A mountain of gold and other delights

montdor

Once upon a time there was a prince in Médoc. He was actually a marquis but as he owned so many châteaux (all the best ones) king Louis XV declared him, “Prince of the vines”. In those days my favorite Médoc village, Saint-Estèphe, was known as Calon and the “prince” once famously declared “I make wine at Lafite and Latour (the most famous wines in the world) but my heart belongs to Calon. He was referring to his estate in Saint-Estèphe, Calon-Ségur, a property he aquired by marriage and as he was Nicolas-Alexandre de Ségur he added his name to it. Because of his famous words they also added a heart to the label on the bottle, a revolutionary gesture and in hindsight, quite modern. The morale of the story is: Design something revolutionary and wonderful, give it a few hundred years and everyone will love it.

apples2

church

I was quite familiar with Calon-Ségur, but I might never have heard the story of the prince had my husband not been commissioned by an agency in Bordeaux to shoot the harvest for the château. It was all very mysterious, they asked him to photograph a château but wouldn’t say which one. Then one day he drove off into the uncertainty and came back beaming – he too loves Saint-Estèphe. The job took a few days and on the last one he asked me to come along and bring the kids. What can I say, it was lovely. I so enjoyed our moments there, walking around the manicured gardens, cutting a few grapes. Unfortunately the yield is not so high this year, down 50% from a normal year. It all comes down to a few precious days in June when the weather was unkind to little grapes. I hope the ones that survived will be all the better for it. We had a taste of the ’89 – to think I was only 16 when that wine was bottled. Was I ever 16? Well I won’t get into that.

calonsegurharvest

goldenapples

On our way home we drove past one of those beautiful “châteaux in ruin” that are practically all over Médoc. I think they put them there so we mortals can dream about restoring them and throw lavish parties there and then we too would put hearts on the bottles. Talking of hearts and what they mean, we had some lovely people over this month. Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott. I was filming my show and finishing my book – (which explains the lack of blog activity. There will be none of that now, I’ve promised myself, “a blog post every week” – it really is my favorite thing.) Anyway it was so nice to have them over, sometimes you just know you will “click” with people and then you do. They too loved that château in ruins and I think it made them dream. From now on we will call this château “Herriott Graydon House”. Nikole also had her eye on a fox terrier puppy, our last one, called “Cornichon”. All dogs should be named after food.

calonsegurwalk

herriotthouse1

Then we had a quick stop in Vertheuil, another favorite pitstop in Médoc, where they have an old boulangerie that’s transformed itself into a B&B with a crèperie on the side. The créperie was closed but the little shop that sells … well everything, was open so we had some chips instead. A guilty little pleasure. Then we visited the church for atonement.

apples

chestnuts

Médoc is all about wine and the harvest season is the main event. If wine was football, this recent period would be the world cup. So it’s impossible not to cook something inspired by the “vendanges”. Grapes, apples, chestnuts. These are the main players in the markets these days. We’ve had beautiful harvest lunches and dinners with our friends Florence and Fabien at Château Tour Haut-Caussan (you may remember him from the winemaker’s lunch post) My mother in law says he’s the best guy in Médoc and she may be right. This week we had a harvest lunch by ourselves, all the things that have inspired me in the last few weeks. All the flavors that I have yearned for. It had to be apples, it had to be grapes, so I worked around that. But I felt something was missing. A showstopper, a special appearance. I went to the market with a clear head and an open heart – something would speak to me, I just didn’t know what. And there it was, a mountain of gold, the one and only Mont D’Or. A treasure of France and my very favorite cheese. Now imagine this. You pierce a hole in it, fill it with garlic and wine and serve it with the most delicious potatoes. When you pair this with sausages baked with grapes in apples your are, maybe not in heaven but you are in Médoc.

MY heart belongs to Médoc.

p.s. A tree just at the edge where the Pauillac vineyards meet the ones from Saint-Estèphe, is lovingly referred to by my family as the “Tim Burton tree”. The Mont D’Or in this post may not be a brie but the combination of cheese + tree brings to mind a poem by Tim Burton that always puts a smile on my face:

Brie Boy

Brie Boy had a dream he had only had twice,
that his full, round head was only a slice.

