Double Fantasy

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Sometime last summer I (hopefully – delusionally) announced that from autumn onwards we would launch a redesigned blog with more frequent posts and contributions from my friends. What happened instead was that posts became less frequent, there was no redesign. It’s not a cancellation though, it is simply a postponement. When I started this blog some years ago I had no idea what I wanted to do with it, it happened naturally and this winter, equally naturally, posts have been few and far between. It’s natural because we’ve been so busy, with the workshops but mainly with my new baby, my second cookbook. It took all my best efforts to finish it in time, and when I say in time I mean so late that it would have been too late if my wonderful editor, Rica, hadn’t moved the finish line for me so that I could make it.

I believe that, with very few exceptions, things need to change and grow to blossom. This blog has not changed since the beginning but the question facing me this January is how do we keep what’s good, build on it, make posts more frequent, keep the purity and simplicity, yet make it more accessible and easy to find older recipes. I want to keep this blog exactly how it is. I also want to change it and make it better. I’ve decided to do both. I’m terrible with deadlines but let’s try aim for late February and if not I hope you will be as understanding as my editor and allow me to move the finish line.

In a few days I’ll publish a traditional post with a delicious winter menu but I thought it would be fun to look back at 2015, remember a few things we did, share them with you and, in some cases, think about how they will affect 2016. Oddur, my husband, is my partner in all I do, the blog would be very different without him – I like to say we are a dragon with two heads. So I asked him to contribute to this post and we decided to each talk about five things. 5 songs each on a 10 album LP. When I was growing up in Hong Kong my mother loved John Lennon, especially Double Fantasy which was on practically every day. Sometimes she’d have a tiny glass of sherry, flick through French magazines (I am named after one of those – Marie-France) and reminisce about her days as a young girl in France and a young woman in London. She loves living in Hong Kong, she loves the culture, the climate, the massages, the food. But Europe always made her fell a little nostalgic and sometimes Double Fantasy (oddly enough) was the soundtrack to that nostalgia.

Just like on Double Fantasy we’ll take turns, Oddur will go first, then I etc. I picked being John Lennon first so Oddur is Yoko …

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The Year of the dog 

Hi it’s Yoko here. Happy new year! Sometime soon we’ll leave the year of the goat behind and enter the year of the monkey. But not in this house, in this house every year is the year of the dog. And one dog in particular, my dog Humfri. He’s not the smartest dog and he’s a little grumpy in the morning. He sleeps on a little ugly bed in the corner of our bedroom and growls when the kids come near him. He likes to sleep in. There was that incident when he tried to assassinate a Pomeranian in Orvieto. And that incident when he peed on the leg of the diner next to us. He causes all sorts of problems, like most dogs do, but he does it with panache.
He fills my eye every day with his beauty and my heart with his distinctively odd character.

Here’s to another year together my friend.

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The Restaurant 

I’m back (Mimi – sorry John)
The first time I visited 1 rue de Loudenne I had a book in my head. I called my editor, Rica Allannic, and spilled my beans. “That sounds wonderful but shouldn’t we finish book number 1 first?” was her response. I have a tendency to get ahead of myself. The idea of opening a restaurant in my home, my dream restaurant, and writing a book about it sounded a little crazy but mainly great and I can’t believe that we actually did it. The restaurant was magic, I’m so excited about the new book and can’t wait to share it with all of you.

It will be called  “French Country Cooking” and is out this year in October published by Clarkson Potter like my previous book. I was very happy with the last book and though you shouldn’t have favorites when it comes to your children I think I like this one even more, so many hours went into it, so much love and laughter.

It’s the best feeling in the world, to finish something so meaningful and wait for it to come to life.

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The Miles

Talking about distinctively odd characters, remembering last year wouldn’t be possible without mentioning Miles. He was the cook (sorry Miles, chef) who assisted Mimi in the kitchen. His effort were worthy of a reality show (one that I would actually watch) and took the phrase “full or surprises” to a new level. I had many good moments with him in the “boucherie“, where we shared wine and stories. He knew how to win my heart. He said “we are just like Captain Aubrey and Dr. Maturin” me being the Master and Commander. Miles was rather well read and any man who refers to me as Master and Commander is off to a rather fantastic start. You can read more about Miles in my wife’s upcoming book but I thought I’d share a pairing that Miles introduced to me and I named after him.

I don’t love sweet potatoes but I like the idea of them. I love the smell and aroma of Cognac but seldom drink it. Miles told me he eats a baked sweet potato every day to improve his eyesight and always with Cognac. Considering the source that may be an exaggeration but I find this a most interesting pairing. Very sophisticated and primal at once. A mélange straight out of a Hemingway short story.

I encourage you to try this at home, just prick the potato with a fork and place it in a hot oven for 30 minutes, then slash open and fill with butter. The Cognac should be smooth.

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Mouhalabieh – Orange Blossom and pistachio flan

Even if this is not a conventional post I thought I must share at least one recipe (the Miles isn’t really a recipe is it?) When I lived in Paris we sometimes ordered Lebanese takeaway and when we did I always included Mouhalabieh in the order. Two for me was the standard. It’s a wonderful flan like pudding drenched with orange flower syrup and topped with pistachios. I hadn’t thought about this little friendly dish for a very long time until I had a sudden craving late last fall and I’ve made it countless times since. While this is a great dessert I love to make it any time of the day and have it when I feel like it.

Let’s call it winter indulgence.

Orange blossom flan with pistachios/ Mouhalabieh

For 5 to 6 servings

For the flan

400 ml/ 1 & 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons milk
30 g/1/4 cup cornstarch
40 g/ 3 tablespoons sugar (more or less to your taste)
2 tablespoon orange flower water
A handful of roasted pistachios and chopped

For the syrup

2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons orange blossom flower
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the milk and sugar on a medium heat and add the sifted cornstarch. Whisk until the mixture thickens and coats the back on a spoon, about 5 minutes. At this point take the pan off the heat and whisk in the orange blossom water.
Pour the mixture into ramekins and leave to cool completely. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Prepare the syrup:
In a small saucepan, heat the water, honey, sugar on a medium heat. When the mixture starts to thicken slightly about 3 minutes, add the orange blossom water.
Take off the heat and leave to cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Spread the pistachios on a baking tray and roast for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Chop the pistachios coarsely and reserve.
To serve.
Drizzle the syrup on the flans and scatter the pistachios on top. Serve immediately.

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The Vehicle

2015 is the year I finally got a Land Rover. Old, huge, beautiful and monstrous. I’ve never been a particular car buff and though I appreciate beautiful cars there was always something else more interesting or important to get. This car landed in my lap and what a happy coincidence that was. Driving through the muddy roads of Médoc, unstoppable, is better than I thought. Driving all the way to Rome, with no music or air condition in sweltering heat is not as bad as I thought. Not in a Land Rover.

The Workshop Playlist

Last year we hosted so many wonderful workshops, met incredible people from all over the world. Such a mixed group of all sorts of people who love food and wine … and music.
We have a good selection of music we tend to listen to a lot but some of the guests also pitched in. It takes a lot to make it into the Manger workshop playlist, like somebody said “this is good stuff”

Billie Holiday – You go to my head

Chet Baker – Let’s get lost sessions

Barbara – Dis, quand reviendras-tu?

Marilyn Monroe – Let’s make love

Dan Penn (Theresa Ghoulson) Power of love

Swamp Dogg (Dewey Nicks) Synthetic world

Sam Cooke (Hannah Barry) You send me

Dave Brubeck – Audrey

Robbie Williams – If I only had a brain

Charles Trenet – La Mer

Julie London – Fly me to the moon

Jacques Dutronc – J’aime les filles

Rosemary Clooney – Botch-a-Me

and the song no one likes but my husband

Richard Hawley – Tonight the streets are ours

Here is the link to our playlist on Spotify.

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The wines of the year

It was a very good year. For the wine being made in the vineyards (look out for 2015) and for me personally, because of the wine I drank. It’ almost impossible to pick favorites but let me try.

Early in the year we had the pleasure of dining with Mr. Jean-Michel Cazes, the owner of Château Lynch Bages. He brought the wine. 1991 Domaine de Chevalier (white), 1985 Mouton Rothschild, 1962 Château Montrose, 1959 Château Lynch-Bages and the 1952 Lynch-Bages, made by his grandfather. The ’59 was my favorite, maybe, of the whole year.

Other extremely memorable sips were the ´89 and ´99 of Margaux, a privilege made possible by the WSJ who sent me to Château Margaux for a story, yet I ended up in a lavish lunch with Madame Mentzelopoulos, the owner, and Paul Pontallier the winemaker.

An epic wine day was had in autumn at Château Ducru-Beaucaillou where we had the pleasure of tasting many of the best vintages of the last 20 years. That’s the night Mimi said to the person next to her that she actually preferred Italian wine. It was a joke of course, a bold funny one. There weren’t too many laughs though.

All this is probably fairly meaningless, these wines are hard to get your hands on and if you can you may have to sell your house.

So here is the list of the best wines I had at home in 2015, for what it’s worth, many are not given but they’re all great and in most cases they should be obtainable.

1. Château Lynch-Bages 1996 
I fell in love with this vintage years ago and the romance just won’t end. A very Médoc, Médoc. The 2000 is supposed to be better and maybe it will catch up but this is my coup de coeur.

2. Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2003
A hot year and a beautiful wine, more or less ready to drink now.

3. Château Calon Ségur 2005 
A little young but really opening up this year, smooth and lovely, pleases everyone. You should try to get at least two bottles, drink one now, keep the other one.

4. Château Léoville las Cases 2004
We had this bottle with Mimi’s editor, Rica, and her husband Cyrille, a French master chef when they visited us in the summer. We served it with an andouille sausage from Brittany and though the pairing might not have worked it did. Everything works with this wine.

5. Château Rauzan-Ségla 1989
This bottle was the star of one of the workshops – remember Jerry?

6. Château Tour Haut Caussan 2003 (Cuvee Mathis)
Our dear friend Fabien, aka the best man in Médoc, makes this wine and in 2003 he put all his efforts into it as it saw the birth of his only son Mathis. He says it’s the best he’s made and I agree.

7. I Sodi di San Niccolo 2010. 
For the sake of variety we have to include at least one Italian wine. My wife picked the bottle on a trip to Milano, it has a little bird on it. Judging a wine by its label never felt so right. This was also the year I really got into the Sagrantino grape from Umbria and the year of a decent amount of Barolo’s from … and Brunello’s from Biondi Santi. In Rome I had the 2007 Rosso di Montalcino from Biondi Santi, it tasted great … but then I was in Rome.

8. Clos du Marquis 1996 (Magnum)
Another long-standing favorite. I got my hands on a small stash of Magnums – it’s all gone
now.

Honorable mentions go to the (often more affordable) 2011 Clos Manou (our neighbors), the 2010 Château Haut Marbuzet, the 2010 Croix de Beaucaillou (a real crowd pleaser).

Whites we couldn’t get enough of were the Blanc de Lynch-Bages, the Cygne Blanc from Château Fonréaud, Elise from Château le Pey (our friends) and Caillou Blanc from Château Talbot. Château Smith Haut Lafitte was much-loved but we had it less simply because of the price.

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The Italian Girl

This was the year of so much activity and adventures and to put it very simply and short. I could not have done it without my trusted assistant Allegra who rather than joining a cloister joined us. Which is similar due to the remoteness of Médoc but with far better food & wine.

With all my heart, Grazie Allegra!

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The travel discovery and the buttoned up shirt

Last year I went an incredible 6 times to Italy. First with Mimi in May when she was invited to cook at a food festival but after that mainly to Umbria. I knew Umbria a little from before, we have decent knowledge of Toscana and Marche, the neighboring regions but apart from a few fleeting visits to Perugia, Umbria remained a mystery. I have CN Traveler to thank, they sent me on many missions there throughout the year and most of them ended up as road trips. The first assignment was to shoot Brunello Cucinelli and “his” Umbria. My boys came with me, Thorir & Hudson and of course Humfri and his son Dick (this was before they fell out). Hudson took the trip very seriously and always wore a blue blazer and a white shirt buttoned up to the top. I always told him to unbutton claiming he looked too much like a Belgian fashion designer. That’s how it went. He buttoned up, I made him button down etc. Then we met Brunello who passed his judgement. “Buttoning up in this case is more chic”. Hudson won, I lost.

