Last week in America


Where do I begin

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




Virtual friends, old friends and mixed fortunes

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





The trip in Food

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

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

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



The French Connection

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

Outside Reynard at Wythe hotel

Outside Reynard at Wythe hotel




Regrets I have a few

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

Craig Robinson, Brooklyn

Craig Robinson, Brooklyn



Back home

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

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


Estela style Endive salad (courtesy of Pam Krauss) 

(serves 4)

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

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


Lobster roll

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

(serves 6)

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

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

Pain au lait - milk buns

For the pain au lait buns

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

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

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

To serve

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Town & Country


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




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






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




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




Celeriac velouté
serves 4

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Blood orange chocolate tartlets

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

For the crust 

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

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

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

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

For the meringue topping

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

Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350°C

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

Gaïa goes to town, twice


Last Friday at lunchtime I was seated at a little bistro in Bordeaux. We had reserved a table for three but so far it was only me and Gaïa (that is if you’re not counting Humfri our smooth fox terrier). Half an hour later the situation hadn’t changed, the waiters and some of the other diners were starting to cast sympathetic glances towards my table, encouraging little smiles. I knew I was in trouble when the owner came over and offered me a glass of champagne – that’s how long we had been waiting. With a heavy heart I politely refused the “coupe de champagne”, and pointed to my bump (I’m gently easing into my sixth month now) – what does a woman waiting in a restaurant on Valentine’s day need if not a glass of champagne. Gaïa was very happy with her bread and grenadine water combo, Humfri had the treat of his life – the owner prepared him a few snacks. My husband, as usual, was not answering his phone – this was not how you do Valentine’s day. Then of course he came, with the loveliest pink roses and the whole room nodded approvingly. The elderly gentlemen at the next table even applauded and when he pulled out a bottle of perfume, there was a whole chorus of “well played monsieur” and bravos. He was forgiven – just about.




Sitting idly in a restaurant for almost an hour has its advantages. You get a real feeling of the room, how the waiters operate, how attentive they are, what the other clients are like. Le Petit Commerce is a Bordeaux institution, a good time place with an air of “joie de vivre”. My eyes were drawn to a very interesting table near the window, a curious mix of five men and a lady. Boy were they having a good time, apéritifs outside, a nice bottle of wine inside, that table never stopped laughing. They were on very friendly terms with the “patron”, the one who offered me the champagne. Writing these posts I find myself saying frequently “one of the things I love most about France”. I guess I must say it often because there is a lot to love. Well, one of my favorite things are these long lunches in restaurants, particularly on Fridays, when people have put the most serious business behind them and the weekend is just around the corner. What better than to meet friends for lunch over a bottle of wine and nice food, share stories and laughter and then put in a “light” shift at the office before heading home to the family. It turned out to be a memorable lunch, the owner, a real character and the kind of man every restaurant needs, refused to be photographed unless we put on the restaurant uniform – blue working jackets, and then we posed with him behind the bar (unfortunately these pictures were not in focus at all). We did, however, get to keep the jackets – they’ll be very chic on the 1st of May. In the end, when the staff had started having a meal of their own in one corner of the restaurant it was just us and the five men + woman left in the restaurant. They had a final drink, then left one by one – such a fun group. We didn’t find out much about them, one of them looks like Bill Murray, another one is a psychiatrist (he arrived on bicycle) – one can only hope he had no serious consulting to do after a lunch like that. Fabien Touraille, the charming owner, gave us a bottle of the house white wine and soon we found ourselves in the car hoping to beat the clock as we had a bunch of kids waiting at school.




It was a fabulous lunch and funnily we almost didn’t have it. In fact had it not been for another much worse one, we probably wouldn’t. Three days earlier we had been in Bordeaux, this time with all the kids, to attend to administrative affairs. It was raining but we had high hopes for a place we had never tried. It wasn’t very satisfying (so I won’t name any names) and it never stopped raining, not even for 10 minutes. After lunch I left Oddur with the kids and told them I would be back in an hour. I was wrong – I was back in three, French bureaucracy at its best. I accidentally took Oddur’s wallet so he, three children and a couple of dogs were left walking the street of Bordeaux in the rain. He tried to be inventive, they spent an hour at Mollat, a large and lovely bookstore, they found a playground that was partially covered. Mostly they just walked. I am told little Gaïa was a trooper, never complained once until the very end when she said “I want maman” (she speaks a strange mix of French and English). That’s when Oddur could resist no longer and took them all to a toystore. The toystore, alas, does not accept dogs so he was forced to wait outside with Humfri and Jeanie, and watched in horror through the glass as the kids ran riot in the store. Luckily I arrived just in time with the funds, they all got a little present and even a ride on the carrousel to round off the day. On the way home Oddur said “we’re definitely going back on Friday for a proper lunch”. If at first you fail, then try again.





So what has all this got do to with the menu I prepared on Sunday? A lot actually, I was inspired. I wanted fish and I wanted fun. I woke up in a fantastic mood and the first thing I saw was that blue jacket on the chair in my bedroom. Then I admired my roses – I put them in a vase I found at Anne’s brocante last year, very 20’s and goes so well with pink roses. Selfishly I kept them all in the bedroom – they are MY roses. Then it was the perfume on my bedside table, it’s called “Portrait of a Lady” by Frederic Malle, a blend of Turkish roses and cinnamon – I’ve been wanting it for a while. In the kitchen the bottle of wine greeted me, It has a drawing of fish on it. Le Petit Commerce is all about freshly-caught fish and I wanted more of it. This pregnancy all I want is seafood, citrusy things, almond milk. It’s the same as when I had Hudson, our boy, so we thought we’d be having another. It isn’t, it’s another girI, we are thrilled to bits – you can never have enough of those. We’ll be doing our own version of little women.



I wanted to make a sauce with cider in it and what better to pair with a creamy apple cider sauce than a beautiful sole. A tasty touch were the little “crevettes grises”, that add extra flavor. We started with some cod roe on toast with olive oil and lemon, some couteaux with garlic, herbs and lemon zest. Since artichokes are making an appearance in the markets these days I had to find a way to include them too and I made an artichoke à la barigoule, a Provençal dish. Because of my almond cravings I made an almond milk flan the other day but it wasn’t very popular in the house, although it was just what I wanted and reminded me of Chinese desserts. So I made it up to the kids with a “proper” milk and cream flan with pomegranate syrup.



It all came off wonderfully and was so tasty, and more importantly we had such a good time – once again the lunch lasted for hours. A rowdy lunch at a fun restaurant, a “quiet” lunch at home – I am as ever in awe of the powers of good food – it’s at the table where the very best things happen.

Le Petit Commerce, 22 Rue Parlement Saint-Pierre, 33000 Bordeaux Tel: 33/05 56 79 76 58

For the prettiest flowers in Bordeaux: Sadia Fleurs, 26 Allée de Tourny, 33000 Bordeaux


Couteaux (razor clams) baked with herbs and lemon zest

300 g/ 2/3 pounds razor clams, about 15 razor clams/ couteaux
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 spring onion, finely sliced
Lemon zest of ½ lemon
A tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
A handful of coarsely chopped hazelnuts
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme
A few sprigs of parsley
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Clean the razor clams under cold water. Then dip then very briefly in a bowl of very hot water so they can open, then dip them again in cold water. Remove/cut off the dark sand vein (usually filled with sand) as well as the dark tip of the ‘neck’.
Place the razor clams in a baking dish, sprinkle the lemon zest, a dash of lemon juice, thyme, chopped parsley, bay leaf, garlic and spring onion. Scatter the chopped hazelnuts, drizzle olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place in a preheated oven 240°C/ and cook for approx 8 minutes. Serve immediately.


Artichokes à la barigoule

8 to 10 small baby artichokes
2 small carrots, diced
1 white onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
80 g/ 3 ounces lardons/ bacon, chopped finely (matchstick size)
1 branch of thyme
1 branch of rosemary
1 small glass of white wine
30 ml/ 1/8 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 lemon

Trim all the dark leaves from the artichokes and remove fuzzy choke. Slice the lemon in 2 and rub the trimmed artichokes to prevent them from darkening. Place the artichokes in a bowl of cold water and squeeze in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Dice the onion, carrots, lardons, garlic and set aside.
In a deep sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the artichokes (pat them dry first). Add the diced onion, carrots, lardons, thyme, rosemary and garlic. Continue to stir for 3 minutes, then add the wine. Reduce for 2 minutes and add the stock. Season with salt and pepper. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the artichokes, lower the heat to medium-low and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes (depending on size of artichokes), or until artichokes are tender.