The other children never let Brie Boy play …
… but at least he went well with a nice Chardonnay

harvestsausages

Vendanges sausages/ Harvest sausages
8 good-quality pork sausages (or chicken)
1 large onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 apples, peeled and cut into large chunks
A few sprigs of thyme
A bunch of grapes
30 ml/ 2 tablespoons olive oil
250 ml/1 cup red wine
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F

Heat olive oil in a frying pan and cook onions for 5 minutes on a medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and the apples, toss them in the onions for a minutes. Set aside.
In a large oven-proof roasting pan, crush the grapes lightly with the palm of you hands. Add the onions and apples, the sprigs of thyme and scatter the sausages. Season lightly with salt & pepper, pour 250ml/ 1 cup of red wine.
Transfer dish to the oven and bake for about 50 to 55 minutes, until the sausages are cooked through and the sauce is thick and glossy.

montdor2

Mont d’Or and almond potatoes

1 Mont d’Or cheese
45 ml/ 3 tablespoons white wine
1 garlic clove, finely sliced

Preheat oven 190°C/ 375°F

Wrap the edges of the Mont d’or container with aluminium foil. With a knife, dig a small hole (remove about one teaspoon or so of cheese), gently stir the cheese inside to allow the wine and garlic to go through.
Pour wine and stuff the garlic in the hole. Place the cheese in a preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, until melted and slightly sizzling.

Almond potatoes

900 g/ 2 pounds potatoes
1 onion, chopped finely
45 ml/ 3 tablespoons olive oil
50 g/ 1/3 cup ground almonds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Hash the onions very small. Peel and slice potatoes into rondelles, about ½ cm thick. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan, fry the onions for 5 minutes, then add the potatoes and continue frying for 2-3 minutes. Cover the potatoes with just enough water to cover them, bring to a boil and cover. Cook for 15 minutes until cooked through.
Add 50 g/ 1/3 cup of ground almonds, toss the potatoes gently.
Serve immediately as a side dish, along with the melted Mont d’Or. Generously drizzle the melted Mont d’or on the potatoes. Serve with the sausages.

pommes

Baked apples with almond cream

1&1/2 tablespoon honey
90 g/ 3/4 cup ground almonds
1 egg yolk
70 g + 20 g/ 1/3 cup + 1&1/2 tbsp (for garnishing) salted butter, at room temperature
6 apples (medium to small-sized)

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.

Rinse apples and pat dry. Cut the top ‘hat’ off the apples and set aside. Core apples (with the help of an apple corer). Place apples in an oven-proof dish.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix ground almonds, egg yolk, butter and honey together. Use a spoon and gently place mixture inside the apples. Spoon more mixture on top of apples and place the top hat on top. Dot each apples with butter and transfer baking dish to a preheated oven 180°C/350°F. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until apples are tender and golden. Serve immediately.

chestnutmuffins

Chestnut and black chocolate chunk muffins

250 g/ 2 cups plain four, sifted
350 g/ 12 ounces puréed chestnuts
120 ml/ 1/2 cup milk
90 g/ 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and at room temperature
A pinch of ground nutmeg
100 g/ 1/2 cup brown sugar
150 g/1/3 pound black chocolate – cut into small chunks
12 g/ 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
2 eggs
(makes about 8 large muffins)

Preheat the oven to180°C/ 350°F.

Cook the chestnuts in large pot of boiling water for 45 minutes. Peel the chestnuts and mash them with a vegetable masher or a food processor.
In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, brown sugar, nutmeg and salt together. Add the puréed chestnuts, milk and eggs. Mix well. Stir in the melted butter. Add the chocolate chunks.
Cut little squares of parchment paper, large enough to fill your muffin mould. Spoon batter in each paper-lined muffin mould to 3/4 full.
Bake muffins in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F for 25-30 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown. Leave to cool on a pastry rack for 10 minutes before serving.

timburton

Milky chicken & butternut squash pancakes

milkchicken

“Don’t tell my husband”, Madame Petit said, with a hesitant smile, “Don’t tell him about your recipe”. I thought I knew what she meant, my recipe sounded so tempting that her husband would request it immediately and perhaps his wife had other plans for the evening. But that was not it. It was the opposite, my recipe had too many herbs, too much garlic. He wouldn’t hear of it. After all a man who has dedicated his life to raising the best chicken in the region (my words not theirs) does not see the need for enhancement or improvement. What you get is what you get. A fantastic tasting bird that only needs a pinch of salt, a dash of pepper. Meat that rivals the best steak, the finest piece of pork.