The food in Umbria is incredible, the landscape so hilly and unusual and part of it reminds me of Iceland but with much better weather and olive trees. My favorite subject of last year was one of Brunello’s tailors, a humble, quiet, elegant man who wore his clothes with enormous dignity.

Many times this year we were happy in Umbria.

The cherry on the cake – 8 is my lucky number

So it’s up to me to finish this account. With a baby boy. He’ll arrive in late June and though he has more to do with this year his roots were planted in the fall of 2015. I have said time and again on this blog that we were done. I have confidently stated that the baby shop was closed for good. It seems it wasn’t and I couldn’t be happier. Four girls in a row would have been wonderful  and even a little funny but I have to admit that a baby boy right now feels right.
It will be the last beautiful chapter in a book that is turning out much longer than I ever expected. It’s also the second time in two years that I’m expecting a child in early summer and a book in late fall. It’s double fantasy. Twice.

I wish you all a happy and exciting new year and thank you once again for coming to my obscure little corner of the world, whether it’s in person or simply by visiting this blog.

Mimi xx

The Olive Harvest Lunch

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The man who liked olive trees

Several years ago I interviewed a Swedish chef in Paris. A young man with good looks and pretty dreams. He told me that one day he’d like to live in the countryside, grow his own vegetables, have dogs. I asked him if he wanted to realize these dreams back home in Sweden. He thought about it for a few seconds and said “No, not that I don’t like Sweden but my farm must have olive trees so I need to be somewhere south. Probably Italy or southern France.” I never saw him again and frankly I had all but forgotten about him until last year when we were planning to move into our new house and needed to tidy up the garden. When 1 rue de Loudenne was known as “Hotel de France” they had big trees in the courtyard in front of the house and even some, rather out of place, palm trees, probably to add an exotic touch. But when we came into the story there was nothing left but weeds, a few out of shape bushes and a handful of roses that were surviving against the odds. We always knew that we’d want to a Magnolia tree so that went in first but what else should we plant?
Oddur and I love olives and olive trees but somehow Médoc had never felt like that kind of place. You can see a few olive trees here and there but this is hardly olive country. We consulted our gardener, Nicolas, about the wisdom of investing in several olive trees and got the typical “French” answer. Normalement it would be fine … unless it wouldn’t be fine. When pressed he was ready to go further and say that the chances of the trees being fine were greater than of them not being fine. Oddur (who thinks a 20% chance of something happening is pretty good) took that as an absolute green light and since I’m not without a sense of risk taking myself I jumped on board.
So now we have a little or rather a tiny olive grove in front of our house, we have many dogs, we grow our own vegetables and we live in the south of France.
Next time someone tells you their dreams you should listen carefully, they might in fact be disclosing your own.

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The olives that vanished

In November last year, a few weeks before we finally moved in, we planted one 70 year old, big olive tree and a few smaller ones in the courtyard in front of 1 rue de Loudenne. It felt a bit like cheating but the big ones had tons of olives on it already when we got it. And when I say tons I mean something like 15 – 20 kilos, which in new olive farmer language translates as tons. Nicolas, the gardener, and his wife were helping us out with painting the rooms and every day we’d take a look at the olives and debate if they were ready. Oddur was impatient, so was I but Nicolas insisted we wait a little, they “need a few more days” he always said. Then one evening at dusk, during our daily olive talk and deliberations about the best way to handle them once picked (plain water or salted and then after which herbs and oils to use) Nicolas lost his patience and said “let’s just pick them now”. So out we went, buckets in hand to finally get our hands on those purple black, glistening olives. But they were gone, every single one. They had been there yesterday, but it seemed as if they had evaporated before our eyes during the night or even during the day as we were painting. We searched the ground for clues and found, where there should have been at least some evidence, not a single olive, not a broken branch. Nothing at all.
The garden was left unguarded during the nights as we hadn’t moved in yet but who would steal olives in the night, with such precision and neatness. Surely the most meticulous thief would drop some olives in the dark, or at least one. So we turned our attention to birds. Do they like olives? We thought not. We knew they liked cherries but those are sweet. Olives, freshyly picked let’s face it, taste terrible. So we just scratched our heads, finished the painting and were left to wonder what had happened. The mystery of the evaporated olives remained just that. Not of the sort maybe to bring Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot out of retirement but big enough to get a little village quitely talking.
Oddur and I discussed how this was the perfect material for a short story. The disappearing olives in the quiet village. Of course we have different litterary takes on it. My husband likes realism, he likes Chekhov and Lucien Freud. I like South American litterature and Gustav Klimt. His fictional version of events goes like this (of course the dogs are the heroes in his story): One day when we’re walking the dogs in the village they pick up a familiar scent, something they recognize from our garden, and lead us to a beat up but beautifull house just outside St Yzans. It’s walls are terracotta pink and there is a single, beautiful olive tree just in front of the house. We politely knock on the door and the man who greets us, olive-skinned and big nosed, hesitantly invites us into his humble dining room. It’s sparsely decorated but the outstanding piece is a crystal bowl filled with the most luscious olives. The man knows that the game is up and graciously invites us to his cellar where there are hundreds of jars of cured olives lining the humid walls. Every one is meticulously numbered and signed. The man readily admits his crime but instead of showing any sign of remorse he offers, as penance, to cook us a meal, starred with olives. He takes out the finest cuts of ham, the best wines and together we cook an olive-macerated feast that carries on into the night. Then we leave, happy. My (more accurate version – for this is what really happened) is like this: One night I wake up and something calls me to my bedroom window towering over the garden and all the olive trees. The dogs are sleeping and don’t notice anything but what at first seems like bird or bats swirling around the trees are in fact legions of women in black dresses floating in the air, picking olives and placing them carefully in baskets lined with the finest silks and chiffons. Having no fear of them I grab a dress of my chair, that happens to be black also, and glide down the stairs to join them. They lead me into my kithcen, which is now their kitchen and together we wash the olives, cure them in saltwater and lay them in carefully crafted crystal jars with silver lids. The floors are covered in olive branches and leaves and though we are barefoot, walking on them feels like walking on the finest velvet carpet. We make a simple soup together, not with olives but with herbs and vegetables and have it with the most delicious wine I have ever tasted. Then each of the women takes a jar, clutches it to her chest and glides into the darkness outside. The last one, Plantia, takes the last jar and places it in my hand, then floats into the night. The next morning I wake up happy and run down the stairs to find my olives. They are gone but a few months later, in the cellar under our house, when the olives are ready, I find the jar again. I use them to cook a meal for my family. The best meal we’ve ever had.
My fantastcial story makes much more sense than my husband’s because, if you think about it, an army of flying women is much more likely to gently pick the olives without a trace than one old man. But to each his own!

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The wet lunch

This year we were determined not to lose our olives at any cost and decided to harvest before December. But it had to be special. The harvest this year, despite us planting even more trees, is smaller than last year – the trees need time to adjust. We decided to do it on a Wednesday, when kids don’t have school and we thought it was a good idea to invite our dear friends Fabien and Florence who have a winemaking Château and have invited us to so many harvest lunches (where there’s actually a real harvest). The Wednesday in question arrived and though it was pouring with rain Oddur was upbeat. “It’s even better” he said – “who wants to pick olives in the sun”. I wasn’t really convinced “hum, probably everyone” was my answer. But we went ahead and though it was wet it was wonderful. Fabien, as always, brought a case of his wine, Château Tour Haut-Caussan, this time the 2012 which we hadn’t tasted before. It’s young, but I liked it, already round and lovely … as wine experts would say. Mathis (Fab and Flo’s son) charmed the girls, who won’t admit it but they all want to marry him, except maybe Mia who’s in his class. Allegra and I prepared the apples, cooked the pork, baked the madeleines. Gaïa and Louise pouted and shouted a lot. There were two colors of Champagne, courtesy of a very lovely guy called Nicolas who is the brand manager at Ruinart. He’s French, lives in NY but was back home on some family business. When a mutual friend (Mr W. M. Brown) told Nicolas that Ruinart Rosé was my favorite Champagne he decided to stop by a workshop and treated everybody to loads of Champagne. And luckily he left us a few more bottles. He also told us some good champagne stories. Nicolas told us that the first customers of Champagne were the king at Versailles and his court. They liked the bubbly feeling and wanted more. One of the king’s advisers, a monk, and Mr. Ruinart’s cousin, noticed the trend and told his cousin to use the family lands to make this new, refreshing drink. The rest is history – à votre santé!
Our crop in tons or kilos is a bowl. A big one that’s now filled with water that my husband changes religiously every day. As I am writing this the olives are still terribly bitter but beautiful to look at. They live in the “boucherie” (my other kitchen) far from the grasps of old men and flying ladies in black.
We will enjoy having them in the spring, but first Christmas!

p.s.
Talking of Christmas and the presents that go with it I wanted to give you all an update of the workshops and their availability. We’ve had such incredible response to the announcement of the 2016 workshops that by now most of them are full. But, perhaps luckily for some of you, not all. There are still some spaces left in the March and April ones. May through September is completely full to say the least. October is getting there but November and December still have a few spaces left. So if any of you are interested please send a mail to [email protected] Here’s a link to the post explaining the workshops.

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Baked apples with goat’s cheese, lardons & walnuts

8 medium-sized apples
230 g/8 ounces goat’s cheese
230 g/8 ounces lardons
A handful of walnuts
2 tablespoons honey
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C

In a sauté pan, cook the lardons on a medium heat and cook until golden.

Slice the top of the apple and set aside. Core and slightly hollow out the apples with a spoon, leaving the bottom of the apples intact to create a well for the filling. Stuff about a tablespoon of goat’s cheese, a few crumble walnuts and the lardons. Place in a baking dish, drizzle with honey. Transfer baking dish in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until apples are golden.
Serve with a mâche salad.

Pommes farçies au fromage de chèvre, lardons et noix

8 pommes de taille moyenne
230 g/ 8 ounces fromage de chèvre
230 g/ 8 ounces lardons
Une poignée de noix, légèrement hachées
2 cuillères à soupe de miel
Sel et poivre

Préchauffer le four à 350 °F/ 180 °C

Faites dorer les lardons dans une poêle. Réserver.

Laver les pommes et couper le haut (pour obtenir un petit chapeau). Mettez de côté.
Creuser la pomme légèrement avec une petite cuillère afin d’avoir assez de place pour le fromage, les noix et les lardons – faites attention de ne pas percer le fond.
Mettre environ une cuillère à soupe de fromage, puis quelques lardons et noix. Ajouter un filet de miel et quelques tours de poivre du moulin. Remettre les petits chapeaux, arroser encore de miel et enfourner pour environ 15 minutes. Servir chaud avec une petite salade de mâche.

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Roast Pork loin with Balsamic vinegar and red wine

2 kg/4.2 pounds approx boneless pork loin
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
Olive oil
240 ml/ 1 cup balsamic vinegar
15 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 bay leaves
120 ml /½ cup red wine
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F/ 180°C.

Score the pork loin skin side and season with salt and pepper. Crush the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle. Sprinkle the thyme and fennel seeds on both sides.
In a large frying pan, (or stove-proof/oven-proof roasting pan), heat olive oil on a high heat. Brown the pork loin skin side first, until the skin is golden. Turn on the other side and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour the balsamic vinegar and turn the pork loin on both sides. Leave to bubble and reduce for 2 minutes and transfer to the roasting pan along with all the juices.
Place 15 unpeeled slightly crushed garlic cloves around the meat. Check the oven regularly and add a bit of water if needed. Place in the preheated oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through. Halfway though, pour the red wine.

Leave the meat to rest for 10 good minutes before carving. Serve with mashed potatoes.