Sole with cider cream sauce & shrimps
Serves 4

This old-fashioned Normandy-style dish is so rich in flavors, from the delicate apple cider sweetness to the deep nutty taste of the brownshrimps. I used small crevettes grises (brown shrimps). A lovely way to prepare sole, served with steamed ratte variety buttered potatoes. You can also prepare this dish with sole fillets (or any of your favorite white fish), you can ask your fishmonger to prepare them for you  if you prefer.

4 filets of sole, skinned
230 g/ 8 ounces brown shrimps/ crevettes grises (uncooked if possible)
4 shallots, finely chopped
430 ml/ 1 & ¾ cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons salted butter
1 bay leaf
A small bunch of parsley
350 ml/1 & ½ cup apple cider (brut)
A dash of piment d’espelette
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel and slice shallots finely. Heat 30 g salted butter and sauté the shallots for 4 minutes, until softened. Add the bay leaf, 2 sprigs of parsley, salt and pepper and the cider. Bring to a soft boil, lower heat and reduce to half. Strain the sauce through a sieve, return to pot, then add cream and stir for a few seconds on a low heat. Take off the heat and set aside.
Dust sole with flour on both sides and season with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan, heat the rest of the butter with a dash of olive oil. Cook sole about 3 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Set aside on a plate and sauté the shrimps on a high heat until cooked through, about 2/3 minutes. Place the fish on a serving plate, add the shrimps on top, and pour the cider cream sauce on top. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately. Season to your taste. Serve with steamed potatoes.


Flans with pomegranate syrup
Serves 4

These little flans are so light, lightly flavoured with maple syrup (I like these flans semi-sweet, as the grenadine syrup is very sweet). They are so easy to prepare, all under 5 minutes. I served these with a lovely pomegranate syrup, inspired from my pomegranate meringues recipe.

240 ml/ 1 cup milk
240 ml/ 1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons maple syrup (more or less to your taste)
2 g agar-agar
For the pomegranate syrup
Juice of 2 pomegranates
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon orange blossom (optional)

In a medium saucepan, heat milk and cream on a medium heat. Add the maple syrup and whisk in the agar-agar. Bring to a soft boil, lower heat and simmer for 4 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes. Pour the mixture into individual ramekins, leave to cool and refrigerate for a least 2 hours.
In a small saucepan, heat the pomegranate juice, orange blossom (optional) and sugar for 5 to 8 minutes on a medium to low heat, or until the mixture becomes glossy and thick, like a syrup. Take off the heat and set aside to cool.
Unmold the flans, sprinkle a few pomegranate seeds on top and drizzle the syrup.


Napoléon’s chicken


It is the 14th of June. We are in Marengo, Italy. A man named Dunand, a chef, is having a tough day. He’s been trusted with the task of cooking something good for his boss but on this day all the supplies are far away and he has to improvise. A Frenchman, used to cooking everything with butter, Dunand turns to olive oil on this fateful day. He knows his foundation will be the readily available chicken, but cooked how? His scouts turn up with various ingredients, some tomatoes, eggs, crayfish. What a mess. He finds the best possible way to cook with those ingredients, puts them on a plate and voilà, presents the dish to his master. His boss is Napoléon Bonaparte who, luckily for Dunand, happens to be in a good mood that particular evening. He has just defeated the Austrians in the battle of Marengo. Napoléon absolutely loves the chicken, he’s not a big gourmand but this he likes. The chicken Marengo is born. In fact Napoléon likes it so much (or is so superstitious) that he insists on having this dish after every battle thereafter, crayfish, eggs and all. Dunand later tries to swap the crayfish for mushrooms, and adds a slug of wine. Bonaparte won’t hear of it. All he wants is the original version – for good luck and (hopefully) also for the taste.





A young and ambitious man, Jean Véfour, who had been the personal chef to Louis-Philippe the future king of France, buys a tavern in the Palais Royal, names it after himself (as ambitious men tend to do) and turns what really was a mere pub into the finest restaurant in Paris (centuries later, when I have my wedding lunch there it’s still one of the finest places around). For the next hundred years his guests are the cream of Parisian society, politicians & artists including Colette and Victor Hugo. What do they eat? But of course, chicken Marengo, this time with truffles. It’s the chicest dish in Paris, and everybody who is anybody has to have it all the time. “What did you have last night?, roast chicken, how banal – we had the Chicken Marengo” – sounds so fancy, tastes so divine. The Grand Véfour achieves legendary status and chicken Marengo gradually appears on menus of practically every restaurant in France. There are different versions, some with olives, others without crayfish but with mushrooms instead (as Dunand intended). The Grand Véfour gives birth to countless other restaurants, the chicken Marengo breeds endless imitations. It is yet another triumph for local and seasonal cooking, take what you have and make the best of it.




I wake up one Friday morning in a Bonaparte state of mind. I guess I am feeling victorious and confident or simply hoping for a bit of good luck. All I know is that I want chicken Marengo on my table. I send my scouts (Hudson, Oddur & Mia) to source the best possible produce and they don’t let me down. For the chicken they take the long journey to the Vertessec farm where chicken tastes like heaven, how can I describe it – it’s chicken but better . Going there is such pleasure, the quality, the service, the lovely little store filled with every poultry product imaginable. It’s one of those things that’s hard to describe in writing without it sounding like an ad filled with overblown adjectives. Let’s just put it this way, every time we have their chicken I look at my husband and say “We can never have any other chicken, ever!” Then of course we sometimes do, but the Vertessec chicken haunts our palates and every other chicken compares unfavorably. French food is good because of the produce and the produce is what it is because of artisans like the Petit’s of Vertessec who have made it their life’s mission to simply breed the finest poultry.



After the visit to Vertessec my scouts visit the Saturday market. They get the tomatoes I requested, the mushrooms, there are no crayfish but as we had discussed they get “langoustines” instead. The surprise of the day is that Pierre Aubert, an organic farmer par excellence who grows the most beautiful vegetables in all of Médoc, happens to have some fresh artichokes from the mini-harvest in this “early spring” (yes I know it’s still winter). What can a modern day Dunand do with fresh, green, tight artichokes? Well, I think of the Grand Véfour and am reminded of another master, Guy Martin, who makes an artichoke crème brûlée. His has sugar on it, but mine needs to be savory as I already have plans for dessert. Inspired by Italy and Marengo I stay with the theme and subsitute the sugar for parmesan cheese, equally crunchy but with a totally different effect. I am pleasantly surprised, it turns out so smooth and tasty. For dessert I make use of some very large pears that have been challenging me for a few days on my kitchen table. Their days are numbered, they are sentenced to be included in an almond and pear clafoutis. At the last-minute two of them are pardoned, my husband needs them for a photo. (It is a short-lived escape, both of them end up in Mia’s mouth. It’s a Chinese superstition never to share a pear, Mia makes the most of it and uses it as an excuse to have them all by herself – technically this only applies to sharing one pear but it seems that the laws of superstition are flexible).



What else do you need to have a grand meal in Médoc, we have Pierre’s artichokes, the Vertessec chicken and somewhere in our cupboards are the Napoléonic knifes that need polishing after every use and a beautiful carafe from the same period. These are little gems I’ve found at Anne’s brocante in Saint Christoly and they bring a sense of history to the meal. In the absence of my mother in law who is the real historian in the family, and knows the truth about every fountain in Paris, my husband enlightens the kids about Napoléon & Joséphine, his conquests and exile. Hudson’s favorite part is when his father stands on a chair and say “Soldiers of the 5th regiment don’t you recognize your emperor, kill me if you like”. My French education tells me that some of the stories are made up and they’re all the better for it.



On Sunday morning I find out that my scouts have gone behind my back and  kept a secret from me. In addition to the chicken at Vertessec they bought some very tasty chicken sausages and hid them in the fridge where we keep the dog meat (I never go there). With some fanfare I am presented with a surprising and beautiful breakfast, farm eggs, the fried sausages, white bread (my guilty pleasure), a few fried spicy confit tomatoes and my favorite tea, the French breakfast tea from Mariage Frères with a hint of malt and chocolate. A breakfast fit for an emperor.