haricots&chicken

loupumpkin

We had visited Michel and Martine Petit’s farm to buy a quality chicken for my crème fraîche and herb roast chicken recipe, one that is destined for my upcoming book and needs to be practiced to perfection first, with the best available produce. The Vertessec poultry farm is stretched along the route de Bordeaux in Avensac, hundreds of birds roaming free in beautiful pastures. We visit Bordeaux quite regularly and each time I look with admiration at the farm, try to get a peek at the lovely farmhouse tucked in amongst the trees. I always make a mental note to stop there next time but somehow we’ve missed the opening hours every time (we tend to linger too long in Bordeaux) or I’ve not had the time (picking up kids from school, worrying about home alone dogs – that sort of thing). I’ve tasted their birds at friends houses, been amazed and now that we were making a book it was the perfect excuse for a visit.

haricots

I had built up expectations, the farm would be lovely, the people friendly, the chicken heavenly. It was all that and better. Beautiful old-fashioned store that sells pumpkins, eggs, all sorts of chicken sausages and patés. Even local wine and jams. And the birds, so fresh, so big and majestic.
Now back to the conversation. “It’s not that my husband doesn’t like herbs or such but our Faverole chicken, simply doesn’t need it”, she continued. That’s when Michel, the husband, a proud looking, fit man in shiny boots arrived. He listened to us discuss recipes, without any judgement, and then offered to show us the farm. Gaïa loved the little baby chicks and it was a pleasure to see all the birds running around freely – just like it should be and such a nice contrast to all the horrifying reports we’ve had in recent years of poultry production around the world.

beans

chickkids

The funniest moments were with Gertrud, our German Pointer, a bird dog she was simply shivering with anticipation and gave me a look regularly that seemed to say “Is it some sort of joke to bring me here, it’s like bringing a kid to Disneyland and then tell them they can’t go on any rides”. Let’s just say that I didn’t let her off the leash.

ricepudding

Michel spoke at length about his passion for poultry, the different types of birds he breeds, the “normal” ones that can be cooked anyway you like and the Faverole (Poularde cousine Faverole croisée) that is so tasty that it would be a sin to spoil the heavenly meat, all it needs is a hot bath in milk and a rub of salt. I told him that I always felt that the best products need the least preparation and he nodded approvingly – his eyes beamed and although not a boastful man his expression seemed to say “Just wait until you taste my Faverole chicken”.
Apart from all the beauty, all the mouth-watering food, and the sheer pleasure and privilege of being able to buy the best products in such attractive surroundings the real pleasure of the day was to meet people as passionate as Michel and Martine Petit. Everything is done with love. Their son, now heavily involved in the family business has just opened a little store in Paris with Vertessec farm products. “It’s so small you wouldn’t find it even if you were looking for it”, Michel said, but he couldn’t hide his pride in their chicken being sold in Paris. It touches another theme dear to my heart – that of transmission. To pass knowledge down from one generation to another, to pass on and preserve. It’s people like the Petit family that are the reason why French produce is so good – it’s not just a question of selling chicken, it’s the ambition to raise the meilleur chicken, to work twice as hard to make something a little bit better. Like Michel put it. “It’s easy to make good chicken, but to make a great one – aha that’s another story”. “Sometimes I make 90% more effort for 10% more quality – but that is what it takes.” Of course my husband took this as a cue to start talking about dogs and that’s when I wandered off – to take a closer look at the chapons that were running around under a beautiful plum tree that alas never has any plums. I spent a good deal of time in the store, bought two big birds, a sack of wonderful potatoes and Gaïa tried to sneek out with a butternut squash that was lying on top of a stack of pumpkins. I did not authorize that purchase, we have so many at home, but it did inspire me to make butternut pancakes, just to have something to do while the chicken was in the oven. The kids shelled the beautiful red haricots ‘cocos’ beans, which I sautéed in a bit of olive oil, garlic, spring onions and sarriette (I believe it is called summer savory herb in english?). Beans are all over the market these days, and these pink ones are irresistible. Earlier that morning, I made a dessert inspired by a friend’s recommendation. It’s called teurgoule, a classic recipe from Normandie, slow-cooked in the oven for a perfectly creamy and comforting cinnamon flavored rice pudding. It is best to use fresh unpasteurized fresh farm milk to get the extra creamy results, but you can also use fresh full-fat milk. It’s such a delightful dessert, the whole kitchen is perfumed with cinnamon for hours and the smell lingers on all day. What a great way to welcome the fall season.