Rôti de porc au vinaigre balsamique

2 kg rôti de porc (échine ou filet), désossée
Quelques brins de thym frais
1 cuillère à soupe de graines de fenouil
Huile d’olive
240 ml vinaigre balsamique
15 gousses d’ail en chemise
2 feuilles de laurier
120 ml vin rouge
Gros sel de mer et poivre noir fraîchement moulu

Préchauffer le four à 350 °F/ 180°C.

Faites un quadrillage sur le côté peau du porc et assaisonner avec le sel et poivre. Ecrasez les graines de fenouil avec un mortier et pilon. Saupoudrer le thym ainsi que les grains de fenouil sur les deux côtés.

Faire chauffer l’huile à feu vif dans une grande cocotte pouvant aller au four et faire revenir le porc des deux côtés pendant quelques minutes. Le côté peau doit être doré.
Déglacer avec le vinaigre balsamique. Retirer du feu, ajouter les gousses d’ail, les feuilles de laurier.
Surveiller la cuisson pour ne pas laisser la sauce brûler. Ajouter un peu d’eau si necessaire. À mi-cuisson, verser le vin rouge. Enfourner pour 1 heure et 10 minutes, environ.

Laisser la viande reposer pendant 10 minutes avant de server. Servir avec une purée de pommes de terre.

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Vanilla chestnut cream madeleines

For about 20 madeleines

200 g/ 7 ounces chestnut cream
100 g/ ½ cup sugar
2 eggs
100 g/ ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons flour
90 g/ 6 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons rum
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a bowl, mix the eggs and sugar.
Then stir in the flour and baking powder. In another bowl, combine the butter, rum, vanilla
and chestnut purée.
Mix both mixtures with a wooden spoon.
Butter a madeleine pan, bake at 200°C/ 400°F for 5 min, then 180°C/ 350°F another 8 min or until golden brown. Unmold immediately and leave to cool on a pastry rack.

Madeleines à la crème de marrons

200 g crème de marrons
100 g sucre en poudre
2 oeufs
100 g farine tamisée
90 g beurre doux, fondu
2 cuillères à soupe de rhum
1 cuillère à café d’extrait de vanille
1 cuillère à café de levure chimique

Dans une grand bol, mélangez les oeufs et le sucre.
Ajouter la farine tamisée et la levure. Dans un autre bol, mélanger la crème de marron, le beurre ramolli, le rhum et la vanille. Incorporer au mélange oeufs/farine.
Beurrer un moule à madeleines, verser la pâte dans à trois quart de hauteur. Enfourner à 200°C pendant 5 minutes, puis baisser la temperature à 180°C et continuer la cuisson pendant 8 minutes. Sorter les madeleines du four, démouler-les immédiatement sur une grille pour laissez refroidir.

hudsonladder

A FEW GOOD DAYS IN UMBRIA

mimiplumsa

September 10th 2015

Early in the morning, at Bordeaux (Mérignac) airport our one big group splits into two smaller ones. In my group I have four girls: Mia 12, Louise 7, Gaïa 4 and Audrey 1. Oddur has: Gunnhildur 19 and Hudson 9 + two dogs, Humfri and his 10-month old son Dick (for all humorous suggestions regarding that name please contact Yolanda Edwards at Condé Nast Publications – she will love it!) Oddur dubs his team, who are taking the Land Rover all the way to Rome, “the brave team”, and us, the high-flyers, “the primadonnas”. When Gaïa asks who will arrive there first I realize she hasn’t traveled much. Hudson, though, is optimistic and thinks they have a small chance of beating us. “Maybe there will be a delay” he says. “That would be some delay” I think to myself as I kiss them all goodbye.
It turns out there is no delay and “the primadonnas” arrive in Rome on schedule ready to face the eternal city. A big lunch is first on the menu. I stop at the first place I see that looks decent. Zucchini fritters, amatriciana pasta, lamb chops with chicory! None of the girls have been to Rome before so we make all the necessary stops, the Panthéon, the Spanish steps, the obligatory ice cream every 15 minutes. We walk so much that in the evening we are exhausted and just stay in our rooms that night, making an improvised dinner with Italian delicacies. News reaches us that the other, braver team is still in France but about to cross the border.

umbriansoup

fruitsandvegs

olivegrove

September 11th 2015

I wake up with a huge smile on my face, my bed filled with girls of all ages. Within minutes I am strolling the streets of Rome, 4 girls in tow, heading to one of my favorite places in the whole world – The Galleria Doria Pamphilj. This city agrees with me. Big time. On the way to Doria Pamphilj I have a Macchiato AND a Cappucino at Café Tassa d’Oro and then we spend a good 3 hours at the museum. By now I have been informed that the brave team arrived around 11 O’clock the night before at a rather funny hotel in a place in Liguria called St. Bartolomeo and checked into a hotel where, in the lobby, an aging DJ was entertaining the crowds who at some point got swept into a full-blown Conga. They had a very late lunch at one of about a million places in Italy called Da Luigi and though the atmosphere was wanting the food, apparently was close to great. They are now heading for Rome and should meet us for lunch at a family favorite, La Matricianella, near piazza San Lorenzo.
I am bad with directions and worse with names and though I am very late, having gotten carried away at Doria Pamphilj, I arrive proudly on time at the wrong place called Amatricianella, instead of the preferred Matricianella. When I finally land at the right restaurant my husband is already there and Hudson, shouts through the rain that is by now flooding Roman streets “We won, we won”. Louise, ever competitive, refuses to grant him the victory and gets stubbornly soaked as she won’t sit at the victor’s table on the terrace. We have a wonderful lunch, more pastas, lamb, chicory, pannacottas and a nice bottle of Rosso di Montalcino.
After wandering the wet streets of Rome we decide to have dinner at the conveniently located Dal Bolognese, just a few steps from our hotel, the Locarno. A restaurant more famous for flair than food, but an enjoyable spot nonetheless and somehow part of my regular Rome experience. When it comes to restaurant I often go for the old-fashioned rather than the latest and the greatest. Sitting on the terrace of Dal Bolognese, admiring the beauty of Piazza del Popolo, we spot a paparazzi (just one – usually there are more). Louise asks if he’s there for me. When I realize that she actually thinks that, I tell her that though my book has admittedly been translated into Italian, the chances of that are, well, slim. We soon find out who he’s targeting. At the next table are two lovely ladies who between them have graced the walls of more teenage rooms than probably any other in history. James Bond’s first lover Honey Rider (I’m talking of Ursula of course) and her friend, the original 10, Bo Derek. They pose patiently for a few “selfies” with fans and when they leave, Mia suddenly runs after them and chases them to their taxi. They are already in and she doesn’t get her shot. When she comes back she says in her thick French accent “It’s OK, I don’t even know who they are”. Then she shrugs her shoulders and finishes her dessert.

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plums

mimikitchendogs

pizzaoven

September 12th 2015

Getting ready for our ride to Umbria we have one last lunch in Rome, again close to the hotel at a very good pizzeria called Pizza Ré. It’s exactly what we need before our trip, cold beer, delicious pizza, deep-fried mozzarella and crispy salads. Umbria, here we come.
This time the teams are different. I may be one of the original “primadonnas” but a couple of hours driving won’t kill me. We are still the “primadonnas” but Oddur joins our team (yes he joins my team, not the other way round) and Mia joins the “brave team” who will take the train to Terni, Umbria. We the “primadonnas” arrive safely at our destination, a lovely house, with an even lovelier pool, near Todi, Umbria. Later that night Oddur drives to Todi to pick up the others who are arriving there via train and two buses. He spends some time waiting at a very good wine bar, where he strikes up a friendship with the owner talking about wine, French and Italian. The other team is delayed so I use what is left to me by the gods of the house, garlic, onion, tomato passata and spaghetti to make a surprisingly satisfying dinner for me and the rest of the “primadonnas”.
Later that night Oddur cooks, what he confesses, is a below par meal of wild boar sausages, my leftover pasta and some other oddities. That night we all sleep well.

bolognese

antipasti

salumi

kids

September 13 – 18 2015

What follows that first night of lacklustre cooking is a week of spectacular food, at the house (or casa as we say in Italian) or in restaurants. Documenting every day, every meal, would be fun for me but perhaps tedious for you guys – think the uncle with the three-hour slide show – so let me just stick to the highlights.
Our first meal out is with Oddur’s new friends at a somewhat modern, yet traditional wine bar in Todi. Great wine and food! The showstopper: the outstanding cured ham and the aubergine gratin with tomatoes. In fact it’s so good that it inspires me to make it myself the next day when I prepare my 4 monthly recipes for Elle France – this time with an Italian twist. Between dips in the pool and cooking dinners and lunches I find time to gather my thoughts and announce the dates for my 2016 workshops. It’s a strategic move as I know that in the quiet of the Umbrian countryside I will have time to answer all the incoming inquires and requests, some of my answers are written poolside – they are probably the sunniest ones.
And taking a pause from this little diary I just want to say that it makes me incredibly happy and humbled how many emails I have received and how fast the classes are filling up. (We still have places though, especially in April and November but some availability here and there, even if some classes are completely full). Thank you all so much for your interest in our little adventure here in Médoc.
Talking of holiday highlights we seem to always gravitate back to the same places once found. If a restaurant is that good, why go anywhere else. This time it’s a little place in Todi, called “Pane e Vino” that gets our vote. The décor is nothing out of the ordinary, even a bit tired. Had I not read somewhere that it was worth going to I might not have. But here is where we had our best food moments. The fried wild boar mortadella with creamy balsamic vinegar, the pumpkin risotto, the ricotta with thick, dark chocolate. In my dreams since I’ve been back to France I go back there every night.
When our trip is winding down, after walks in olive groves and fancy piazzas, after one too many bumpy vertical drives in the Umbrian hills with the whole family hanging on for their life, we decide to make a blog post with Umbrian recipes – I am inspired. On our last days I get all the necessary ingredients, start chopping, soaking the beans, preheat the oven. Just before I’m about to get really started Oddur pops into the kitchen and says “let’s go to Orvieto, I heard about this great place there called La Palomba”. Moments later the apron is off, the cooking will have to wait. If food is to be discovered, new places are there to be found – I may be one of the “primadonnas” but I will never be the girl who missed out.
La Palomba turns out to be a delightful family trattoria where we have our last meal out in Italy this time around. It’s all more or less delicious, the truffle pasta, the pigeon but my favorite is the walnut cake and the owner’s sunny attitude. In the evening Augusta, the ever smiling, amazing housekeeper cooks up a big feast for us back at the casa, an Italian barbecue extravaganza with so much food she must have thought we had 20 children. We might have known because earlier in the week she gave us a pizza lesson that resulted in 4 large pizzas, also for 20 people. Our favorites were the potato, mozzarella and oregano pizza, and the one with the most flavorful, fresh, cherry tomatoes. She told us to have the leftovers for breakfast and we did.

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pizzamaking

tomatopizza

ricottaandchocolate2

September 19 2015

The “Primadonnas” say goodbye to Oddur at the train station in Terni and we head to Rome where we will catch a direct flight to France. I am comfortably back in my own kitchen that same afternoon, cooking for 4 girls who are hungry from the trip. Well not so much cooking as sandwich making. The next two days are spent being entertained / frightened by reports from the “brave team”.
The brave team who are supposed to arrive in France that night get derailed looking for a tailor in Umbria, miss out on a luxury hotel in Provence and due to lack of hotel space end up sleeping in the car in Portofino. I suppose if you have to sleep in the car somewhere you might as well choose the poshest place you can possibly find. They have car trouble near Aix-en-Provence, end up sleeping in a very cool hotel in Arles and due to the delay Gunnhildur has to take a plane from Montpellier rather than Bordeaux to catch her connecting flight to Iceland. Oddur says their car trouble is nothing serious but later Mr. Souslikoff, our resident gentleman car mechanic, tells me that one of the front wheels nearly came off. I guess I have to admit that their travel story would probably be a better read than mine … but mine has better food.
Now, the recipes!

ps Some time after our return to France I got behind the stove and cooked up an Umbrian feast, the recipes I had meant to cook that day when our sense of adventure got the better of us and we went to Orvieto. It was a lovely lunch, and brought back memories of our holiday. Those are the photos you see accompanying the recipes.

