack.

For the pistachio sabayon:
3 egg yolks
60 g/ 1/3 cup sugar
3-4 tbsp Marsala wine
1 tbsp pistachio paste (more or less according to taste)
Whisk all the ingredients in a heat-proof bowl, except the pistachio paste, until smooth.  Whisk over a double boiler, add the pistachio paste, and continue whisking until thickened. Serve within 15 minutes.

For the whipped cream:
150ml whipping cream
In a large bowl, whip cream with electric whisks until stiff. I don’t add sugar because I find the meringues have all the sweetness I need.

To assemble:
Place meringue on a serving plate, gently tap the top with a small spoon.  Spoon whipped cream on top, place strawberries (sliced or not, depending on size) and drizzle pistachio sabayon according to taste.

squiffy

Acacia Flower Fritters

bigtree

It’s that golden time of the year again when I can finally make one of my favourite delicacies, acacia flower fritters. The English name is locust flowers, we call it fleurs d’acacia (Robinia Pseudoacaci). Real acacias are bright yellow (from the Mimosoideae family), quite different to what we call acacias here. The fragrant blossoms are only available a few weeks during this season, so it’s best to pick them when they have just opened. They look like little bundles of grapes, with tiny white flowers that smell, and taste like honey, with a hint of jasmine, bergamot and orange blossom. Sounds like a dream? An edible one at least.

fritters

basket

cutters

mimiflowers

sisters&flowers

You can’t imagine how much fun it was to pick the flowers, the kids loved participating, so excited to know they would be having them as fritters. I can’t think of a more beautiful way to eat something sweet, so fragrant and fresh from the garden. It’s such a delicate pleasure to eat these little ephemeral beauties. The flowers usually bloom between ten to fifteen days, a very short-lived thrill, making the whole experience even more exciting. I am so thankful for these little magical culinary moments, such a good excuse to savour each fritter with a sip of sweet white wine. I am always in search of timeless moments, food that is a feast for the imagination as well as the eye.

acaciafritters

Acacia (locust flowers) flowers fritters

For approximately 20-25 fritters (depending on size)

250 g/ 2 cups plain flour
2 eggs
200 ml/ 3/4 cup half or whole (full-cream) milk
150 m/ 2/3 cup beer
50 g/ 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp rum (optional)
1/2 tsp fine salt
2 1/2 cups vegetable oil, for cooking the fritters
Icing sugar/ confectioner’s sugar, to dust the fritters

Note: If you feel you need to rinse the flowers, make sure to dry them well before frying. Only the flowers and little stems are edible so make sure to throw out the rest!

Mix all the ingredients together (except the flowers) in a large bowl until you get a smooth batter. Cover and set aside to rest for 30 minutes to one hour.

Heat oil in a saucepan, about 1 to 1 1/2 inch deep in the pan. To test if the oil is ready, fry a few drops of batter. If it sizzles and turns golden brown within seconds, it’s ready. Dip the flowers in the batter, drain slightly and fry in batches (about 3 per batch) until the fritters become golden brown, approx 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove fritters with pliers or slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Dust lightly with icing/ confectioner’s sugar before serving.

comingdown

Artichoke love

artichoke soufflé

I think I’m in love with artichokes. I love to eat them, I love to look at them, I even love to think about them. They are just so beautiful and delicious tasting. Sometimes I put them in a vase, they are as beautiful as any flower. I can’t get enough of these shades of green mixed with purple. When they are in season I simply want them every day.

artichokefield

still

Once when we were in Rome, looking for something special, we asked a friendly waiter at a winebar to recommend a nice place to go for dinner. The theory being that if the place is good, they will know other good places. At first the waiter gave us a few names, places we knew, places we didn’t really like. I guess he saw the disappointment in our eyes because the next time he came to our table, probably with another glass of Brunello, he dropped a name card on the table. “Maybe you will like this place, it’s a bit … special”. The card simply said, “Ristorante Piperno”. More importantly it had a lovely illustration of artichokes. My heart told me instantly, “go there”. So we found ourselves having a second lunch, deep-fried artichokes, then more deep-fried artichokes and the rest I can’t remember, but it was lovely. Everything else about the place was magical, the uniformed waiters, the forest green walls, the old school feel. We’ve gone back every time we’ve been in Rome and for years that card sat on my dressing table as a beautiful souvenir of my beloved artichokes in Rome. Over time it was smudged and ruffled by sticky little fingers but I always picked it up and put it back on the table. One day it was gone forever, with all the kids and dogs it can be difficult to hold onto fragile belongings. But I’ll always have the memories.

house

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The point is that, for me, an artichoke can only lead to good things. It happened again last week. We have a habit of going to markets and one of our favorite stalls is “la famille Aubert”, real farm people who grow beautiful organic vegetables. Their stall always have a very seasonal feel, filled with exciting fruits and vegetables, especially the irresistible purple garlic. They also sell flowers and their daughter Elodie makes Médoc’s best organic bread. For the last few weeks they’ve had the most glorious artichokes, tight, fresh and unbelievably green. I’ve always wanted to see their farm and finally asked if I could. The answer was, but bien sûr (of course).

bee

huds

mimihudson&ramps

It was a magical place, incredible artichoke fields graced by a house that anybody would want to live in and looks like it’s been painted to go with the vegetables they grow. Calling this place special is an understatement. I arrived home with about thirty fabulous artichokes and wanted to do something great. The first few I simply steamed and enjoyed picking them apart and dipping them in olive oil, lemon, garlic and salt. But I wanted more, something I had not made before. And then it hit me, a soufflé with artichokes. I frequently make soufflés, for dessert, with cheese. But never with artichokes. I experimented with a few sorts. One turned out too lumpy but delicious. Another one was great but the cheese overpowered my precious artichokes and we can’t have that. Finally I got it right, to my taste anyway. The kids loved it, my husband begged for more and my mother-in-law liked it, and she’s not even an artichoke fan.

I wonder what I will do next with my little green wonders, perhaps stuffed with pistachios and mint, almond and garlic? Let’s see…

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soufflerecipe

Artichoke Soufflés

Ingredients: (serves 4)

Note: You will only be using the artichoke hearts for this recipe.

4 large artichokes
4 eggs, separated
250 ml/ 1 cup full cream milk
60 g/ ¼ cup butter
30 g/ 4 tbsp flour + extra for dusting ramekins
25 g/ ¼ cup grated Gruyère or Comté cheese
Salt and black pepper

For the artichokes:
Trim artichokes stem and cook in boiling salted water until tender – approx 45 minutes to an hour depending on size. Drain, remove leaves, remove fuzzy choke and reserve the heart (fleshy center part). Purée artichoke hearts with a vegetable masher until smooth.

For the cheese béchamel:
On a medium heat, melt butter and add flour. Whisk until smooth and gradually add milk whisking away. Season with salt and pepper. Stir until sauce thickens. Off the heat, add grated Gruyère or Comté, stir until melted. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then add the egg yolks, one by one, followed by the artichoke purée. Mix well until smooth.

Finally:
Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Add a pinch of salt then continue whisking until stiff. Fold egg whites gently into in artichoke/béchamel mixture.
Grease 4 ramequins with butter and dust with flour on all sides including base lightly. Fill the ramequins to 1/2-inch from the top with mixture.

Cook in preheated oven 180°C/ 350 F for 25-30 minutes. Serve immediately.

beejump

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