butternutpancake

Butternut pancakes with crispy sage beurre noisette

(for 8 to 10 pancakes)

200 g/ 1 1/3 cup butternut, peeled and cooked
180 g/ 1 ½ cup plain flour
80 ml/ 1/3 cup crème fraîche
30 g/ 1/3 cup parmesan (optional)
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
Butter, for frying

For the crispy sage beurre noisette (butter):
A small bunch of sage leaves
80 g/ 1/3 cup unsalted butter

In a bowl, mix the egg, cooked butternut purée, and crème fraîche. Add the grated parmesan (optional), salt, flour and baking powder until you get a smooth batter. Lightly butter a frying pan over a medium heat, and cook pancakes – flip them over when the surface starts to become bubbly. Pancakes should be golden brown.

For the crispy sage beurre noisette (butter):

Heat butter in a small saucepan, add a pinch of salt and sage leaves on a medium heat. Cook for a few minutes until the butter turns golden brown and the sage leaves are crispy. Set aside.

Serve pancakes with a drizzle of beurre noisette and sage leaves on top. It is also delicious served with a poached egg.

Haricots ‘cocos’ rouges

900 g/ 2 pounds fresh red ‘coco’ beans, shelled
5 branches sariette herb/ summer savory
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
2 spring onions, finely sliced
Olive oil, for frying
Salt & pepper

Cook shelled beans in a large pot of boiling water for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender and cooked. Drain and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan, add the spring onions and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beans and sarriette/ summer savory herbs and continue to cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

milkchicken2

‘Milky’ Roast chicken

(serves 6)

For this recipe, M. Petit advised me to first poach the chicken in a mixture of milk and water, then cook in the oven on a lower heat (150°C/ 300°F, increasing to 180°C/ 350°F for the last 15 minutes. The ‘Poularde cousine Faverole croisée’ variety is renowned for its incredible taste and quality, so he recommends to only season with salt and pepper to keep the authentic taste of the chicken.

950 ml/4 cups milk
2 liters/ 8 cups water
1 good-quality chicken (In this recipe it is a ‘poularde cousine Faverole croisée variety’ from Vertessec farm in Médoc) – 1.3 kg/ 3 pounds approx
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 150°C/ 300°F

In a large pot, bring the milk and water to a boil and poach the chicken for 10 to 15 minutes on a medium heat.

Place the chicken on a roasting pan, pour a ladle or two of the poaching liquid over the chicken and season inside and out with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook in a preheated oven for 1 hour. Add 2 to 3 ladles of the poaching liquid during the cooking process. Increase the heat to 180°C/ 350°F and cook for 15 more minutes or until golden.

chicken&pudding

Teurgoule

(serves 6 to 8)

Preheat oven to 150°C/ 300°F.

2 liters/ 8 cups fresh milk (preferably raw milk or at least fresh full-fat)
150 g rice (I used Arborio rice)
180 g granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a large pot (preferably an earthenware terrine pot), mix the rice, sugar and ground cinnamon together. Pour milk on top and cook in a preheated oven for 4 to 5 hours. The rice pudding should be thick and creamy, with a dark brown caramelized ‘croûte’ (crust) on top. Serve warm.

Paradise reclaimed

blackberrysouffle

By the gate of our garden, alongside the little road that leads to the house, there is a wild patch of land that we seldom visit. It’s filled with thorns and thistles, ferns and more distressingly, snakes. The dogs like to go there to hunt for rabbits or mice and once we found Sky, a fox terrier bitch, under the trunk of a dead tree in this wild spot, deep into labor – we were just in time. We call this mystical place Eden, because of the snakes I suppose. In Eden there are sometimes blackberries and we can pick them from the safety of our garden without having to enter. We only take the ones on the higher branches in case the lower ones have been soiled by foxes or other animals. Gaïa, my youngest is absolutely crazy about blackberries and has stained so many dresses with her sticky little fingers. At least the stains are of a lovely color. It’s a case of endless frustration for her that she’s not allowed to pick the lower berries and as Eden doesn’t have so many berries they were soon gone. She found that even more frustrating.