Artichoke Crème Brûlée
serves 4

The artichoke crème brûlée is a dessert served at le Grand Véfour, mastered by chef Guy Martin. I made my own savoury version, and sprinkled grated parmesan. Simply delicous, and so easy to make! If you can’t find fresh artichokes, you can buy frozen artichoke hearts.

Preheat the oven to 130°C/ 265 F

4 egg yolks
200 ml/ ¾ cup +1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 artichoke hearts
60 g/ 2/3 cup parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon nutmeg
Salt & black pepper

Cook the artichokes in salted boiling water for 25-30 minutes. Pluck the leaves and discard the fuzzy choke. Slice the artichoke hearts and purée them in a food processor.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the cream and gradually add the artichoke purée, nutmeg, salt and ground black pepper.
Pour mixture into 4 ramekins and bake in a preheated oven 140°C/ 280 F and cook for 25 minutes, or until the cream has set (yet slightly trembling). Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and place the crème brûlées under the grill for a couple of minutes, or until golden brown. Alternatively, you can also use a torch to grill the cheese. Serve immediately.


Chicken Marengo with langoustines
serves 4 to 6

Traditionally this dish is cooked with crayfish, but I used langoustines instead. I love the deep flavours created by the combination of tomatoes, chicken, wine, the langoustines and cognac. If you do not wish to use crayfish or langoustines, you can simply cook this dish with mushrooms – just double the amount of mushrooms.

For the chicken
1 chicken, cut into 6 to 8 pieces (I cooked ‘La dorée’ chicken from Vertessec farm)
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 carrot, sliced
1 bouquet garni
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped (save one for the langoustines)
2 x (8 ounces) cans tinned tomatoes, chopped and drained
2 tablespoons tomato concentrate
60 ml/ ¼ cup chicken stock
200 ml/ ¾ cup +1 tablespoon dry white wine
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for frying
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the langoustines
10 fresh langoustines, uncooked
80 ml/ 1/3 cup cognac
200 g/ ½ pound mushrooms (champignons de Paris), sliced
A bunch of fresh parsley, leaves picked and chopped, to garnish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for frying
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and gently coat with flour. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and brown the chicken in a large cocotte/ dutch oven with olive oil on all sides until golden. Discard excess oil and add the shallots, garlic and carrots – cook for 4 minutes on a medium heat. Add the bouquet garni, season with salt and pepper, and add the white wine. Reduce for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato concentrate, continue to cook for 3 minutes, then lower heat and cover with a lid. Season with salt & pepper. Leave to simmer for 35 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on size of chicken (larger pieces take more time to cook).

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the langoustines with 1 clove of finely chopped garlic. Season with salt and pepper and add the cognac. Reduce for a minutes and continue to cook until langoustines are opaque and cooked through. Take off the heat and set aside on a plate with all its juices. Keep warm. In the same pan, sauté the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt & pepper. Set aside.

Add the langoustines and mushrooms and all its juices into the pot and mix the ingredients gently. Continue to cook on a low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley just before serving.
Serve with roast potatoes with red pepper or wild rice.

Roast potatoes with garlic and red pepper

serves 4-6

1 kg/ 2 ¼ pounds potatoes/ peeled
2 red peppers, deseeded & sliced
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Olive oil
Coarse sea-salt
Parboil the peeled potatoes in boiling salted water for 15 minutes. Slice them into rondelles and place on a roasting dish. Add the sliced red pepper and the garlic cloves (unpeeled). Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea-salt.
Transfer dish to a preheated oven 210°C/410F and cook for 30 minutes or until potatoes are golden.


Almond and Pear Clafoutis

I am a little obssessed with almonds. I have them for breakfast everyday, drink a glass of warm almond milk every night and these days, I just add almonds to everything! This clafoutis is light and heavenly, my family loves this dessert, especially with some Chantilly cream on the side. If you do not wish to use almond milk, simply use regular milk.

2 small pears, sliced
75 g/ 6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
2 eggs
60 g/ 1/2 cup plain flour
40 g/ ¼ cup slivered almonds + a 1 tablespoon of slivered almonds (to garnish the clafoutis)
200 ml/ ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350 F

Mix the sugar and eggs. Add the flour, and gradually pour the almond milk. Mix gently, then add the honey and vanilla extract.
Butter a cake mould 23 cm/ 9 inches and sprinkle with flour.
Pour half of the batter, place the pears, and sprinkle with 40 g/ ¼ cup slivered almonds. Pour the rest of the batter on top, dot with the butter, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of slivered almonds and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar.
Place in the preheated oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until risen and golden brown. Leave to cool for 20 minutes and serve lukewarm (or cold) with a dollop of whipped cream.


Finally, A Cassoulet


A few weeks ago it started raining … and it never stopped. In fact it’s raining right now. At first it was quite refreshing, good for all things green and growing. But now even the plants have had enough. “Please stop, we can’t take it anymore” they’re saying. Like a drunk man at an English wedding, the free bar seemed wonderful at first, but now the night isn’t young anymore and it’s time to go home. Except the barman doesn’t know that and he keeps pouring (I’ve been to a wedding like that by the way). For us this eternal deluge means wet dogs, dirty floors, restless kids and daily fires. We, true to form, didn’t plan ahead so all the wood got soaked and every fire is a small challenge. How have we survived these wet, chilly and dark days? Well, like always food has been our saviour. First in the form of savory dishes like blanquette de veau and garbure, then the team from Canal+ arrived and we made six fabulous desserts a day for my new show “Les desserts de Mimi” (we shot 10 whole episodes) – believe me the kids did not mind all that sweetness, if there ever was a cure for rain. The crew found the rain slightly challenging. At first it was a bit exciting, filming the soaked lawns, the raindrops, me walking in the forest in my wellies. But then it got a bit repetitive. Me walking with the kids … in the rain. Me climbing the stairs of a lighthouse … in the rain. They needed a diversion, and found it in the most unlikely place. In the form of my husband singing on French television of all places. This is a man who is so poor at singing that he mimes the words when it’s time to sing happy birthday for the kids. Not a singer but a good sport. Oh what the rain does to us.


Les Blondes d'Aquitaines, our local cows

Les Blondes d’Aquitaines, our local cows

Cantal de Salers

Cantal de Salers

When they left the sun came out for a few hours and I thought, how typical, now you shine on us “old devil sun” but that wasn’t to be either. Defiantly the skies closed above me and it started to pour again. On Saturday we took a messy drive with all the kids. Yes you guessed right, it was raining. We had a lovely time though, although our clothes (and my hair) paid a price. The silver lining to all this rain is that it’s really quite beautiful to look at the land soaked in water. Where there were green pastures we now have spectacular grey-blue mirrors of water, endless reflections of trees looking down on themselves. Walking over a meadow covered in water is quite lovely. Sometimes.




There was a moment when my adventurous husband, my eager son and keen daughter had wandered off and I was left with my two little girls and a dog called Squiffy. I looked down at my feet (or what I could see of them) and for some reason that I can’t explain I just needed to make cassoulet. On the way home I wondered how weird it is that almost two years ago I started Manger and in all this time I haven’t done a cassoulet. I think I’ve made every other great French classic, either for the blog or my book. But cassoulet got left behind and now was the time to put it right. My family is from the Toulouse region, the home of cassoulet, and it’s followed me all my days, it was there for me when I was a child in my grandmother’s kitchen and later when I studied in Paris, a good comforting cassoulet was only a restaurant away. My husband and my father love it and though it’s not my favorite dish of all, sometimes I just have to have it. It’s a once or twice a year thing. Last Saturday was such a night, except I had to wait until Sunday, when our butcher, Mr Manenti, was open, it’s a dish that takes time to make.




When your star performer is a robust cassoulet, filled with meats and vegetables and really so over the top that nobody can ever finish their portion, how do you open the meal? My answer, with more opulence, just throw the diet book out the window and have a cheese soufflé, made with the most decadent Cantal cheese. For dessert I was thinking “pain perdu with plums” a big favorite, slightly acidic and so very tasty. But it was the Chandeleur (Candlemas) and it means you have to have crêpes or something traditional. Since we had those for breakfast we opted for the navettes instead. It’s what they have instead of crêpes in Marseille.

Which makes me think of Bouillabaisse and … oh dear, here we go again.




Cantal Cheese soufflé

This soufflé is light, airy and a lovely starter for any meal. It’s also an ideal lunch served with a salad with vinaigrette on the side.