For those who are interested, we stayed at a lovely villa near Todi in Umbria which we found through Tuscany Now. A special thanks to the wonderful team, especially Augusta, for the warm hospitality!

umbriansoup2

Imagine being by the fireplace on an Umbrian hill, sipping this comforting and delicious soup, dipping a grilled rustic slice of country bread drizzled with the best olive oil. I love farro and its surprising texture; this soup is a meal on its own. The chili flakes are optional, but with cold weather just around the corner, a little bit of extra heat is most welcome!

Farro Bean Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 ounces finely sliced Prosciutto
1 onion finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
2 small carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14 Ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1 zucchini, diced
100 g/ 3/4 cup green lentils
150 g/ 1 cup farro
A good handful of freshly chopped fresh Basil
Red hot pepper flakes (optional)
Salt & Pepper
To Serve:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil or
Grated Parmesan, to garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and cook the prosciutto for a few minutes. Add the carrot, celery and onion and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini, continue to cook for 2 minutes. Add the can of diced tomatoes. Season with salt & pepper, and half a teaspoon of chilli flakes (optional).
Add the equivalent of 3 to 4 cans of water. Bring to a simmer.
Add the farro and green lentils. Reduce the heat to low, cover and continue to cook for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables, farro and lentils are tender. If the soup is too thick, add more water and season accordingly.
Serve with leaves of basil, grated parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

veal2

Scaloppine alla Perugina

Ingredients

Serves 4

450g/ 1 pound of thinly sliced veal fillet/scaloppine
55 g/ 2 ounces of prosciutto, diced finely
3 salted anchovies, bones removed
1 chicken liver, chopped as finely as possible
2 cloves of garlic, minced
8 sage leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers
The juice and zest of half a lemon
½ glass dry white wine
Plain flour, for dredging
A few sprigs of parsley leaves picked and chopped finely
A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chop the prosciutto, anchovies, chicken liver and sage leaves as finely as possible.
In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil and cook the anchovies, prosciutto, chicken liver and sage leaves for 3 minutes. Add the capers, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir constantly until all the ingredients are combined and soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and leave to reduce for a minute or two. Add a tablespoon of butter and mix well. Set aside and keep warm.

Dust the veal fillets with the flour. In a large pan, heat the olive oil and butter on a high heat. Cook the veal for a minute on each side. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate.
Serve the veal and pour the sauce on top. Scatter parsley leaves on top. Serve with rosemary potatoes.

ricottaandchocolate

This was my favorite dessert of all during my stay in Umbria, served at Pane e Vino in the village of Todi (Via Ciufelli 33, 06059 Todi). Amazing creamy ricotta served with warm chocolate sauce and chunks of orange. I improvised and made my own version, added cream to the ricotta to make it creamier, and added orange zest.

Vanilla ricotta cream with chocolate sauce and orange zest

Serves 4

2 pots ricotta, strained
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
150 g black chocolate (70% cocoa)
Zest of orange

Strain the ricotta though a sieve. In a large bowl, whisk the ricotta, heavy cream and the vanilla beans until thick and creamy with soft peaks.

Melt the chocolate until thick and glossy au bain-marie/ in a bowl over simmering water.

Scrape the zest of the orange.

On a serving plate, place a little nest of cream. Drizzle with the chocolate sauce and sprinkle the orange zest.

WORKSHOPS 2016

plumsminni

Last year, not long before Christmas, after thinking about it for months I finally decided to announce that I’d be hosting workshops in my home in the Médoc. I hesitated, I was ambivalent about it, was it actually a good idea?

9 months later the answer is clear. Yes it was and is a fantastic idea. I had worried about letting people down, I had wondered if our facilities would be good enough. If I would be good enough. I also wondered, to be completely honest, if I would enjoy hosting the workshops and frankly if the people who’d come would all be … as nice as I imagined.

In my last post I mentioned statistics from my restaurant. Well here’s one from my workshops. People who came and weren’t nice. Zero. I know, I can’t believe it myself. But that’s the truth and it makes me incredibly happy. A great number of those who came have written to express their satisfaction, often in very personal letters but here is a comment that warmed my heart, left on the blog by a good man who brought his wife and daughter to the workshop, gave us some good ideas and whose positivity was infectious in every way.

Mimi’s Workshop is one of those experiences you want to tell everyone about, but desperately try not to for fear of never being able to get an opening for a return visit! But, seeing as how she and her family overdelivered on every promise made I want to help them achieve greater success than they have imagined. And, while “being half-French and (she is) uncomfortable talking about money”, I’m American and don’t have a problem broadcasting … this is a bargain! Get it while it lasts! Thank you, Mimi and Oddur, for sharing your talents, family, lifestyle and home with us. You’ve given us a great gift!” Rob Kline, workshop guest June 2015

As I think back to all the wonderful people I’ve met in the past year I get very emotional and nostalgic and there is a part of me that feels that next year’s crop simply won’t be able to compete with this year’s (now I’m talking like a sensitive headmistress on graduation day). But that’s how I felt after every class. Everything was special, each class in it’s own different way. We’ve had big classes, small classes, mixed classes, ladies only. We’ve had experienced cooks and beginners, couples, sisters, old friends and new friends. A lot of wine enthusiasts, newlyweds and one lady who bought a house, adopted one of our puppies and threw a wedding banquet in our restaurant. There’s been lot more tears than I ever could have imagined, mainly tears of joy of course but moments of real tenderness. I’ve had a smashing time.

butcherminni

Now that we are entering the fall months I’ve been thinking about next year, quite a few things are already lining up and I made up my mind this summer that we’ll definitely be doing the workshops again next year. I had planned to announce the dates a bit later but since the start of September I’ve been inundated with emails asking for next year’s dates. I understand that most people attending come from quite far away and trips like that need planning. So I decided to announce early this year and at the end of this post you can find all the dates for next year.

This year’s workshops have all been in the same format. We meet for breakfast, cook lunch together then we tend to take a little break (a big lunch with lots of wine simply calls for it) or have an outing until we start cooking again and have dinner together. And as they say in America, if it ain’t broken why fix it! So we’ll stick to our guns, won’t raise the price (500 euros per day per person all meals and wine included. Which means a three-day class is 1.500 euros per person). I will help people find suitable accommodation in the region (we’re far more experienced now than in the early days – and while I do recommend to people to rent a car so they can explore the region they are by no means obliged to, we will pick them up at the station/airport if that’s needed.
One of the few changes we’re making this year it that I’ve decided not to do any 2-day workshops, it’s simply too short and I feel that we just need 3 days or more. So all the workshops will either be 3 or 4 days.

As I said it’s all been overwhelmingly positive but there is always room for improvement. One thing we will fix this fall and next year is to be more organised in certain areas. A lot of people are interested in photography and while we tried to introduce some photo “lessons” here and there we feel that it’s better to be clear about who wants what. So from now on, if any of you booking a class are particularly interested in photography you should simply mention that when you reserve a space and one of the days we will split up the class, some will cook others will style and shoot. Also, one area that I’ve found people to be extremely interested in is wine and wine tasting (who would have thought ha ha). So next year we have decided to branch out a little and offer more formal wine tasting classes. While we always have great wines (and do a lot of blind tastings anyway with exceptional wines) next year we’ll be doing two workshops that focus even more on wine and exceptional vintages. The price for those needs to be higher so we can go deeper into the cellars of Médoc and unearth some treasures ( a supplement of 500 euros will be added to those classes).

glassesminni

So not to stall any further, here are the dates for 2016:

March

2-4 (3-day class)
9-11 (3-day class)
31-April 3 (4-day class)

April

7-9 (3-day class)
27-30 (4-day class)

May

11-13 (3-day class)
25-28 (4-day class)

June

1-4 (4-day class)
15-17 (3-day class) special wine-tasting class
29 June -July 1 (3-day class)

No classes in July, August

September

27-30 (4-day class)

October

5-7 (3-day class) special wine-tasting class
19-22 (4-day class)

November

2-5 (4-day class)
23-25 (3-day class)

December

6-8 3-day class

Additionally if any of you can get together a group of 6 people I can arrange something outside the published dates for you, if the dates and stars align.

For all bookings and further information please contact [email protected]

Can’t wait to hear from you! Mimi x

LE PIQUE-NIQUE – A COMIC RELIEF

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Before summer came and went, or more precisely before August came and went there was talk in the little village of a restaurant about to open in the big house in the center of town. Nobody really knew what it would be like or if it was even true, the annoying little dogs that were guarding the gates certainly didn’t seem very inviting. There was no sign over the door saying restaurant or bistrot or even table d’hotes. No backdoor deliveries, no menu on the side of the house. From time to time the habitants of St Yzans would catch a glimpse of that Russian guy working in the only room of the house that touches the street, the one that used to be Madame Ladra’s washroom. One day an old man saw them summon the crew doing demolition work across the street to help them carry a very heavy old butcher’s table into the former washroom and after that another table with eight legs. That one, a young boy remarked, they had put in the big dining room that opens up into the garden. Mainly the villagers just didn’t really think about it or care. Whatever it was it wasn’t going to affect their lives much. And it certainly wouldn’t be worse than those damn dogs.

Then people started coming to the big house, sometimes at lunchtime, sometimes for dinner. They were usually very smartly dressed (some of them too smartly was the general opinion in the town), seemed to have come from afar and they always stayed for hours. Hours! An old lady who has lived in the village all her life even commented. « They must be coming for both lunch and dinner », then she shook her head, not in disapproval but more as to imply that this was all very much out of the local norm. Due to the very unusual acoustics in the crossroads right in front of the house, music could be heard into the streets, even when it was just in the most polite and gentle form of Chet Baker or Billie Holiday. One night they seemed to be hosting a private dinner and everybody sang Happy Birthday. That’s when the local buffoon had enough and made his tri-annual call to the police who ended up reprimanding him more than those at the root of the singing. It should be noted that the other two times he has called the boys in blue in the past year it was because, firstly a pair of 10-year-old boys threatened to shoot him with a stick and secondly because he needed the phone number of a very good exorcist and thought the police might have it.

Other than that, as far as anyone could tell, nothing interesting happened in August and by early September the restaurant that never really was, seemed to wind down as quietly as it had begun. One day the nicely dressed people stopped arriving as suddenly as they had started. In the eyes of the village it was as if the restaurant had never been.

It was all very … St Yzans style.

walking

picnic2

 

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Yes August came and went without as much as a blog post. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever let a calendar month pass by without posting anything. But I won’t make it a habit. The blog may have been quiet, the house may have looked quiet from the outside (well apart from all that birthday singing). Inside things were anything but. I guess the best way to describe it would to say that No 1 rue de Loudenne was like a volcano before it erupts. Nobody notices anything from the outside but all of a sudden the animals start running away. Never have I seen so many dirty dishes, such clammer of silverware. Did you know that the average person in our restaurant used 6 – 7 glasses (none of which goes into the dishwasher) and sometimes much more especially when my husband made them try various wines in differently shaped glasses. Tablecloths were drying on the roof minutes before they were supposed to be used, Miles, the NYC “dude” who assisted me in the kitchen only arrived at midnight on opening night. April, my friend and head waiter disappeared to Barcelona when things heated up (she came back though – thanks girlfriend). My editor Rica took orders, waited tables and organized the place to a fault two days in a row (in impeccable style I might add) while her French chef husband guest starred in the kitchen. Matt, our soon to be next door neighbor, man about town and style editor in NYC did a Negroni night. Some people brought dogs, many brought their kids and one couple even brought a baby bed (not a crib – a BED). I could give you statistics, like bottles of Champagne emptied, duck legs eaten, meringues baked. But instead I’m going to give you the one statistic that means the most to me.

Out of all the guests that came to our restaurant about half asked to come again, even if that meant, in some cases, driving for an hour or much more. Almost every service had a repeat client and there were many more that we simply couldn’t accomodate.
To all of you, thanks for coming, we enjoyed every minute and we’ll be happy to see you all again … someday. Whatever happens this little pop-up restaurant that we poured our hearts into will live forever in our hearts and in the book I am currently finishing.