makingsouffle

A mind of a two-year old is endlessly fascinating and we noticed that Gaïa, who usually is just glued to me, starting venturing about, trying to get out of the garden. The dogs have a route and Gaïa found it. She was drawn to the forest as if her mind was telling her that even if the berries here were gone, there must be more elsewhere. About ten days ago she was particularly insistent, so Oddur and I took her on a little walk, to satisfy her curiosity. I was hopeful and brought a basket, if not for blackberries then perhaps a few cèpes? We didn’t go very far, only a few hundred meters, and we didn’t find much of anything. Gaïa just couldn’t understand it, she had been so certain. It was a lovely walk though and the dogs enjoyed it more than anyone. I love to walk amongst the dogs when the evening sun hits the forest and their enthusiastic running surrounds us with a cloud of powdery earth.
Hudson felt sorry for his sister, he knows what it’s like to want things badly. He always wants something and he usually gets it. This time would be no different, he was on the case. His father encouraged him, “I’m sure there must be a few more in the garden, you just have to look”, he said in a serious tone meaning that Hudson should not give up easily. And Hudson looked and found. He found an enormous amount to be exact. He brought back a whole bowl. He said there were more and he was right. About ten bowls worth. He had found them in the opposite end of the garden, as far away from Eden as possible. In the wettest part of the garden, which turns to a lake in winter. I’m sure they weren’t there last year, or maybe they were, who knows.

blackberries2

This story, if it’s even a story, reminds me of a novel by the Icelandic Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness. A farmer goes looking for a promised land and paradise but doesn’t succeed and returns home where he finds everything he was looking for. The book is called Paradise Reclaimed (Paradísarheimt) and is a reminder that the things we are looking for are very often just under our noses. Paradise is a state of mind or in this case a whole lot of blackberries.

blackberries

The question was, what to do with all the blackberries? It’s still summer (yes, don’t argue with me on that) so ice-cream seemed ideal. I love a good soufflé so that was an option too. A simple soufflé with blackberry ice cream, or a blackberry soufflé with vanilla ice-cream. In the end I made it all with blackberries. The ice-cream and soufflé took a bit of time so I had to come up with something quick for the main course. I was inspired by my walk in the forest and that’s what I wanted, flavors of the forest. Luckily I had just bought some figs and girolles and had some shortcrust pastry ready to be used. I love Rocamadour cheese (a lovely creamy goat’s cheese and small in size) and thought it would be a great match with Bayonne ham and a succulent slice of fig. So I made a cheese pastry with all these ingredients, or should I say a fromage en croûte, surrounded by delicious girolles en persillade (sautéed with butter, parsley and garlic). This dish is just like a walk in the woods.

Talking of paradise, my husband has just found his. For him, paradise is a dog called Humfri. Or more precisely Glendraterra Humfri Bogart. He had seen a photo of this dog when he was 4 months old and I don’t think he’s let a day pass since without mentioning him. He says it’s the most beautiful Smooth Fox Terrier in the world and therefore the most beautiful dog in the world. Not a small title. His previous owners, a lovely couple called Jenny and Roger of the Glendraterra kennel in England, were finally ready to let him go. He’s an English Champion and has star quality in spades, just like the Humphrey he’s named after. A true terrier, full of energy with a keen interest in the ladies. He’s already been to Paris and Bordeaux and is settling into life in Médoc.

awalkinthewoods

blackberrysouffle2

The other night at dinner my husband was telling the kids that a hundred years from now the families of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be sitting like us, having dinner and they too will have a dog like Humfri under the table – his descendants. I think that’s a lovely thought.