4 eggs, separated
150 g/ 1 & 2/3 Cantal or Gruyère cheese, grated
60 g/ ¼ cup unsalted butter
60 g/ ½ cup plain flour
400 ml/ 1 &2/3 cup milk
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon mustard
A pinch of fine salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Serves 4

Preheat oven to 190°C/ 375 F

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter and gradually whisk in flour. Add milk, nutmeg, ½ teaspoon mustard and a dash of freshly ground pepper. Continue to stir and bring to a soft simmer, stirring for a few minutes, or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
When the mixture has cooled down, add the egg yolks, one by one, stirring constantly. Add half of the cheese
In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites till stiff, adding a pinch of salt. Fold in gently to mixture, and sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese.
Pour the soufflé mixture into a large buttered ramekin (or individual ones) and bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until well risen and golden brown. Serve immediately.


Cassoulet is a rustic bean and meat stew, originating from Toulouse, as well as the neighbouring Castelnaudary and Carcassonne, all of which claim to have the best version. It is usually cooked in a cassole, a deep earthenware dish. This recipe is inspired from my aunt’s and her best friends (who are all from Toulouse), and I love the tomato flavours mixed with the beans – I don’t like a cassoulet to be bland. A cassoulet should be moist but not too liquid, and I like the beans to be on the firmer side, so they won’t get squashed easily. It’s a simpler version than the 3 hours oven-baked one, which is perfect for me. For this recipe I used a large cocotte (dutch oven) instead of a cassole. It’s a beautiful dish!


Serves 8

700 g/ 1&1/2 pounds approx. white beans (dried, I used haricots Tarbais)
450 g/ 1 pound deboned lamb shoulder, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons goose fat
6 Toulouse-style sausages (or good-quality herbed pork sausages)
2 onions, peeled and sliced
5 garlic cloves, finely sliced
A few sprigs of parsley
450 g/ 1 pound canned chopped tomatoes, drained
1 peeled onion pricked with 8 clove sticks (see photo)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 bouquet garni
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground piment d’espelette
200 g/ 7 ounces pork bacon/ poitrine demi-sel
250 g pork shoulder steak
3 large duck confit legs
2 tablespoons tomato concentrate
300 g/ 2/3 pounds saucisson à l’ail (cooked garlic sausage)
160 g/ 1&1 ¾ cups breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Soak the dried beans overnight in a large bowl of water (in 3 times their volume). Rinse and drain the beans the next day.

Place the beans in a large pot and cover with water. Add the chopped carrots, a teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon tomato concentrate, the bouquet garni, the onion pricked with cloves, the garlic sausage and the pork rind. Bring to a boil and lower heat, leaving to simmer for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hour, until beans are cooked but not too soft.

Meanwhile, prepare the meat sauté. Heat 1 tablespoon goose fat in a deep-frying pan, add the lamb and brown the meat on all sides on a medium heat. Sprinkle with a few thyme leaves and add the piment d’espelette. add enough water just to barely cover the meat, bring to a boil on then lower heat. Season with salt and pepper and leave to simmer for 30 minutes. Set aside.

In another frying pan, brown the Toulouse sausages with 1 tablespoon goose fat on all sides and cook for 10 minutes. Set aside. In the same pan, pan-fry the pork shoulder steak until cooked and golden on both sides.
In a large cocotte or dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of goose fat and sauté the onions and garlic. Retrieve the pork rind from the beans and chop it up into thick sticks, and add to the cocotte/dutch oven. Continue to cook for a few minutes, then add the drained beans, discarding the bouquet garni and the cloved onion. Reserve bean stock. Place the garlic sausage aside. Add the chopped tomatoes, nutmeg, 1 tablespoon of tomato concentrate and mix all the ingredients gently to avoid breaking the beans. Add enough lamb and beans stock, enough to just about cover the beans. Bring the cassoulet to a boil, then lower heat and continue to cook for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté the duck legs in a pan until golden and reserve the duck fat rendered. Set aside.

Set the oven on the grill setting, place lamb, sausages, pork and duck legs on the beans. Slice some of the sausages and pork if desired. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of duck fat over the breadcrumbs, some chopped parsley and grill in the oven until crust is golden, between 5 to 8 minutes (depending on oven strength). Serve immediately.



Navettes de Saint Victor

Navettes are little biscuits that ressemble small boats, slightly crunchy and generally flavored with orange blossom water. They are originally from Marseille and are a traditionally eaten during la chandeleur (Candlemas). I love to dip them in my coffee for dessert.

500 g/ 4 cups + 3 tablespoons plain flour
250 g/ 1 & 1/4 cup granulated sugar
65 g/ ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3 eggs
1/2 tablespoon lemon zest
60 ml/ ¼ cup orange blossom water

Makes about 20 navettes.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, butter, lemon zest and add the eggs, one by one. Gradually add the orange blossom water, and mix well until you get a soft dough. Cover dough with a cloth and leave to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1.5 cm/ ½ inch thickness, sprinkling flour on dough if necessary.
Cut out 7-8 cm/ 3 inches length, 3-4 cm/ 1.5 inches width rectangles and press both ends (to make the shape of little boats). You can also roll them into little 1.5 inches thick tubes and press on both ends (as long as you shape them like little boats!). Place them on a baking tray covered with parchment paper, leaving a little space between them. With the help of a knife, slit them in the center. Leave to rest for an hour.

Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/350 F for 15 to 20 minutes, until slightly golden and risen. If you prefer a deeper golden colour, brush each navettes with eggwash (egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of milk).


The Mamma & Papà lunch


The shape of things

Last week I had a vision. I closed my eyes and all I could see were serving plates in Italian restaurants, stacked with lamb chops and veal escalops. Some of them had steamed fish with slices of lemon, others had mountains of pasta. At least one of them was held by a slick waiter in a white dinner jacket but mostly they were carried by plump women with multicolored aprons and smiles on their well-fed faces. One of the women had yellow plastic flowers in her hair. I know her well, she’s the lady from Cumpa Cosimo restaurant in Ravello where everything tastes divine (it’s our holiday hangout). And she’s got attitude. She used to hit the kids lightly on their heads if they didn’t finish their plates and say “Pasta non Pane”!



We do have a number of serving plates but these visions called for new ones – and Italian feast was on the cards and I would somehow trick my husband into making his delicious tomato sauce to start. We headed to Anne’s brocante in St Christoly, it’s the most beautiful place, she has such pretty, well-chosen things and spending time in her company is a treat – some people just ooze grace and kindness. There was too much choice so I got more than I needed (brocante shopping is very dangerous). Beautiful colors and patterns and exciting shapes. Talking of shapes and forms  – since my body started taking on a new shape I have had a distinctive craving for all things sour and acidic (thus the tomato sauce) and a preference for lean meat over too fat. So out went the lamb chops, in came the veal escalopes. We still have a lot of sage that is braving winter so Saltimbocca it had to be. For dessert I made a pine nut and lemon ricotta cream tart, inspired from one of my favorite restaurants in Rome, Matricianella.


The “secret” sauce

Let me introduce myself, I’m the husband. Mimi, my wife, somehow talked me into making a tomato sauce for Manger and now she wants me to explain it … in writing. Well, first there is a story to tell. I met Mimi in Paris about a thousand moons ago and soon after (very soon actually) she visited me in Reykjavík. She arrived late and I wasted no time in trying to impress by making dinner for two. It was a simple tuna and parsley pasta with lemon and butter – served with Pinot Grigio. Perfectly decent but admittedly nothing amazing. Mimi was very gracious about my cooking and went on to admit that she herself wasn’t very accomplished in the kitchen. I on the other hand, empowered by my success with the tuna told her I was quite the little chef. Some days later, this time in Paris, I was working on some tedious project at her desk and she appeared, impossibly glamorous and put together as she always is holding a tray of “snacks”. I remember the moment well. It was a cheese soufflé, an endive and Roquefort salad with walnuts, served with a nice chilled beer. To finish she had made a strawberry tartlet with vanilla custard cream. It was the beginning of what has been an absolute defeat on my part when it comes to cooking. You might say that the last 10 years have been a humbling experience for me culinary speaking, like the garlic in the tomato sauce I have been, and continue to be, crushed in the kitchen. It does have its advantages, a wonderful three-course meal or two every day is nothing to complain about and all I have to do is wash the dishes afterwards. Once in a while, when Maman is tired or busy I make something for the family, often Italian or something on the grill. I always get rave reviews, practically a standing ovation. It makes me feel like the granny who finally figured out how to operate the DVD player and all the family is shouting bravo and yippee. It’s more of a sympathy vote. In our kitchen there is only one master … and I figured out a long time ago that it’s not me.