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makingfigtart

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kids

In the midst of all this excitement we somehow managed to find time and escape St Yzans, albeit only down the road to a nearby Château where we found lodgings for all the wonderful people working with us. Allegra, the assistant I couldn’t live without and of course April and Miles, the odd couple whose cohabitation of a sparsely decorated flat could have made for a reality show that would make any good producer cry.
It was just a little picnic, a break in the middle of everything and there isn’t so much to say about it other than perhaps we needed to get out of the house for a few hours.
Summer means a lot of things to me, peaches and plums, and plum tomatoes. Trips to the beach, sunbathing on the roof, cold rosé and hot summer nights. But I always have one eye on autumn, the mushrooms and pumpkins, apples and pears and those irresistible fall colors. I do, however, always forget that in-between stage, the one that has no other name than late summer or early autumn (although it is neither). It’s the season of the fig. It’s still warm but not quite as warm, sometimes it’s a little windy but not in a bad way, it’s more like a gentle breeze on a movie set that serves no other purpose than to rearrange the clouds so they look better in photos. We still have most of the summer fruits, we are still tanned, we’re already getting a sneak peek or autumn’s offerings.

Right now may be the best time of the year.

ps: We still have a few places available here and there for the fall workshops. This is due to people either cancelling or asking me to transfer their booking to 2016 due to personal circumstances.

Right now we have spots available in the October 4-day workshop, the November 3 and 4-day workshops and the December workshop. These are only very few places so if you are interested I encourage you to act fast 🙂

Here is a link to the post on this blog explaining the workshops.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

eggs

Garlic and shallots deviled eggs
(for 10-12 eggs)

10-12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
2 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
80 ml/ 1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
A dash of piment d’Espellette
A few sprigs of fresh chives, finely chopped
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

When the eggs have cooled, cut each egg in half and scoop out the yolk. Place the hard yolks in a bowl and mash them. Set aside. Add the mayonnaise, crème fraîche, salt and pepper. Mix well until all the ingredients are combined and creamy.

Heat olive oil in a small pan and cook the minced garlic and shallots on a medium heat for 2 minutes. Set aside until cool and add to egg mixture.

Spoon the filling into each halved egg white (you can also use a pastry bag if you wish). Sprinkle each halved egg with piment d’Espellette and fresh chives.

picnicfood

Chorizo and black olives cake

250 g/ 2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
3 eggs
90 ml/ 6 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons crème fraîche
150g/ 1 cup chorizo sausage, diced
100 g/ 2/3 cup pitted black olives
150 g/ 3/4 cup Comté cheese, diced
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped coarsely
1 tablespoon chopped oregano leaves

Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350°F.

In a large bowl, mix sifted flour, salt and baking powder. Break the eggs and place them in the center, pour the olive oil and mix well. Gradually add the crème fraîche, chorizo, olives, cheese, herbs and chopped sun-dried tomatoes.

Pour the batter in a large buttered loaf pan.

Bake 45 min at 180 ° C/ 350°F until golden and cooked through.

audrey

Honey and orange blossom water fresh fig tart

230 g/ 8 ounces puff pastry
10 fresh figs, quartered
80 ml/ 1/3 cup mascarpone cream
250 ml/ 1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
5 tablespoons orange blossom water
4-5 tablespoons honey + extra to drizzle
40 g/ 1/4 cup slivered almonds, slightly roasted

Roll out the pastry in a rectangular shape and fold the borders. Place on a parchment paper covered baking tray. Prick the pastry with a fork.
Place a piece of parchment paper and cover with baking beans. Blind bake for 15 minutes until pastry is golden and puffy. Leave to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mascarpone cream, heavy cream, vanilla beans and honey. When the mixture starts to thickens, add the orange blossom water. Whisk until the cream is thick and dense, as well as easy to spread.

When the pastry is cool, spread the cream all over and arrange the quartered figs. Scatter the roasted slivered almonds and drizzle honey all over.

Food & Wine

bordeauxred

Let’s imagine …

… you are seated in a restaurant or even better, a bistrot. A nice one! You are lunching alone and you order yourself a little “Coupe de Champagne”, just because it’s … Wednesday. It arrives, gloriously cold, joined by the crispiest radishes with the creamiest butter. You sprinkle it with some fleur de sel, take one bite and one sip of Champagne. Heaven! Now the waiter brings the menu. So many good choices but you are leaning towards the classics. An onion soup, a confit de canard (duck confit) and to finish, a crème caramel. Could life possibly be better, at least on a Wednesday. Did I say it was raining? You enjoy looking out the window, at people running between houses glazed with rain, coats over their heads, hailing taxis. From your seat everything looks charming. Soon your choice of wine arrives. A ballon of red Bordeaux (of course), perhaps a nice St Julien. You resisted going for half a bottle, you are after all alone. The soup is so good that it reminds you, in case you have forgotten, why you love French food and when the waiter takes your bowl you wonder if you should order another glass of that delicious wine, by now precious little is left. You resist, it’s a Wednesday you remind yourself. When the confit arrives you have somehow managed to finish that first “ballon de rouge” and how could you possibly resist another, the confit is practically screaming for it. “Tout de suite” the waiter says and while you’re waiting you sample the garlic potatoes. They’re wonderful by the way. Now you go for the duck, wonderful also. A sip of water and, well, where’s that wine? Next time you catch the waiter’s eye you signal him gently and from the corner of your eye you see him whisper something in a junior waiter’s ear and nod in your direction. You feel safe, another bite, another sip of water. Still heaven but now the gods are getting impatient. That’s the last you see of the junior waiter. The phrase “does our waiter still work here” never felt more relevant. Duck is getting cold, half finished. Your mouth feels greasy, the water so very plain – no match for a meaty, fatty duck. How could things possibly go so fast from the sublime to the sensationally unsatisfying. You are itching in your seat, worried that if you take your eyes off the older waiter who seems to be making a point of turning his back at you that the glass will be gone forever. Then he leaves the room. That’s when you give up, finish your meal and try not to let the whole thing affect your mood. Finally the first waiter appears again, his grin slowly erased by your, not at all rude but somewhat firm recalling the wine from oh so long ago. At last the wine arrives but this glass never got to meet the duck, she’s long gone, firmly registered in your food history as a clear case of could have beens and also rans.

Food & Wine!

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The man who loved food

You may recall a post on this blog from last December where I visited Château Ducru Beaucaillou and cooked with the owner Mr. Bruno Borie. That was part one, now it was my turn to impress, to match Bruno’s very impressive New Year’s eve menu. You may also recall that I mentioned Bruno’s belief (and mine) that good food and wine can not easily or perhaps not at all exist without each other. Grilled, juicy meat and … water, I don’t think so. Sole Meunière, drenched in sizzling butter and … water, a crime. Oysters and water, worst of all. When I have Chinese food I like to drink tea or even beer. When I have French or Italian food, wine it is. This makes sense, not only from a gastronomical point of view but also a cultural one. Blanquette de veau and red wine grew up together. When the first ever blanquette was made, the person cooking it knew it would be paired with a simple but satisfying red. Consciously or unconsciously he or she had that in mind when they cooked it. Yellow wine from the Jura region has a special relationship with Comté cheese which is also from Jura. Throw in some fresh walnuts and sparks fly. Or a cold Guinness with Welsh rarebit in an English pub on a chilly autumn day (throw in a steak and kidney pie and even a bag of crisps). Whether it’s an elaborate tasting menu with 8 different wine and food pairings, the Sunday roast or just the Monday stew, I can’t think of a meal that isn’t improved and sometimes even completely reliant on having a glass of wine to dance with. Of course I am exaggerating slightly, in fact I very often skip wine at lunch. One must not be too excessive. Good food can be enjoyed on it’s own but the point I am trying to make is that it is almost always improved by the presence of good wine.

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Which brings me back to Bruno Borie and the lunch we had together earlier in the summer. As I said it was my turn to come up with a menu and after his star performance in December it needed to be good. It also needed to pair really well with wine, and since he was bringing a fine selection from his own vineyards the menu needed to pair well with sensational reds. We have a lot of kale in our garden, an abundance, so I wanted to incorporate that. Bruno is fond of Madeira wine so including that would be a plus. Also, he is very fond of Asian culture and we have often wondered what wines pair best with Asian food or what Asian food pairs best with big Bordeaux. I wasn’t going to cook Chinese food but I though I might lean slightly in that direction, cook food that was flavourful, might please an Asian palate or to be exact my father. Something tasty, meaty, something delicious. I mulled over this menu for 24hrs and the night before our lunch I had finally decided. Kale tartlets (seasonal, healthy and fresh), chicken with mushrooms cooked with Madeira and a beautiful chocolate soufflé that I did for Food & Wine (the magazine) earlier in the year. I love ending a meal with chocolate, a perfect way to spend the last sips of red, one of those unbeatable pairings, red wine and dark chocolate.

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For some reason I had black pig ribs in the fridge. They had caught my eye at the butcher’s (probably because someone else was buying some) and I had bought them “just in case”. I had woken up early and before getting started on my carefully planned menu I decided last minute to throw in the ribs as a bonus dish, and cook them in wine. Other than that I just prepared the ingredients, chilled the Champagne and waited for Bruno to show up so we could start cooking. He brought a selection of his wines (something for every occasion) and very soon after his sleeves were up, the leather apron was on him and he was chopping mushrooms, the other hand still clutching the Champagne. Gaïa had no school that day so she played a big part in the kitchen, “helping” out, messing things up a little but mainly being adorable in photos. Thorir pitched in and before we knew it lunch was served. A little Bordeaux white to go with the tartlets but then on to more serious business. We paired the ribs with a Bruno’s Listrac (Fourcas Dupré) which is lighter than his other wines, perfect for lunch and really worked with the ribs. Then it was onwards and upwards, Croix de Beaucaillou to start with for the chicken, then a Ducru Beaucaillou to finish it and to enjoy with the soufflé. I’m a classicist when it comes to wine I suppose, from white to red, from good to better. I’m not sure if it’s like that everywhere but in France we always save the best for last.

ps. So many of you have sent me requests and reservations for the little restaurant we are opening in August. It’s all coming together now and in a few days I will set up a special email where you can submit reservations. We are still working on the second kitchen (night and day) but it will be ready in days. I can only say I’m excited … and nervous 🙂

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Crispy kale & garlic cream tartlets

(For 6 tartlets)

200 g/ 7 ounces kale
6 bacon rashers,fried and crispy (I used black Bigorre pig rashers)
5 tablespoons of crème fraîche
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg yolk
A pinch of nutmeg powder
230g/ 8 ounces shortcrust pastry
Salt and pepper

Rinse the kale and pat dry.

Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350°F.

Line 6 tartlet pans and prick it with a fork.

In a bowl, mix the cream and add the egg yolk, a pinch of ground nutmeg and crushed garlic. Add salt and pepper and whisk all the ingredients together.

Divide the mixture into the tartlet pans and bake for 8 minutes. Add the kale, drizzle with olive oil and cook for a further 10 minutes or until crispy and pastry is golden.
Season with salt and place a bacon rasher on each tartlet. Serve immediately.

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Braised pork ribs in Bordeaux wine

(serves 6)

Ingredients

1.4 kg/1 (3-lb.) rib pork roast
1 (750 ml) bottle of Bordeaux wine
500 ml/ 2 cups vegetable or meat stock
2 celery stalks, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
2 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and diced
1 bouquet garni (fresh rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley and a bay leaf tied together) + a few extra sprigs of rosemary to scatter on top of meat
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Season the pork ribs with salt & pepper. Heat olive oil in a pan and brown the pork ribs. Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and herbs – continue to cook for 5 minutes.

Add the wine and stock and bring to a simmer over medium heat. At this point, lower the heat, cover and cook for about 3 to 4 hours, until meat is fork-tender.