Maybe they’ll be having one of my recipes?

forestflavors

Rocamadour en-croûte with figs, Bayonne ham and girolles en persillade (cheese pastry with Bayonne ham and figs)
(serves 4)

4 little rocamadour cheese, 35 g each (You can use any of your favourite cheese, I would recommend camembert or a rich creamy goat’s cheese)
2 slices Bayonne ham
4 figs
300 g/ 2/3 pounds pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry)
250 g/ 1/2 pound girolles mushrooms
1 egg, for glazing
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp parsley, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, minced
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven 425°F/210°C

Roll out the pâte brisée and cut into circles (4&1/2 inches/ 11 cm wide). Slice fig into 4 slices.
Place ½ slice Bayonne ham, then the cheese, then a slice of fig, leaving ½ inch of edge.
Brush the edges with water and place another circle on top. Seal the edges firmly. Decorate as you wish (little leaves for me).
Brush with a glaze of beaten egg and place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden.

Meanwhile, prepare the girolles mushrooms.

Slice the remaining figs in small quarters. In a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter on a medium heat. Cook the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes, season with salt & pepper. Add the minced garlic, figs and cook for 1 more minutes, then add the chopped parsley and cook for 30 more seconds.

Place the pastry in the center of the plate, and scatter the mushrooms around. Serve immediately.

blackberryicecream

Blackberry ice-cream
(serves 8-10)

400 g/ 2 cups blackberries
75 g/ 6 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp water
250 ml/ 1 cup heavy cream

Rinse blackberries and drain. In a saucepan, place blackberries, sugar, 2 tablespoons water and lemon juice. Cook for 10-15 minutes on a medium to low heat, stirring frequently. Pass half of the mixture through a sieve so remove pips (or all of the mixture if you don’t like pips). Set aside and leave to cool completely. Then place in the refrigerator for a least 1 hour.
Combine blackberries mixture with the heavy cream. Switch your ice-cream maker on, pour in cream mixture. Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.
Transfer ice-cream to an air-tight container and place in the freezer for a few hours or overnight.

blackberrysouffle3

Blackberries soufflé
(serves 4 medium ramekins)

2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
65 g/ 1/3 cup  + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
400 g/ 2 cups blackberries (keep about 20 aside to freeze for garnishing)
2 tbsp orange blossom water
½ tbsp cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 210°C/ 425°F
Butter the ramekins and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Place in the refrigerator until usage.
In a saucepan, cook blackberries with 2 tbsp sugar for 5 minutes on a medium heat. Mash blackberries with a fork and pass through a sieve. Add 2 tbsp orange blossom water. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time and set aside until cooled.
Whisk egg whites till they hold soft peaks, gradually adding ½ tbsp cornstarch and 60 g sugar.
Fold in the blackberries mixture to the egg whites. Fill the ramekins to the brim with the mixture and level off the surface with a spatula.
Place ramekins on a baking tray in the center of the oven and bake at 210° C/ 425°F for 11-14 minutes (depending on oven strength), or until well-risen and golden.
Sprinkle with icing sugar, place a few frozen blackberries on top of soufflés and serve immediately.

humfri

Local is lovely, seasonal is swell

filetmignon

A few weeks ago we had a big storm here in Médoc. After days of glorious sunshine the weather hit us around midnight with torrential rain and ferocious winds. Soon after the electricity left us. We stumbled around the house, with iPhones and candles, frantically searching for the raincoats and hats that had previously been made redundant by the sun. The kids enjoyed the adventure of skulking around the garden in oversized rainboots, getting in the dogs, securing a few plants. Afterwards we had hot drinks together and observed the forces of nature. The next morning we looked at the damage in the garden, not too bad, a few broken branches, the pool covered in leaves, some unhappy tomato plants. There was still no electricity and my husband thought it was quite charming until he realized that it meant no coffee, he’s not that fond of tea. Slowly we settled into our morning habits and braced ourselves for days of “old fashioned living”. It wasn’t to be though, the electricity came back hours later – for once we could have done with some French inefficiency.
In the course of the next few days we found out that many others had less charming experiences that particular night. Our good friend Fabien had devastating damage to his pretty windmill (he was stoic about it though “I guess we’ll just have to rebuild it”, he said with a bittersweet smile). The place worst hit by the weather was Pauillac, somehow caught in the eye of the storm. Many of the amazing weeping willow trees of Chateau Lafite, that grace the road we usually take to Pauillac were broken and torn – it’s was a sad sight.   And most curiously, the bell of the church in Pauillac fell off and landed on the roof of a little house that stands next to the tower.