Vito Posillipo’s tomato sauce

In my life I’ve had endless versions of amazing tomato sauces and a few terrible ones too. It’s a good way to judge a restaurant if it’s Italian but if it’s French you should probably look elsewhere on the menu. This one is by no means a perfect tomato sauce but we like it, it has developed over the years with the family. It used to be more spicy but Louise doesn’t like that. I’ve had my aubergine period (which technically makes this pasta alla Norma) and my anchovy period which was very controversial. But this is a version everybody likes. We call it Vito Posillipo’s tomato sauce. He was a character, although never seen, in the movie 9 ½ weeks and unfortunately for him he was gunned down in a restaurant on Halloween. At the time he was having Ziti al forno which does have tomatoes in it but otherwise has little to do with our sauce. But what a name. Saying it is almost therapeutic – like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Vito Posillipo, try saying it! One day, I’ll have a dog called that. Enjoy the sauce.

A note on the sauce. Normally I would slice the garlic thinly and sauté in the oil first before adding the tomatoes. But I always forget that part and so I used to frantically crush garlic into the sauce after the tomatoes were already in. I am not sure if it’s an improvement – it’s more of a superstition but this is how we make it.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 (8 ounces/ 230 g) cans good-quality peeled & drained tomatoes
2 dried red chillies
3 gloves garlic, crushed (minced)
1 big glass red wine
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 bunch fresh basil leaves
100 g/ 1 cup and 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
100 g/ 6 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

For this dish, we used long fusilli pasta/ 500 g/ 17-18 ounces.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the tomatoes and crush them with a large spoon. Add the dried chillies, crushed garlic, vinegar, sugar and red wine. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the saucepan with parchment paper, lower the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and mix in the piping hot tomato sauce. Add the butter, parmesan and basil, stir gently and serve immediately. Reserve extra parmesan and basil for individual servings.


Veal Saltimbocca (Veal with sage & prosciutto)

1 pound approx/ 450/500 g veal escalopes/ cutlets (preferably sliced thin) – I count about 2 slices per person (about the size of the palm).
6 slices prosciutto, about half a slice per veal escalope
A bunch of fresh sage
Plain flour for dusting
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 glass of white wine
4 tablespoons/ 60 ml veal stock
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F

Dust the veal escalopes with flour on both sides. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and olive oil until sizzling on a medium heat. Sauté the veal, about 15 seconds on each side. Season with salt and pepper and scatter the sage leaves all over. Pour the wine and leave to reduce for 2 minutes. Remove the veal and transfer to an oven-proof baking dish. Add the veal stock to the juices of the pan, mix well and continue to cook the sauce for 3 minutes. Place the prosciutto on top of each veal slice. Pour sauce on top, a a few more sage leaves and place dish in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately with roast potatoes (see recipe below). I also like to serve with steamed spinach with a drizzle of olive oil and a few squeezes of lemon. Perfect!


Rosemary, garlic and lemon roast potatoes

2 pounds/ 900 g potatoes, peeled and halved
Lemon zest of 1 lemon
3 to 4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
Olive oil
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parboil the potatoes for 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes, toss them in a baking dish, add the garlic, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle lemon zest, salt and chopped rosemary and freshly ground black pepper.
Cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until golden.


Pine nut and lemon ricotta cream tart

For the crust

2 cups/ 240g plain flour
1 egg
1/2 cup/ 120 g unsalted butter, cut into cubes & at room temperature
2 tablespoons/ 30 g sugar
½ cup/ 60 g confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup/ 30 g ground almond
½ lemon zest
A pinch of salt

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together until the mixture forms a homogenous dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Roll dough to fit a 9-inch/23 cm tart pan. Line the pan, prick the bottom with a fork and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

For the filling

½ cup/ 120 ml honey
½ cup/ 100 g granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
1/3 cup/ 80 g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp/100 ml heavy cream
5 ounces/140 g ricotta
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
150 g pine nuts
1 egg

Preheat oven to 170°C/ 325 °F

Combine the honey, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Add the butter and bring the mixture to a soft boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Take off the heat and leave to cool for 15 minutes.
Whisk in the cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, ricotta and the egg until you get a smooth mixture.
Take the tart out of the freezer, scatter the pine nuts over the bottom of the tart, and pour the filling. Bake tart in the preheated oven for approximately 50 minutes, or until the tart and crust are golden brown. Don’t worry if the tart is still ‘jiggly’ when you take it out, it will set once cooled.
Leave to cool completely before unmolding.

A few summers ago, Marche, Italy

A few summers ago, Marche, Italy

A Chateau in ruins revisited


All good things must come to an end and so it was that our idyllic Christmas, complete with all our children was over. But we resisted and fought bravely right to the end, making the most of every moment until there was nothing left to say but goodbyes and love yous and till we meet again. Gunnhildur and Þórir (Icelandic spelling – did you know that our name is Thorisson because my father in law’s name is Thorir (Þórir) – Icelandic people take their last name from the first name of their father) left us on Monday after two weeks of pure family bliss. 12 days spent eating and playing and trying to construct a house for some of the dogs. We all felt so happy during those precious days – if I was asked, what is happiness, I would say family. Then, of course, I would start thinking about food.



On our last day Oddur, my husband, wanted to take us all to a château in ruins we found two falls ago, one of the most beautiful, lyrical, tragic buildings I have ever seen. It has special meaning to Manger because our emblem, the wreath with the Fox Terrier and figs that is just above this text was inspired by a rosette in the ceiling of that very château. Just over a year ago I sent a photo of it to my favorite illustrator in the world, Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co., and she came up with this marvellous logo that I somehow know will follow me for the rest of my days.
We all had boots on, except my husband who had lent his to his eldest son. The earth was particularly muddy and wet, the sun came out and for a brief moment I think the cows were trying to share the moment by dancing around us. Oddur wanted to take a picture of me with my “bump” so he was a bit demanding as he often is. We chased the fickle December light, found the room with the wreath, took some pictures, had some fun. That night we had pizza night with limitless creativity and a few dubious results and the next day it was farewell at the airport.




Our last meal was a very hurried Vietnamese phở at an Asian supermarket near the airport. It is the Thorisson way to almost miss a plane. Almost. An idea had been brewing in my head. My new year’s craving was lobster and I wanted to have it with an Asian sauce. So I needed ingredients, spices, some cooking wine. I can’t think of a more auspicious meal to start the new year, noodles – symbolic in Chinese culture for a long life, lobster, the most regal meal of all. All those spices and tastes. It was a perfect way to resurrect our holiday after the older kids had left. We had a beautiful lunch on the 31st. It started with a chicken broth. So purifying after all the festivities, lots of taste and goodness, so simple but yet slightly complex. The tapioca pearls, all those flavors. I can’t wait to have it again. It’s a bouillon very much inspired by all those visits to Le Comptoir du Relais in our Paris days. Yves Cambdeborde makes the most amazing chicken bouillon – this is my simplified version, sans foie gras, it wasn’t needed this time.




It was a late lunch but we had more eating to do, a tournedos Rossini with a nice bottle of Rauzan-Ségla, a gift from my lovely literary agent, Berta Treitl, who came for a visit recently. A woman in my state can’t have much, but I had a sip or two.
As I am expecting I need to think about flexible clothes. Back from the boxes in the attic are the big sweaters, the roomy dresses. I’ve been thinking about what to wear for the coming weeks. Going through all the clothes that might fit me in a few weeks is like going through a corridor of memories – I just never thought I’d be walking through here again.




I stumbled upon a dress that I haven’t worn so much lately. It’s a 10-year-old Missoni dress I wore the night I met my husband. It was how we met. He simply walked up to me and said, “Is that a Missoni dress?”. Suave? Strange? Here we are several kids and thousands of dinners and lunches later.
As I am writing this I feel a bit emotional. It has been the most remarkable year. I started Manger with no particular agenda. I love to cook and being a bit isolated in the countryside I wanted to share my recipes with old friends and maybe make some new ones. This last year has seen me complete my book with a wonderful editor at Clarkson Potter. I have done a TV show with Cuisine+ here in France. Met incredible and generous people from across the world, some of them have stayed with us at our home, others have been virtual friends. I just want you all to know how grateful I am that we’ve met, one way or the other … Here’s to the days ahead.