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Chicken braised in Madeira wine

(serves 6-8)

A dozen chicken legs (or a whole chicken cut in 6-8 pieces + a few extra legs to keep your table happy!)
375 ml/ 1 & 1/2 cups Madeira wine
160 ml/ 2/3 cup stock
450 g/ 1 pound mushrooms, coarsely sliced
1 onion, sliced finely
4 cloves of garlic, minced
A few branches of fresh thyme
Olive oil and unsalted butter for frying
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce
25 g/ approx. 2 tbsp unsalted butter
25 g/ approx. 2 tbsp plain flour

Preheat your oven to 180°C/ 350F. In a large dutch oven/ cast-iron cocotte, heat the olive oil and butter and brown the chicken pieces in batches all over, set aside. Add the onions, garlic and mushrooms and continue to cook for a few minutes. Season with salt & pepper and add the thyme. Return the chicken to the pot and add the madeira wine. bring to a simmer, cover and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook for 40 to 50 minutes.

When ready, remove the chicken from the pot and place pot over a medium heat. In a small bowl, mix the flour and butter until it becomes a smooth paste, then add a few laddles of sauce from the pot to create a thick sauce. Add this sauce to the pot and whisk until the sauce has thickened.

Return the chicken to the pot and give it a gentle stir.

For the crispy kale

(On a parchment paper-lined baking tray, drizzle the sliced kale with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cook in a 150°C/300°F oven for about 20 minutes or until crispy.).

Serve immediately with freshly baked crispy kale

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Black chocolate soufflé (recipe I wrote for Food & Wine magazine April issue 2015)
(Serves 4)

OK, I have to admit, this is the best chocolate soufflé I ever made!

6 eggs, separated
100 g/ 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, to grease the ramekins
200 ml/ 7 ounces milk
160 g/ 6 ounces black chocolate +70% cocoa
2 tablespoons bitter unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F.

Butter the ramekins and sprinkle sugar all over. Place in the freezer until needed.
Melt the chocolate over simmering hot water.
Bring the milk to a simmer, adding the cocoa powder stirring constantly with a whisk, then pour on the melted chocolate and continue to stir.
Incorporate the egg yolks to the mixture, stirring constantly.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff, adding the sugar during the process and fold in to the mixture.
Spoon into 4 individual soufflé dishes and cook in a preheated for 15 minutes or until risen. Serve immediately.

MEMORIES OF MILANO

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Trattoria Masuelli

“Don’t eat so much” my husband said as I greedily devoured my third mozzarella di bufala bruschetta. “I can’t, it’s too good” I said, part of me slightly angry at his impudent comment, part of me completely agreeing with him, we were after all going to a big dinner at what my husband had promised would be an amazing restaurant. So I resisted my fourth, finished the Barolo and we went looking for a taxi. As I was leaving my table I kept looking at that last bruschetta, the mozzarella so beautiful, glistening with olive oil. I wonder what happened to you my little beauty, I’d like to think the sad-looking lady who had finished her plate but politely declined the bruschetta when I offered it to her, cheekily grabbed it when we were out of sight. In fact I’m sure she did, it was after all irresistible.
I was still hungry in the taxi, upset about the mozzarella, worried that what would come next wouldn’t measure up. As the taxi ride grew longer my patience grew shorter. My husband could sense that. “It’s about two minutes now according to the map” he said. Unfortunately for him the driver spoke good English. “No no, it’s about quarter of an hour … or more, depending on traffic”. The look on Oddur’s face: worried. Our first night in Milano, a weekend escape. Hundreds of amazing restaurants to choose from – and a difficult lady to please. The stakes were as high as they get in our little culinary club of two – the one who chooses the restaurant gets the glory, or the blame. The uncertainty didn’t last long though, as soon as I spotted the restaurant from my window I knew I’d like it, Oddur knew it too. We walked in where rows of empty tables greeted us. It didn’t matter. We know enough about restaurants to understand that we’d be OK. This restaurant could be spectacular, it could be great but it would never be worse than good.
They seated us in a little room with three tables. Four elderly people were sitting at one of them, the men wore suits, they were having Prosecco and antipasti. The ladies had big glasses and bigger hair. Whenever I see people like that at a restaurant I know I’m probably in the right place, these people seemed to have been coming here for years, they seemed to love the food. Hip and trendy eateries can be great fun, new places with inventive cuisine and conceptualised décor can be so good, but 90 years of history is hard to beat. Especially in Milano. We started with incredible lard and the creamiest mashed potatoes, we had home-made yellowtail fish ravioli with fish stock and fresh thyme, and costoletta alla Milanese. The obligatory risotto alla Milanese and mascarpone cream. The big room at the front filled up quietly with a large group of Sicilians and somehow we ended up talking to them all. When they found out I was cooking at the food festival the following Sunday they all stood up and applauded. It was magic, Italian magic.

A short note from my husband:

I agree with everything my wife has just said but have to apologize that there is no photographic record of our visit apart from a few snaps on Instagram. That night I had no camera. Having said that I have no regrets either. Henri Cartier-Bresson once said that taking pictures without a camera is just as good. I couldn’t agree more. That night I took plenty, for myself. Some of them were of food. Some were of the room. Most of them were of my wife.

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A good Frenda in Milano

So what were we doing in the Italian capital of fashion? I had been invited by my good friend Angela Frenda, the food editor of Corriere della Sera, to cook at the very fun, very stylish food festival, Cibo a Regola d’Arte. We arrived on a Friday afternoon, lugged our suitcases through the cobbled streets of Milan, sipped coffee in at least 4 different places before we ended up in our hotel. It was Audrey’s first trip abroad and her favorite thing was the carpet in the hotel room and the very curious minibar. The rest of it, for her, was just like home. You already know what we did our first night out but our second meal, discounting a very forgettable hotel breakfast, was at one of our favorite spots, Antica Trattoria della Pesa, a place we always visit for the local standards, Costoletta Milanese, Osso bucco, Risotto Milanese, Vitello tonnato etc. Oddur spilled his wine and blamed Audrey, even faked photographic evidence to support his story (she was sitting on my lap when he dropped his glass). I left him photographing the rooms and rushed off to a hairdresser I had found in a nearby street. I always do my own hair but I thought – when in Milan … I asked for simple but I got glamorous! When I reappeared on the streets of Milan I felt like a contestant in Miss World, albeit 20 years too late. I guess big hair is big in Italy.
That night Angela was celebrating the publication of her cookbook “Racconti di Cuccina”, a wonderful book, filled with deliciousness – if any of you speak Italian don’t even think twice, order it now. The great Sicilian chef, Filippo la Mantia threw her a party that night and while everything tasted great the standout for me was his own take on the Sicilian classic with aubergine caponata … All that glorious food was wonderful but on a personal note the real standout of the evening was the person seated next to me, the great Rosita Missoni. My first ever dress was a Missoni, I was wearing a Missoni dress the night I met my husband and thankfully that night in Milan when I met her I was wearing my favorite Missoni skirt … sometimes the stars align. #myfashionicon

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Our second breakfast was far more memorable than the first, following a tip from the girls at “Milano Secrets” @milanosecrets we braved our concierge’s declaration of “impossiblile” (he was talking about the congested streets filled with marathon runners) to get a taxi and head to Pasticceria Marchesi for coffee. Our taxi driver was much more optimistic “cinque minuti” he said. Cinque turned out to be Italian for 40 minutes but the coffee was well worth it. It was exactly the sort of place I love to find in Italian cities, old-fashioned décor and as it turned out, old-fashioned clientèle. We met and fell in love with a bunch of guys, Aldo, Michael, Francesco … who come here every day for morning cocktails! MORNING COCKTAILS!!! The most surprising thing about them was not their charm, not their sense of dressing but the fact that they were fans of my blog Manger. I was humbled.

That night it was my turn to dazzle the crowds. Or at worst avoid humiliating myself. I chose something simple and fast, pan-fried scallops. The gods of Italy decided to play a little trick on me and the equipment, which didn’t work, but I think I pulled it off, at least no one complained. Afterwards I enjoyed watching Massimo Bottura, one of the most respected chefs in Italy, make his famed tortellinis. I even got to eat a whole plate. Delicious. One of the great pleasures of that evening was to discover that my cookbook “A Kitchen in France” had already been translated into Italian. It’s called “La Mia Cucina in Campagna” and I love it!

The last scene of this trip takes place at an airport, Oddur and I, overweight as always, trying to rearrange our suitcases and debating what to keep. We had kept our cool in the fashion meccas but totally lost it in all the food stores. Suitcases were filled with everything from various pastas to biscotti, to anchovies (they leaked), to a bottle of red wine with a little bird on it (It’s called I Sodi di San Niccolo – I chose it because of the label and it turned out to be one of the best Italian wines I’ve ever had – so much for not judging a book by it’s cover). We stopped short of eating out of our suitcases to lighten the load but we came close.

Ciao Italia, we’ll be back soon!

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When I think of Italian cooking, hundreds of flavors and foods come to mind. And when I try to shorten the list it’s impossible. There are just too many good things I associate with Italy. But if I had to pick, if I had to make a very short list lemons would be on it and zucchini flowers would be on it too. Memories of holidays on the Amalfi coast are filled with lemon trees, lemon-infused fish and delizia al limone. Zucchini flowers have pleased my eyes and pleased my palate more times than I can possibly remember. So beautiful on market tables, so pleasurable on a restaurant table. I’ve fried them in rented villas in Toscana and Marche, enjoyed them on the balconies of impossibly charming hotels in Ravello and Rome. Strangely enough I’ve never really made them at home in France. What happens on tour stays on tour! But luckily for me, Allegra my wonderful kitchen assistant has her own recipe with anchovies and proper mozzarella that is just divine. She had been visiting her family in Pescara (for her mother’s birthday – good Italian girl) and brought back a suitcase full of goodies herself. A couple of Sundays ago we made a feast of it all, picked fresh zucchini flowers from our garden, had Italian wine, and finished with Passito di Pantelleria and biscotti (the ones we didn’t eat at the airport).
Talking of Lemons, a few weeks ago I came up with this recipe for lemon & saffron ice-cream as a part of my monthly contribution to French ELLE. I loved it so much that I have made it for every workshop since and I’ve been dying to share it with all of you. Now that the ice cream is out in ELLE I am finally at liberty to post it her and I am doing so with pleasure.
There are only so many things in life a girl can count on.
This ice cream is one of them!

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And finally on a practical note:

This blog, my beloved Manger, has unfortunately been suffering from too many other activities. Is that the beginning of the end someone might ask?
The answer to that is no. I am currently redesigning the blog (a very cautious redesign) so that in the very near future we’ll have an updated version. I am going to keep it very minimal, with big posts like this one at least once a month. But I feel it’s important to post more regularly so we’ll introduce new sections and, from time to time, new contributors who will make sure we have fresh content at least twice a week. I am excited about this and I hope you are too 🙂

Regarding the workshops, we’ve had so much fun since March and though we are technically fully booked throughout the year I have decided to add a few places to the groups as we now have more room and bigger space. We recently had a group of 9 that was so wonderful it has inspired me to be more flexible in numbers. So if any of you are interested to join the fall classes don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected]

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Allegra’s Zucchini flower fritters stuffed with mozzarella & anchovies
(for 10 flowers approx.)

Approx. 10 zucchini flowers
300 g/ 2 & 1/2 cups plain flour
125 ml/ 1/2 cup of ice-cold beer to make a sticky thick batter – not too liquid, not too thick – it should coat the zucchini flower).
1 ball of mozzarella cheese
10 good-quality anchovies

Sift the flour and salt together in a bowl. Whisk in the beer until combined and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.
Gently open each zucchini flower and remove the stamen. Wash gently and pat dry with a paper towel.
Stuff each flower with 1 anchovy (or half, depending on the size of the flower) and a piece of mozzarella; dip the flowers in the batter and fry them in hot olive oil. Drain on kitchen paper , season with salt and serve immediately.

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So creamy, you’ll be chuffed.