aubergines

chasselas

vegshopping

The chasselas grapes from Moissac

The chasselas grapes from Moissac

We have a habit of going to markets on Saturday mornings and this weekend we chose Pauillac, perhaps because we felt the town needed a little lift after all it had endured and nothing says I’m back better than a bustling market filled with people. It’s a very good market I might add. When we arrived I realized that I had absolutely no idea of what to get and not even a starting point – no particular cravings, which in my case just doesn’t happen. I guess I’ve been cooking so much for my book that I’ve managed to satisfy, briefly, every part of my palate. This food calmness, however, didn’t last. As soon as I saw the chasselas grapes of Moissac, perhaps the food I most associate with my childhood and summers spent at my grandmother’s house, I knew they would take the lead. Now who would they dance with? A tasty piece of foie gras, no not this time – I chose to pair them with the all too inviting filets mignons of pork.  I love cooking pork on a slightly sweet and sour note, besides a piece of meat that’s called mignon (it means cute in French) deserves to be only paired with sweetness.

beans2

canneles

Strolling through the vineyards.

Strolling through the vineyards.

Reine Claude plums are hard to ignore this time of year, filling every stall in every market. They got my attention even if I had no idea of what to make of them (it’s the Moissac effect again, apparently the first Reine Claude plums/greengages were cultivated there). Lots of other vegetables found their way into my basket, all kinds of beans, garlics and onions. I found the rest of my family wishfully looking at a pizza truck. “I’m thirsty” said Hudson, “Maybe we should share one” said my husband “just to sample it”. I’m not too big on pizzas but this time I was outvoted. We shared a big one with duck breast – a local favorite that makes for an interesting mix. “It’s the magret des Landes” said the merchant reassuringly. It’s good to know where food comes from, isn’t it.

We bumped into the lovely Ponsar family from Château Tour Marcillanet.

We bumped into the lovely Ponsar family from Château Tour Marcillanet.

market

mulets

pizza

pizza2

On the way home we drove through the vineyards of Pauillac and even if we were in a bit of hurry I couldn’t resist the urge to jump out of the car and take a little walk. The landscape is just so beautiful and at the risk of sounding childish, walking amongst the vines is like jumping into a painting, just like they did in Mary Poppins, into a fantastical world with castles and forests and picturesque vineyards. We probably stayed there for an hour, the kids were thrilled to find a little tower open and accessible.
Later that afternoon I started preparing dinner. It’s such a pleasure to arrange all the fruits and vegetables on my kitchen table. So much goodness, some of them linked with places in my heart or parts of the year. The green plums of summer found themselves in a tart made with a speculoos biscuit crust (which I may add only needs 8 minutes baking time).  The grapes of my childhood found happy partners in the filet mignons, shallots and white wine. The haricots beans were only too happy to be introduced to the pearly and translucent spring onion, dressed with a sienna colored vinaigrette.

Local is lovely, seasonal is swell.

ps: I borrowed part of the title of this post from a blog called ‘Local is lovely‘ – it’s a super blog, isn’t it nice to see what’s cooking on the other side of the world?

dinner

Pork filet mignon with chasselas grapes
(serves 4)
500-600 g/ 1.5 pounds approx pork tenderloin (filet mignon), sliced approx 1.5 cm thick
1-2 small bunches of chasselas grapes
150 ml/ 2/3 cup white wine + 2 tbsp for the end
2-3 shallots, sliced finely
30 ml / 1/8 cup veal stock
Salt and pepper, for seasoning.
Unsalted butter and 1 tbsp olive oil, for frying
Slice shallots finely and fry in 1 tbsp butter for 5 minutes on a medium heat. Add wine and lower heat – reduce until nearly totally absorbed.
Slice the grapes and deseed (I only deseed half of the grapes as they are so small and they look so pretty). Add to the pan, along with a little knob of butter and cook for 2 minutes, until glossy. Set aside.
In another pan, heat olive oil and the rest of the butter, fry the pork filet mignons for 3-4 minutes on each side. Season with salt & back pepper. Remove the filets from the pan, scrape off residue from the pan, add the veal stock, 2 tbsp wine (for those you like the extra sweet note, why don’t you try this step using port instead?  It’s really good!) and 1/2 tbsp butter. Reduce for 2 minutes on a high heat. Return meat to the pan, lower the heat and add the shallots/chasselas grape mixture for a few seconds. Season if necessary. Serve immediately.