Chicken bouillon with tapioca pearls and mint
(adapted from Yves Camdeborde’s recipes)

Serves 4
1.5 kg/ approx 3.3 pounds chicken wings
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 onion, peeled & halved
1 celery branch, chopped
5 thin slices of fresh ginger
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 anis star
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black pepper corns
150 g tapioca pearls
A bunch of fresh mint leaves, slice finely
Coarse sea-salt

Place the chicken wings in a large pot. Pour enough water to cover the wings, adding about 350 ml/ 1 ½ cup more . Bring to a boil, remove any scum on the surface and add all the vegetables, herbs and spices. Season with salt and cover with a lid. Simmer gently for 1h and 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, take out 6/7 chicken wings and set aside to cool. Continue to simmer the bouillon.
Heat a small saucepan and bring lightly salted water to a boil. Add the tapioca pearls and cook according to package instructions, about 15 minutes, or until the pearls are translucent. Drain pearls and set aside in a bowl of cold water to prevent them from sticking.
Drain soup through a sieve.
Slice fine slivers from the chicken wings and place them in the serving bowls. Add about a tablespoon (or two) of tapioca pearls on top. Finely dice a few carrots (optional) and scatter in bowl. Season the bouillon if necessary, and spoon a few ladles in the serving bowls. Sprinkle with mint leaves just before serving.


Lobster with e-fu noodles

(serves 4)

2 lobsters, each 450 to 680g/ 1 to 1½ pounds – chopped into approx. 8 pieces each (you can ask your fish monger to prepare this for you if you prefer) – crack the claws slightly.
8 stalks scallions, chopped
Ginger, about 20 fine thumb-sized fine slices
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ teaspoon white ground pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 chilli, finely sliced (or two if you like it hot!)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
250 ml/ 1 cup water mixed with 2 tablespoons cornstarch
Cooking oil, for frying

Serve with 500 g/ approx 18 ounces e-fu noodles/ Yee Mien (flat Cantonese egg noodles sold at Asian supermarkets)

Prepare the noodles:
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the e-fu noodles/yee mien for 3 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Cook the lobster:
Rinse lobster under cold running water and pat dry with kitchen towel.
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large wok (or big deep skillet) on a medium heat. Add the sliced ginger and fry until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, half of the scallions and continue to fry for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Increase the heat to high and add the lobster pieces, and stir until the shells starts turning bright red/orange.
Add the soy sauce, lobster sauce, wine vinegar, white pepper, chilli, sugar and continue to stir for 3 minutes. Pour the corn starch/ water mixture in the wok/skillet. Continue to stir until the sauce thickens and starts bubbling. Add the Shaoxing wine, stir and cover with a lid for 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium. Lift the lid, stirring continuously so the lobster is entirely coated with the sauce. Test to see if the lobster is cooked, then sprinkle the rest of the scallions, reserving a tablespoon for the serving dish. Season with salt if necessary.
Prepare the noodles on a large serving plate, place the lobster on top and pour the sauce all over. Scatter more scallions on top. Serve immediately.


Chocolate meringues kisses with toasted almonds and apricot cream

(makes 7 to 10 small meringues, depending on size)

3 egg whites
150 g/ ¾ cup sugar (preferably extra-fine/ caster sugar)
A pinch of cream of tartar
A few drops of vanilla extract
To garnish:
200 g/ 7 ounces black/dark chocolate, melted au bain-marie
90 g/ 3 ounces almond slivers/amandes effilées
1 tsp granulated sugar
10 dried apricots, finely diced – 6 for the cream, and 4 for the meringue topping
180 ml 3/4 cup heavy cream, for whipping
2 teaspoon of icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 140°C/ 280° F

In a large glass bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric beater on a medium speed. When the mixture starts frothing, increase the speed to high. Incorporate little by little the sugar, vanilla extract and the cream of tartar, until the egg whites are glossy and form stiff peaks.
Spoon small to medium-sized meringues onto a parchment lined baking tray. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 55 minutes in the centre level of the oven.
Before taking them out, switch the oven off and leave the door slightly open for 10 minutes. They will cool down slowly and this will prevent them from cracking. Place them on a pastry rack and leave to cool completely.
Heat a sauté pan and roast the almond slivers, shaking the pan occasionally to avoid burning. Sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar and continue to roast for a couple of minutes more. The almond slivers are ready when they are golden. Take off the heat and set aside to cool.
Break the chocolate into small pieces, place in a heatproof bowl and melt au bain-marie (over a pan of simmering hot water). Set aside.
Whip the cream and icing sugar till stiff, then fold in 6 finely diced apricot.
Place the meringues on a parchment paper covered surface. Take a teaspoon or two (depending on meringue size) and pour over the tip of the meringue. Let it drip casually, then sprinkle the diced apricots and toasted almonds. The chocolate will set within 10 minutes.
Serve meringues with the apricot whipped cream on the side.


Sixes & Sevens


A taxi driver in London once gave me a first class lecture on the meaning and origins of the idiom to be “at sixes and sevens”. I don’t know how it came up, I remember he had an awful lot to say about everything and before I knew it he had given me the whole story of the disputing trade companies that were bickering over order of precedence. They were founded in the same year but it could not be established which was founded first. Both wanted to be sixth (in the order of precedence) so now they change their order every year and are permanently between sixth and seven. It was a short taxi ride, from Waterloo station to Knightsbridge, had it been longer I would probably know … everything.



The phrase is used to describe someone who is in a state of confusion or can’t make up their mind. Which is a perfect way to describe me in the last few weeks. All that lovely holiday food waiting to be cooked, the endless possibilities. I have been trying to restrain myself, I have gone to the market with a menu in my head, but then I end up buying all sorts of other stuff too. Let’s just say that rules have been broken. We’ve had two sets of breakfasts, lunches in the afternoons and dinners on “Spanish time”. I’ve had minced pies practically every morning for breakfast (some of them delivered to me in bed no less), it is an absolute Christmas ritual for me to have them throughout the holidays (and not just for Christmas). Starters and desserts have been served simultaneously on occasion, which is quite nice as some of them have never met before. I am not sure though, that the Eaton mess enjoyed sharing the stage with the oysters – desserts can be such snobs!



We, like the rest of France, have gone mad for seafood, a plateau de fruit de mer is one of the most traditional things to serve at Christmas and every market has been bursting with oysters and crevettes, bulots, tourteaux, lobsters and langoustines. We like to call our seafood platter “royal” a nod to my father I suppose because a royal seafood platter is his favorite thing to order in restaurants. He likes the extravagance of it and when he first met my husband he made a point of ordering the most sumptuous one. When Chinese people invite for dinner they like to have too much food as a way of showing their hospitality. Icelandic people, on the other hand, think it’s rude not to finish what they are served. So you can imagine the scenes, my father kept ordering, my husband kept finishing.




We’ve had our fair share of poultry, soups and stews and all sorts of vegetable cocottes. Chocolates, meringues, delicious puddings and turkish delights. I made a lovely lavender honey nougat that I just had to share with you along with the minced pie recipe that I am particularly fond of (although I probably should have shared it sooner so you could have enjoyed it longer). A cauliflower soup with Cantal cheese was particularly satisfying one grey day earlier in December and pink radishes have found their way into many dishes this year so I’m putting those too.



The best gift we’ve had this year was to have all our children at Christmas, to be able to share a table with all of them at this time of the year is pure magic. And what tables we’ve shared. We met up with the older kids in Paris where I was lucky enough to be invited to host a “Cooklette” (workshop) at one of my favorite stores, Colette. What better way to spend an afternoon in December than to teach a bunch of great kids how to make marmelade and scones à la Paddington bear, in honor of his upcoming movie. Such good fun. We had two dim sum meals at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Paris, Auberge des trois bonheurs. They have the traditional round spinning tables and the younger kids were so eager to get to their food that the dishes literally came flying off the table when they played roulette. Back in Bordeaux we took them all to one of the prettiest restaurants you can find, La Tupina, as a holiday treat. They have very classic Bordelaise food, great fries cooked in duck fat, quality meats and are a perfect setting for a family meal. We got such great service, a family of six children and numerous dogs is not always easy to cater to.




Which brings me back to the sixes and sevens. That phrase is taking on added significance for us these days, it’s the last Christmas we’ll have six kids, next year they’ll be seven.