Lemon & saffron ice-cream

(no ice-cream maker needed)

(serves 4-6)

Preparation: 10 minutes
Freezing time 6 to 8 hours

300ml/1 & 1/4 cup whipping cream
250g/2 & 1/2 cups icing sugar
80 ml/ 1/3 cup of fresh lemon juice
Zest of 3 lemons, organic
1/2 teaspoon saffron, diluted in a few drops of hot water

In a bowl, mix the icing sugar, saffron and lemon juice. The mixture should be smooth.
Grate the zest of 3 lemons.
In another bowl whisk the cream with an electric mixer until it thickens. Add the mix icing sugar / lemon / saffron and zest and continue to whip – the cream should be thick and fluffy.
Pour the cream into a freezer-proof container and cool in the freezer for at least 6 to 8 hours.

With Angela Frenda, Rosita Missoni and Massimo Bottura.

With Angela Frenda, Rosita Missoni and Massimo Bottura.

Oh So Quiet in Saint Yzans

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Theory of relativity

To most people, describing my kitchen as a quiet place would seem a stretch. If you’d walk through the door on any given day of the year you would most likely find me hovering over my pots and pans, often in an excited manner. You’d probaly notice some dogs on the floor or, in Jeanie’s case, on a chair. There would be a number of children plying their trade and by plying their trade I mean causing some trouble, to each other, to me, to themselves. There would be music, most likely some jazz, a crooner or if it was Friday and I had control of the “Bose” some decadent 80’s music. That’s when my husband would walk in and lower the volume slightly then complain why everything wasn’t as perfect looking as it is in his photos. He would scan the room for plastic objects (plastic is his enemy) and without being told, the (sensible) children would make them disappear. At some point I might get defensive about my messiness and point to the dog hair on the floor. Then he would get defensive and without really saying it he would make it clear that the dogs, well are the dogs and are immune to prosecution. I am in a constant state of bemusement at how a man so affected by the visuals around him is so tolerant of creatures so utterly incapable of sustaining those visuals. My only answer: we are all a muddle of contradictions and my husband is no exception. At some point someone would cry and someone would quickly say “it’s not my fault”. There might be an unexpected visitor popping through the back door, Sasha our Russian builder giving us an update or Monsieur Teyssier bringing flowers. All in all not quiet at all. But that’s where relativity comes into the picture. Not quiet but quiet COMPARED to the last few weeks of back to back workshops. Quiet compared to the night we had five extraordinary Mexican ladies enjoying a civilized scallops and cauliflower mash dinner in the green room while in the kitchen a band of brothers, Matt & Oskar (see the meatball challenge), Dewey Nicks, his assistant Henry, Oskar’s assistant Wilfried, Oddur and Tim our musician/gardener grilled every meat known to man and later, I am told, burst into song. And that‘s not to mention the children or my wonderful mother-in-law Johanna ghosting around, picking the best of everything. After nights like that. After weeks like that. Going back to just being a big family with lots of dogs feels oh so quiet and oh so good.

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Of aging fruits and vegetables

And what have I done with this quiet time. Lots of walks and drives around our new neighborhood. A time to test our new car monster (confession here – I don’t drive… umm, I don’t know how to drive, it’s a long story), a Land Rover Defender posturing as a Hummer with a dubious past in the desserts of Africa. The vineyards are all springing to life, the roses are coming out. Tim is advancing in the garden and we’re having spinach and kale every day. But a side-effect of having a kitchen go “quiet” is all the food that’s left and needs cooking … urgently! The stacks of asparagus and artichokes, apples and fava beans and chard. We always have generous piles of food but lately they’ve grown into mountains. A whole gang of senior citizens reminding me every day of their worth. “We’re not going gently”, “we’re not going gently into that good night” they’ve been buzzing in my ear. And I listened and I cooked them all. The aging apples ended up in a sauce paired with pork chops, the asparagus was served as soup. Many artichokes took to the stage disguised as a risotto. And the chard, this time the chard was the hero, the leading man. Last week-end I made some potato and chard galettes, we’ve used it for my next ELLE recipes (I contribute every month for French ELLE, it’s called ‘Fiches Cuisine‘) but since Easter (and yes I know I am late sharing this recipe) I’ve made this Italian Easter tart from a recipe by the ever-inspiring Angela Frenda (she’s the superb food editor-in-chief for the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera) at least twice a week. We’ve done if for the workshops, I’ve done it in my spare time, along with an Artichoke soufflé I can’t think of a more perfect spring lunch. Talking of spring, it always warms my heart to go to a market and see fresh strawberries at this time of the year. At first they come from foreign lands but then the day arrives where the sign next to them says FRANCE and a few days or weeks later I don’t even need a sign because the lady selling them is my neighbor and I know she has the finest strawberries I’ve ever tasted. Of course fresh strawberries taste best just like that, how they were born, maybe with a little cream. But after a little while one gets more creative and voilà, an ice cream is born.

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You can’t win’em all.

Today is a special day, my husband’s birthday. We’ve had 4 children together in 10 years and altogether we have 7 between us. I think that’s a decent crop, I’m happy with it and I’m done. I’m sooo done! But yesterday my mother-in-law dug an old photograph out of her suitcase, it’s her grandparents, Ingveldur and Olafur, and their 10 children. Some people say that my husband, Oddur, inherited a few of his great-grandfather’s looks and character. I can see that, up to a point. The cheekbones, the encyclopedic memory, the fondness for making children. The hairstyle, not so much!

My darling I just want to say this. Happy birthday, I love you. Some records are not meant to be broken.

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Chard & egg pie/ Torta Pasqualina

This delicious pie is adapted from Angela Frenda, the food editor-in-chief at Corriere della Sera. It’s a typical Italian Easter pie, some call it the Easter cake. There are many variations of this recipe, but I fell in love with Angela’s version. Here’s a plus, you can even see her make it here. Isn’t she lovely?

Ingredients:

350 g/ 12 ounces Swiss chard/blette
150 g/ 1/3 pound Ricotta cheese
50 g/ 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
20 g/ 1/4 cup Pecorino cheese
2 puff pastry sheets, 230 g/ 8 ounces each
5 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the chard and cook in a pot of salted boiling water for about 8 minutes. Drain and squeeze out all the water, as much as possible (this is very important or the pie will be soggy). Chop into strips.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, one egg, Parmesan and Pecorino cheese. Add the chard and mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper.

Line a rectangular baking/cake pan with the pastry sheet. Prick the base a few times with a fork and fill with the chard mixture .

With the help of a spoon, lightly dig 3 small holes so you can crack an egg in each one. Cover the pie with the second pastry sheet and seal the edges with the eggwash. The eggs will cook in the oven and set beautifully.

Brush the surface with the egg wash. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F for about 40 to 50 minutes.

strawberryicecream2

Strawberry ice-cream

Even though I have an ice-cream maker, I love the simplicity of making a quick and easy ice-cream, no churning needed – all you need is a bit of time in the freezer. I have recently started to experiment lots of different recipes (getting ready for summer), and the results have been marvellous. Ice-cream forever! ps: you can leave little chunks of strawberries if you wish, but I prefer without, it gives a creamier ice-cream)

350 ml/ 1 & 1/2 sweetened condensed milk/lait concentré sucré
240 ml/ 1 cup heavy cream/ crème entière
400 g/ 2 cups strawberries, hulled
50 g/ 1/2 cup confectionner’s sugar, sifted

Place the strawberries in the food processor and blend till smooth.

Whisk the cream until light and fluffy. Pour the condensed milk and strawberries. Add the confectionner’s sugar and mix well.

Pour the mixture into a glass container, cover with a lid and place in the freezer for at least 6 to 8 hours.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

CAST & CHARACTERS – THE GOOD TIME GIRLS

cabbage&endives

Sometimes the man … is a woman

On Wednesday March 13th, a beautiful, sunny early spring day in Médoc, Mr. Carter Inskeep and his associate, Hannah Barry, pulled their white BMW into the driveway at Château Ormes de Pez in St Estèphe. Records show that later that afternoon they shared a bottle of the 2000 Ormes de Pez, an excellent year for Bordeaux wines, and later headed out for dinner where they shared another bottle of Ormes de Pez, albeit from a slightly lesser vintage. The same evening Frau Sabine Simmross of Brussels and her associate Ms Kamiye Furuta arrived at the same destination though records fail to show what bottle of wine, if any, they enjoyed that evening. Earlier in the day, the Norvegian photographer and celebrated instagrammer, Ms Marte Marie Forsberg and her mother Yvonne had narrowly missed, due to extensive security measures, their plane to Bordeaux and were forced to find an alternate route which they found via Limoges by air and to Bordeaux by train later that evening. Mr. Tim J. Steer, the ever pleasant musician/gardener/jack of all trades at “Château Mimi” in St Yzans was already at the airport to greet them when news of this unfortunate occurence reached him. Like all good Englishmen he took this news on the chin and records show that upon his return to Chateau Mimi in St Yzans he had a cold, refreshing beer.
The following day at precisely 8.59 AM Mr. Carter Inskeep and Hannah Barry knocked on the door of 1 rue de Loudenne (sometimes lovingly referred to as Château Mimi), having managed to find their way through the army of dogs who were (badly) guarding the rusty gates. They were soon followed by Sabine Simmross and Kamiye Furuta who despite the general tendencies of their respective nations were a few minutes late. Some 15 minutes later Marte Marie Forsberg and her mother joined the group from their temporary residence down the road, sometimes referred to as the “Three Sisters”. The diary of the Château shows that the group had breakfast together and then proceeded to make a walnut cake recently featured on “Manger”, the Château’s blog, under the headline “Mothers & Daugthers”. The group then proceeded to make 3 stuffed cabbage tarts and while they all tasted equally delicious the workshop log indicates that the clear winner in terms of beauty was the one made by the “American team”. This judgement was not necessarily accepted by the Norwegian team although there is no record of a formal protest. The Château logs go on to recount a dozen other recipes cooked and eaten, a generous amount of coffees and teas and what can only be considered as an indecent quantity of wine bottles consumed, at least five of which were Champagne. The records note that everyone had a really good time.
Though there is nothing in the Château’s records that suggests this it is worth mentioning that Mr. Carter Inskeep is a woman in her mid-twenties.

mimilaughing

Carter, Marie and I.

 

tim&annie

Anne & Tim.

 

mimi&oddur

Oddur and me.

 

puppies

Hannah and Carter… with all the fox-terrier puppies.

 

savoycabbage

Yvonne and Marie.

 

chickenmarengo

Sabine and Kamiye.

 

Virtual / Reality

As I am writing this two workshops have come and gone. Ten extraordinary women have graced my kitchen, we have spent countless hours cooking and eating together, stories have been told, laughs have been shared … wine has been drunk. Tears have even been shed … on more than one occasion (which is why my husband refers to these proceedings as the “Jerry Maguire workshops”. It is safe to say that my expectations for these workshops (though pretty high) have been far exceeded and I’m happy to report that this seems to be the general consensus amongst the ten ladies. Writing a blog, a book, sharing my life online is a pleasure and a privilege but it can never, ever come close to meeting people in person. I wasn’t familiar with any of the 10 women before they came, except Marte Marie Forsberg, we have corresponded before and are familiar with the curated version of each other’s life on Instagram. She does take beautiful photos (she took the portrait of me and Oddur) and I could feel, through her IG account some of her personality but while she refers lovingly to her mother in her virtual world the relationship they share outside of it seems even closer, her mother even lovelier. I guess what I am saying is that while seeing what a friend is having for breakfast in Buenos Aires can be quite wonderful and interesting, having them at my table, sharing a bottle of Champagne while peeling onions is far better. During these workshops we share long lunches every day and even longer dinners. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to meet people I would never have met, to invite into my home fellow gourmands and lovers of France. During a long dinner Hannah and Carter asked my husband if we had any screening process, if there were background checks. His answer was that our intelligence was so bad that we thought they, or at least one of them was a man. He then added (he retold this to me) that we were fairly confident that we could easily throw out anyone too weird, whether by that he was referring to his own muscles or the considerably larger muscles of Sasha, our Russian “maçon”. My answer would have been that I don’t expect to ever have to throw anyone out, I expect the good rather than the bad, I try to write earnestly, I put my heart and soul into my cooking and I expect my blog to attract mostly like-minded people.
When I announced the workshops I mentioned that the doors would soon be open … and now they are, open wide!

truffles&favas

Fresh black truffles and fava beans.