Velouté of cauliflower with Cantal
Serves 6
3 potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 medium-sized cauliflower head, coarsely chopped
A sprig of thyme 200 g/ 7 ounces Cantal cheese, shredded (or any of your favourite cheese)
30 g/ 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
130 g/ 4 ounces slivered almonds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
A dash of piment d’Espelette A few sprigs of fresh chive, finely chopped

In a large pot, bring 750 ml/ 3 & 1/4 cups water to a boil and add coarsely chopped cauliflower head, thyme, nutmeg and potatoes. Cook for 30 minutes on a medium to low heat or until vegetables are tender. Add more water if necessary. Off the heat, mix the soup with a blender until smooth. Return the pot to the heat, add the shredded cantal cheese and simmer for a few minutes ona very low heat, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Season with salt & pepper. Add the butter and stir. Set aside. Preheat a pan on the stove. Pour the almonds in the pan and roast, shaking the pan every 10 seconds to prevent from burning. The almond slivers are ready when they turn golden, about 2 to 3 minutes max. Serve soup in individual bowls, sprinkle with finely chopped chives and slivered roasted almonds, plus a dash of piment d’Espelette (optional). Season accordingly.


Roasted pink radishes & carrots with balsamic vinegar & rosemary
Serves 4 as a starter

Preheat the oven to 220°C/ 420 F

1 large pink radish, sliced finely
A bunch of small organic carrots
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 pomegranate
A drizzle of olive oil
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the vegetables on a roasting tray, drizzle olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper and finely chopped rosemary. Roast for 20 minutes. Place on a serving plate and scatter pomegranate seeds all over. Drizzle with additional olive oil and balsamic vinegar if desired. Season to taste if necessary.


Mince pies

This is a lovely recipe, so simple and delicious. I enjoy preparing mince pies in advance, so they are ready to be popped in the oven anytime. One of my favourite treats for the holidays, I especially like to have them for breakfast. So festive!

For the pastry: 240 g/ 1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
360 g/ 3 cups plain flour
130 g/ 2/3 cup granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Makes approx 18 small mince pies.

Preheat oven to 200°C/ 390 F

Mix the flour and butter, then gradually add the sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Shape dough into a ball and cover with cling film. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.

Quick & easy mincemeat:

60 g/ ½ cup dark raisins, chopped
60 g/ ½ cup golden raisins, chopped
80 ml/ 1/3 cup calvados (apple brandy)
60 g/ ½ cup candied orange, chopped
30g/ 2 tablespoons candied ginger, chopped
Zest of half an orange
Zest of half a lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons brown sugar (cassonade)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 beaten egg, for the eggwash
Icing sugar, to serve

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, cover and leave to macerate overnight. Use as pie filling. Line mince pies patty tins or small tartlet moulds with the pastry. Place one and a half teaspoon of mincemeat and cover with a pastry disk. Press on the edges to seal. Prick the center of the mince pies with a small stick. Brush the pies with a beaten egg. Bake for 18 minutes, or until pies are golden brown. Leave to cool 5 minutes one pastry rack before unmoulding. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve with heavy cream and redcurrants.


Lavender honey nougat

180 g/ ¾ cup lavender honey
300 g/ 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp water
1 egg white
200 g/ 1 ½ cup mix of unsalted pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts and finely chopped dried apricots
½ tsp vanilla essence

You will need a candy thermometer.

Note: I used a small mix of cornflour and icing sugar and lightly sprinkled on the parchment paper to avoid stickiness.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/ 320 F

Prepare a pan (I used a 23cm/ 9-inch silicone round pan) – lightly oil the pan with olive oil or cooking spray. Roast the almonds and pistachios in a 160°C/320 F oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure to shake the pan once in a while to prevent the nuts from burning. Set aside.(tip: rub the nuts in the hands when they have cooled down to get rid of excess peelings). Combine the lavender honey, sugar and water in a saucepan and heat on a low heat until melted, stirring occasionally. Once melted, increase the heat slightly until the temperature of the mixture reaches 140°C, turning into a light golden thick syrup. Immediately take off the heat. In a large bowl, whisk the egg white until stiff, and slowly add the honey/sugar syrup while whisking. Be very careful to add slowly, as it is very hot. Continue to whisk until the mixture is very thick, for about 6 to 8 minutes. Fold in the mixed nuts and apricots. Pour the nougat mixture in the prepared pan. (I did not use wafer paper to line the top or bottom of the pan, that is why I used a silicone mould to facilitate the unmoulding step. You can find wafer paper in specialized baking/kitchen stores.) Smooth the mixture with a spatula. Leave the nougat to set, uncovered, for at least 3 to 4 hours in a cool and dry environment. Unmould the nougat on a parchment paper covered cutting board and cut desired chunks.


”Almost Christmas” Lunch


When is the right moment to buy a Christmas tree? Too early and the needles will have fallen by New Year’s, too late and you miss out on what could have been an extra week of pine scented Christmas beauty. Over the years I’ve figured that around the 10th is a good moment but my impatient heart stole a march on reason last week when the kids had a day off school, a Friday no less. That was it for me, a day off in December simply calls for getting a tree and cooking up a festive lunch.



So we got in the car and went on a tree hunt, or more precisely of places that sell trees. Louise dressed up for the occasion, as she always does, the rest of us came as we were. On our way to finding “our tree” we drove past countless other trees, some with leaves, some bare, a few evergreen Magnolias and my favorite, the ones that have lost their own leaves but are draped in the most beautiful green ivy dresses that would put any couturier to shame. The most curious trees this time of year, I find, are the pomegranate and khaki trees, very Tim Burton-esque, with no leaves and curious delicious fruit that just hang their defying, it seems, the laws of nature. The leaves are long gone but the fruit linger on.



In our family we have different philosophies on how to choose a tree. The kids, predictably want the biggest one (they won last year), Oddur, my husband, wants the first decent tree we’ll find, as if chance had chosen it for us. I am the difficult one, I want the tree that speaks to me, that gives me a sign, the one that says “Let me be your tree”. Our first stop was the closest one, a little “jardinerie” near our home. Last year we arrived one minute too late and they slammed the door in our faces. But we are not holding grudges. After a while of examining the trees, my husband had found his, my kids were asking if there was anything “much bigger”. The man asked “what, do you live in a palace?” The kids had an empty look on their faces as if whether the tree would fit into the house or let alone the car had nothing to do with anything.



I was getting restless, ready to leave and continue my search when a cat (I am very fond of cats) appeared from under a tree. And not just any cat. A black, three-legged cat with a red ribbon around his neck. He gave me a funny look and just sat there for a while as if to say “do I have to spell it out for you lady – don’t you see this is the best tree, and I’m a specialist.” So that was our tree. And the cat was right, it’s a nice, well-balanced, perfectly sized tree. As for the cat he appeared at the jardinerie some 6 years ago with 3 legs and an open heart. Now he’s an expert on all things green.



Back home we gave the speech we always give. “Don’t be too excited, be careful with the ornaments, they are very precious”. Then the kids get too excited and one of the ornaments breaks. Then they freeze, look at their father with fear in the faces. But because it’s a special occasion we will let them off lightly and so it goes. Same thing every year, it really has become a Christmas ritual. This year it was a guitar that broke. I can just imagine all the ornaments in the attic, in the moments before we take them out, giving each other a solemn look and thinking “This is our moment guys” – but also “who is it going to be this year”? We keep all the broken ones though, they are quite lovely in their imperfection and I suppose souvenirs of good times.
We listened to Christmas music, we had port and cheese, a fabulous beetroot salad with the crispiest Bigorre black pig slithers, a roast duck with a very satisfying stuffing and a heavenly port gravy, wine from Pessac. And to finish this sumptuous lunch, a heavenly vanilla crème de marrons (vanilla chestnut cream) mousse.
A good time was had by all.


Beetroot & Jerusalem artichoke salad
serves 4

2 large beetroot peeled & cooked
6 small Jerusalem artichokes (topinambours), peeled
½ head of red cabbage
2 shallots, sliced
A few sprigs of chives, finely chopped
4 slices Bigorre black pig bacon, finely sliced (alternatively, if you can’t find this variety, choose a good-quality bacon)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Coarse sea-salt & black pepper

Slice the beetroot (peeled and cooked) into ¼ inch slices.
Place the ‘Bigorre’ bacon slices on a frying pan, pre-heated on a medium heat. Cook on both sides until crispy and golden. Set aside on kitchen paper to absorb excess fat.
Pre-cook the Jerusalem artichokes in salted boiling water and 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (a little trick I learnt to ease digestion) for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Slice into rondelles.
Slice the red cabbage finely and place in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a 2-3 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan on a medium heat. Cook shallots for 3 to 4 minutes, add the Jerusalem artichoke slices and cook for a few minutes on each side until slightly golden. You want to keep them al dente. Set aside.
In the same pan, add a little bit of olive oil and gently cook the beetroot slices on both sides for 2 minutes.
Place the beetroot slices on a plate, add the Jerusalem artichokes and shallots. Scatter the red cabbage all over, sprinkle finely chopped chives and place the slice of fried ‘Noir de Bigorre’ bacon (or a lovely piece of bacon) on top. Just before serving, drizzle a few drops of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season to taste.


Roast duck with apples & port gravy
serves 4

1 duck, approximately 4.5 pounds/ 2 kg
1 kg/ 2.2 pounds approx. apples, peeled, cored and halved
120 ml/ ½ cup port
400 ml chicken stock
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
A few sprigs if thyme
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
25 g/ 2 ½ tablespoons plain flour
Olive oil

For the stuffing:
2 apples, peeled and cubed
A handful of chopped walnuts
1 onion, sliced finely
1 clove garlic, sliced finely
2 tablespoons port

Preheat the oven to 350°F/ 180°C.

Rub the duck with coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper, as well as inside the duck’s cavity.
Prepare the stuffing:
Peel and slice two apples into cubes. Slice the onions, garlic and coarsely chop the walnuts. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a frying pan on a medium heat, cook the onions for 3 minutes, add the apples, garlic and walnuts and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes. Season with salt & pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of port, reduce for 2 minutes and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
Insert the stuffing in the duck’s cavity, place the duck in a roasting pan, drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and rub all over. Transfer to the preheated oven for about and 1 hour and 45 minutes (depending on your preferred cuisson). Turn the duck mid-way for 30 minutes, then turn it back breast and legs up and add the halved apples. Drizzle the duck and apples a few times with the juices.
Spoon all the juices, (discarding excess fat) from the roasting pan and place in a saucepan on a medium heat. Whisk in the chicken stock, flour, thyme and port and cook until sauce reduces and thickens to a thick gravy, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons butter towards the end and stir until melted.
Remove the duck from the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes before carving. Serve with the apples and port gravy.


Chestnut vanilla cream mousse with marrons glacés and chocolate
serves 6

This mousse, so heavenly, so creamy yet light, so nutty, something straight out of my childhood, a vanilla crème de marrons (vanilla chestnut cream) mousse, with chunks of marrons glacés & chocolate flakes. Since I was a child, I’ve had a particular love for vanilla chestnut cream. I always had a small tube in my schoolbag, and it was my sweet escape!

1 ½ gelatin sheet (approx 3 g)/ feuille de gelatine, soaked in cold water
280 g/ 10 ounces crème de marrons/ vanilla chestnut cream
200 ml/ ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon heavy cream/ crème liquide entère
4 marrons glacé/sugar-glazed chestnuts, chopped into small chunks
50 g/ 2 ounces black chocolate/ chocolate noir, coarsely grated

Soak the gelatin sheet in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes, until soft. Heat the chestnut cream in a saucepan on a low heat until the cream is warm, stirring constantly. Add the gelatin sheet until completely melted. Stir until smooth and set aside until completely cooled.
In a large glass bowl, whisk the cream (with electric whisks on a high-speed) until stiff, and gently combine the chestnut cream, lowering the speed until the mixture is blended. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside in the refrigerator (or a cool environment) for at least 30 minutes. Just before serving, scatter the marrons glacés and chocolate flakes.


A dark tale of sweet & savory


If Sunday afternoon had been a Grimm’s adventure this is what would have happened: A cunning sorceress (me) would have seduced a tall, dark-haired (read grey) and gullible man (my husband) into gathering some delicious fruits and nuts and bringing them to her house in the forest. She would have asked him to crack open all the nuts and almonds and in return she would promise to share with him the sinfully good chocolate mendiants she was planning to make. When the job was done and while melting the chocolate she would put on her best smile and offer the man a beautiful country bread tartine with melted raclette cheese, walnuts … and black radishes. The man would gayfully accept, never taking his eye of the chocolate pot on the stove. “What a treat” he would think, to be invited for this lovely meal and how he was looking forward to the irresistible mendiants – the whole forest was talking about them. Little would he know that black radishes can make the strongest men fall asleep and as soon as he had finished the bread with a bit of wine, he was off to dreamland. Then the devilishly cute and mischievous children of the sorceress would appear from the woodworks, help their mother make the mendiants and together they would feast on every last crumb of chocolates and sweets. The man would awake in the forest, feeling lost yet somewhat satisfied for it was a very good tartine. Then he would remember the mendiants he had been coveting and feel a little sad not having had any. But because we don’t want our tale to be too dark, and because this is rather nice sorceress, he would feel a little something in his coat pocket, two mendiants, one with fruits and nuts, the other with coconut flakes and pomegranates. He would feel a little cheated but he would have a big smile on his face.



My son Hudson and I were recently at the market. As usual we visited the stall of our good friends, the Aubert’s, my favorite organic farmers in Médoc. There was so much to choose from, gone are the tomatoes and plums but instead we have roots and radishes, turnips, parsnips and beets. A fellow client joined me in admiring the black radishes. “Aren’t they mysterious” I said. “Well, I suppose” he said “but I buy them because they make me go to sleep”. “I don’t like drugs and medicine so I use herbs instead. Black radishes are my drug of choice”. Afterwards he assured me he wasn’t joking, black radishes really make you sleep. Hudsons’s eyes and ears were on fire. He was completely enchanted by this. Over the weekend I caught him looking at the radishes with respect and admiration. He picked them up carefully, observed them, even sniffed them a little. This sleeping theory had to be tested, just not on him!



On Sunday I woke with an idea in my head. Mendiants! They’re such a French classic and my treat of choice when the weather gets colder. They are such an ideal mix of irresistible sweetness yet filled with goodness. My husband was kind enough to fetch me some fruits and nuts (and yes he did open them too as did the man in the adventure). It all looked so beautiful, like gems on the working table of a master jeweller, little raisin rubies, pearls of almonds, all of them ready to be inserted into a little masterpiece.


It was then that Hudson came to me “Mom, I think we should give daddy some of the radishes and see if he falls asleep” he said with a big cheeky smile. “Then we can have all the chocolate mendiants ourselves”. We did test the theory but unlike in the “Grimm’s Adventure”, the man didn’t fall asleep. He just wanted another tartine and then another, until he was so full he couldn’t have any mendiants. I suppose some people like savory and some like sweet.
I have to confess, I like it all!



(makes approximately about 15 mendiants)

230 g/ 8 ounces good-quality black chocolate
A small mix of pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, dark & golden raisins, dried apricots, dried figs.

Break the chocolate in pieces and place in a heat-proof bowl. Melt the chocolate ‘au bain-marie’ – Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water on a low heat. Gently stir until the chocolate is glossy and melted. Take off the heat and set aside for a few minutes.

Prepare sheets of parchment paper on a flat surface or large tray.

Drop a small teaspoon of melted chocolate onto parchment paper, about 5 cm width. You want to create pretty little disks. It is preferable to drop about 6 to eight disks at a time, so you can have adequate time to place the toppings.

Decorate with almonds, apricots (or figs), raisins, and hazelnuts/ pistachios for classic mendiants. Then you can let your imagination run wild. I used pomegranate seeds and dried coconut for the other disks.

Leave the mendiants to set and harden for about 10 to fifteen minutes in a cool room. Gently lift them off the parchment paper and place on a serving plate.


Grilled Raclette tartines with black radish, walnuts and chives

This is a simple delicious snack, a mixture of wonderful flavours and very nutritious. I just love the combination of the rich melted cheese, the crunchy walnuts and radishes.

2 black radishes, sliced finely
2-3 slices of Raclette cheese (alternatively Cheddar or Gruyère) per slice of bread
A few sprigs of chives, finely chopped
A few walnut kernels, broken into pieces
A few slices of good quality rustic bread (pain de campagne, pain Poilâne)

Place 2-3 slices of Raclette cheese (depending on bread size) on top of sliced bread and place under the grill for 3 to 5 minutes, or until bubbly and golden. Place slices of black radish on top, sprinkle walnuts and chives. Serve immediately.



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