 

champagne

pigeons

Photo diary of a workshop

The photos you see were all taken during the first workshop and I hoped to have them published before the second one. But time is a tough opponent and got the better of me as he often does. In fact we had no special plans to do a blog post about a workshop, many of the recipes we cooked have already been shared on the blog or in the book, the stuffed cabbage, the pigeon tart, the chocolate meringues, the strawberries in mascarpone and wine. But the chemistry was just so great, the opportunity was there so Oddur went ahead and shot some of it to share on “Manger”. He also had a lot of fun dragging the ladies around the house (some into the dark and cold cellar), making them pose with vegetables, wine and puppies. It felt appropriate that workshops born out of a blog should end up there for all of you to share our first experiences … until, that is, you can come in person!
And to make it all a little tastier for you I am sharing two recipes from our workshops, both very light and simple and easy to make. One of them is the simplest little tart but one that looks a little fancy, like a flower on a plate, perfect for an unexpected guest that shows up in the morning but lingers on for lunch. The other recipe is inspired from my lunch with Alain Ducasse and Kevin, the founder of Instagram (another example of technology bringing people together). At that lunch we had incredible food but somehow the thing I liked best was this little vegetable cocotte with quinoa and truffle shavings.

Bon Appetit!

hannah

workshop

candles

ladies

cabbagetable

Recipes

Endives tartlets

These little wonders look like a bunch of country roses, I love the bitter taste of the endive caramelized with butter and sugar. They work perfectly well with a shallot vinaigrette and the best part… it takes a couple of minutes to prepare!

For 7 to 8 tartlets

Ingredients:
4 to 5 endives
230 g/8 ounces puff pastry
Icing/ confectioner’s sugar
1 generous teaspoon of butter per tartlet

For the vinaigrette:
1 small shallot
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F

Roll out the puff pastry and cut out 6 to 8 circles to fit the tartlet pans.
Cut the tip off the endives.
Sprinkle generously icing sugar on the tartlet pans and place the butter in the center. Sprinkle a bit more sugar.
Slice approx. 2cm/1 inch to 1 and a half-inch of endive and place on top of the butter. Place the puff pastry on top and tuck on the sides of the endives so it is covered entirely.

Bake the tartlets in the preheated oven for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.

Turn the tartlets upside down and serve with a shallot vinaigrette and shaved parmesan.

vegetablecocotte

Vegetable stew with red quinoa and shaved truffles

This recipe is inspired from a wonderful vegetable stew I had a few weeks ago when I was invited to a lovely lunch wit Alain Ducasse. He served this as a starter and shaved a few slices of fresh truffles on top. I was in heaven. This recipe can be improvised and you can use just about any seasonal vegetable.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
5 ounces/150 g bacon/poitrine, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
100 g peeled & shelled fava beans
8 slices of savoy cabbage, sliced
250 ml/ 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
A handful of red quinoa, rinsed

Peel and cut all the vegetables into small chunks. Cut the bacon into matchsticks. Heat the olive oil in a cocotte and sauté the bacon until golden, add the onion, garlic then the rest of the vegetables for 5 minutes on a medium heat. Add the vegetable or chicken stock, add the quinoa grains and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid on a low heat and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables and quinoa grains are tender yet slightly crunchy. Stir in the butter and serve with a few slices on shaved truffles on top (optional).

magnolia

Mothers & Daughters

girls

This is my husband’s annual blogpost, enjoy! Mimi x

My grandfather was an austere man who earned his PhD in economics in Germany, dragged my German grandmother kicking and screaming back to Iceland and started a family. Later he served as Iceland’s ambassador to the Soviet Union and finally retired back in Reykjavík where he presided over a very formal household. He wore a suit every day and enjoyed a three-course lunch prepared by my grandmother. In the evenings he swapped the suit jacket for a cardigan but kept the tie and had a more relaxed supper in his office, assortments of breads and condiments, usually washed down with a cocktail. He was always served first, when he spoke others listened. As a child I had lunch with my grandparents three times a week and before I could sit down to face my grandfather, my grandmother made me wash my face and hands and combed my hair. When I had friends with me she did the same to them. One of them had golden, wavy hair, he was my grandmother’s favorite. Now he is bald. Such is life. In the evenings, when they were having their supper in the “office” my grandmother liked to talk. She really loved to talk. But when my grandfather had enough he simply said, “Lottí mín, that’s enough”. She didn’t mind, by all accounts they had a very good marriage, based not on equality but mutual respect for each other and each other’s domains. My grandfather never questioned my grandmothers running of the house, the first time he entered the kitchen was when my grandmother was in hospital. That’s the same day he found out washing dirty plates works better with hot water than cold. He was an economist not a physicist.

spinachballs&walnutcake

dancing

spinachballs&quails

This is the world my father grew up in and after law school, after finding a girl to marry he too took his seat at the head of the table. My mother, having finished university herself had other ideas. My father kept his seat but the privileges were gone. As a modern man he accepted that, if somewhat reluctantly. At Christmas he’d sit down and open a bottle of red wine (probably Chateauneuf du Pape – strangely the only red wine I heard anyone speak of in Iceland in my youth) only to be called back into the kitchen to help with the ptarmigan sauce. He usually returned slightly pissed off, but he understood. The days of his father were gone. My parents both worked hard and often my father came home with a hopeful look on his face and inquired what was for dinner. “Nothing” was sometimes the answer, if my mother had a big lunch at work. I would be the smug kid sitting behind her, scoffing down sausages and Heinz spaghetti with tomato sauce she had prepared just for me.

I understood then and I understand even better now my father’s frustration at the changing of the ways. His childhood hadn’t prepared him for it, nobody had taught him how to be anything than the head of his future household. I’d say he coped more or less pretty well. More or less. As for me I’ve never had any excuses to treat women as anything other than equals and I haven’t, at least not in any meaningful way. Jerk as I may be that’s one area where I got it right. I thank my parents for that, both of them.

vegetablesinabox

plum&mia

quail

In my early twenties I had the theatre experience of my life. Two plays by Anton Chekhov, one after the other in a double feature extravaganza. I went alone, can’t remember why. The room was small and the stage split the audience in two, stretched across the room. The cast sat on stage the entire evening, dressed in white linens, sipping tea and complaining, I loved it. This was at the Reykjavík city theatre, an uncharming, modern (not anymore) building connected to a shopping mall. At the interval I had a meal by myself at Hard Rock Café in the mall. It felt all wrong, I wanted to be in white linens, complaining, not sipping a chocolate milk shake with a burger. I had always loved dinner parties, always loved restaurants. That was the evening that made me understand how much I love the table.

quails&balls

cooking

daffodils2

My grandfather ruled the table. My mother’s quest for independence and equal rights made us take a break from it, briefly. Perhaps that was necessary. Now we are back at the table but this time there is no boss.
Every night we come together as a family and have a big meal. The food is always great, the atmosphere often. It’s where we talk to our children, plan the days ahead. Where I try, not always successfully to teach them some manners (Gaia, when you learn to read and see this I want you to know that I am talking about you!).

My wife is an astonishing cook. That’s why she cooks and I clean. But that was last years topic.
Last year Mimi asked me to cook for the blog. This year I offered. I figured she could use a hand. We had no plans, it would probably be Italian since that’s what I always cook. I chose two dishes that I love, one from my favorite restaurant in Iceland, one from last year when Mimi was in the clinic with Audrey and I was feeding the family. I don’t bake. I like to say that I prefer savory things but lack of talent comes into it too. On my own I would resort to cheeses, some biscotti with sweet wine. But my wife came to the rescue with a “smashing” (she talks like that) walnut cake, aimed straight at my heart.

I used to work in advertising. I know how to stage things. I got tired of it. Casting a girl for a cornflakes ad, finding her a husband, getting them kids. Shooting them having a “moment” when everybody just wants to get paid and go home.
I love to improvise, working without a script. The food is on the table, the “cast” is there, unpaid and badly behaved. Something will always catch my attention, an onion, a puppy, a nicely lit room. This time my lens turned towards my wife and girls, they were just too adorable, especially when they were ignoring my commands. I think the images speak for themselves.

Mothers and daughters.

quails&dogs

mimikitchen

daffodils

spinachballs

My favorite restaurant in Iceland was called La Primavera. Outside Italy and possibly New York, the best Italian food I’ve ever had. I went there a lot. A lot. The owner/chef, Leifur Kolbeinsson has moved on and opened a new restaurant in Reykjavík concert hall where he still cooks amazing food. These balls are from the La Primavera cookbook that I used to own. I hadn’t made them in a while and called Leifur this week to brush up on the recipe. He says hi! (As I was making them Mimi insisted I use more spinach than I intended, otherwise they would be too “bready”. She was right, made this way they are delicious.)

Spinach & gorgonzola balls
(for 8 balls)

750 g/ 1 & 2/3 pounds frozen spinach (about 1 pack)
2 small slices of stale bread
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon plain flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
8 teaspoons gorgonzola cheese
Parmesan cheese, grated/to serve
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the butter sage sauce
A large handful of sage leaves
80 g unsalted butter
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Steam the spinach until soft and drain. Squeeze out the excess water (very important otherwise the balls will be watery), and chop as finely as possible. Place 2 small slices of stale bread in the food processor and pulse until you get fine breadcrumbs. In a large bowl (or you can mix everything in the food processor, just pulse lightly) combine spinach, breadcrumbs, milk, nutmeg, flour, salt & pepper and mix until well blended. Roll out approximately 8 walnut-sized balls. While shaping the balls, insert a small teaspoon of gorgonzola inside and reshape.

Heat a large saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil. Cook the spinach balls for 8 minutes and drain.

While the spinach balls are cooking, prepare the sage butter sauce.

In a large pan, melt the butter on a medium heat. When the butter starts to sizzle, wat until it turns light golden brown, then lower the heat and add the sage leaves. Season with salt & pepper, and shake the pan for about 30 seconds.

Drizzle the sage butter sauce on top of the spinach ball. Grate parmesan on top before serving.

quails

Last May, when Mimi was in the clinic with Audrey I felt compelled to keep up her cooking and tried my best to ease the pain of “mommy” not being there. These quails were a hit and I’ve made a version of them a few times since. I love sage and I love quails and the original recipe came from my googling around the internet finding a way to cook them together.

Quails with white wine & herbs
(serves 4-6)

8 quails
8 slices pancetta
4 cloves of garlic, halved
8 sage leaves
A few sprigs of rosemary
240 ml/ 1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Season the quails inside and out. Stuff the quails with pancetta/sage/half garlic clove/sage leaves. Season with salt & pepper.
In a large dutch-iron pot, melt the butter & olive oil on a medium heat. Brown the quails on all sides until golden. Add the sprigs of rosemary, pour the wine and reduce to 3/4. Cover the pan, lower the heat and continue to cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the quails are cooked through and tender.

walnutcake

Gâteau aux noix/ Walnut cake

150 g/ 1 cup walnuts, chopped finely + at least 5 walnuts halves for decorating the cake (you’ll need a dash of icing sugar & honey)
3 tablespoons dark rum
80 g/ 1/3 cup unsalted butter
130 g/ 2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
40 g/ 1/3 cup plain flour, sifted
30 g/ 1/4 cup cornstarch (maïzana)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
A pinch of fine salt

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F

Chop walnuts finely – you can also place walnuts in a food processor and pulse until you get coarse crumbs. In a large bowl, combine sugar, walnuts, and mix well. Add the butter, honey, eggs and rum. Add a pinch of salt and vanilla extract.
In another bowl, combine sifted flour, cornstarch and 1 teaspoon baking powder. Mix well.
Fold in dry ingredients into walnut mixture. Line your baking mould with butter and pour the batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes (you can test-knife and check – if it comes out clean it’s ready). Sprinkle a dash of icing/confectioner’s sugar in a frying pan and sauté the walnuts on a medium to low heat for a few seconds until slightly golden. Spread with a little honey and place on cake (see photos).
Serve with whipped cream (optional).

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