beans

Yellow flat bean salad with spring onion (serves 4, as a side dish)
450-500 g yellow flat beans (or any fresh flat beans variety)
2-3 spring onions, sliced finely
Vinaigrette:
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp mustard
1 garlic cloves, minced
1 & 1/2 tsp wine vinegar
Salt & pepper – for seasoning
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir until the vinaigrette is smooth.
Rinse the beans. Cut the tips. Using kitchen scissors or a knife, cut the beans in half. Cook them in a large pot of salted boiling water for approximately 25 minutes, until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside and leave to cool.
Slice spring onions finely. Scatter the onions and drizzle the vinaigrette over the beans.

rcplumtart2

Reine claude tart with salted butter caramel and speculoos crust (serves 6)

This tart was a winner with my family.  The mixture of the salted butter in the speculoos crust, combined withe the slight acidity of the fruit compote and the sweetness of the plums is too delicious, and when you add that drizzle of the salted-butter caramel…  it’s heavenly.

250 g/ ½ pound speculoos biscuits
90 g/ salted butter, melted
700-800 g reine claude plums, sliced
For the compote/ fruit purée
2 small apples
1 pear
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp muscovado sugar
Salted-butter caramel
150 g / ¾ cup granulated sugar
45g/ 3 tbsp salted butter, at room temperature
60 ml/1/4 cup heavy cream, slighty warm
1 pinch fleur de sel (fleur de sel salt, or alternatively kosher salt)
Preheat oven 180° C/ 350 F
Crumble the speculoos biscuits in a food processor. Add the melted butter, mix until you get a dough-like mixture. Spread/line this mixture on a 26 cm / 10 inches tart pan. Blind bake the tart for 8-10 minutes. Leave to cool and place in the freezer for 1&1/2 to 2 hours before garnishing so the crust sets.
Peel apples and pear. Slice coarsely and place in a saucepan. Cover and cook on a low heat until the fruits are softened, about 20 minutes. (you can use a fork to mash them of necessary) add the cinnamon and sugar and continue to cook. Set aside and leave to cool.
For the caramel:
In a saucepan, melt the sugar until it forms an amber-colored caramel (do not stir until it melt completely), on a medium to low heat. As soon as the color turns amber, take off the heat and add salted butter. Stir quickly with a wooden spoon, return to heat for a few second . Take off the heat again and add the slightly warm cream. Stir quickly and return to heat for 10 seconds, stirring continuously until smooth. Set aside.
Slice the plums into slim slices. Spread the fruit purée in the base of the tart, then garnish with the plums (see photos). Drizzle caramel on tart, or serve it as a sauce on the side. Keep leftover caramel in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Re-heat gently before serving.

rcplumtart

Les courgettes de Bernadette

courgettes

Last Sunday I got an early morning phone call from my neighbor Bernadette. She asked if I could pop by her house before lunch, she didn’t say why. I was excited, I wondered if the tomatoes she had promised me were ready and ripe. Recently I baked her a box full of canelés, her favorite, and when I brought them over she mentioned that some of the glorious tomatoes growing in her garden had my name on them. On the other hand I thought it was a bit early in the summer for her tomatoes. What else could it be? A thought crept into my head, was it possible that Gertrud, our liver colored (I like to call her chocolate brown, much more appealing) German Pointer had broken into Bernadette’s garden and had a bit too much fun, bringing with her a Fox Terrier or two? I sincerely hoped not. I quickly threw on some clothes and headed for Bernadette’s. Like a good Médocain I brought a nice bottle of wine, to say sorry if it was needed, to say thank you if it was appropriate. I turned out that the tomatoes were still green, that there had been no dog mischief. When I arrived at Bernadette’s house I saw a stack of gigantic beautiful courgettes on her garden table and she insisted I take them all. “We have so many, and there are only two of us” she said. I promised to return soon with more canelés, “to go with the wine” she said as I walked away carrying as many courgettes as my arms could hold.

beach2

On the way to Bernadette’s I had been thinking of tomato recipes but on the way home there were only courgettes on my mind. She had suggested that I fill some of them with sausage meat and cheese, ‘c’est si bon les courgettes farçies, Mimi!‘. Luckily there was still time to pass by the butcher’s to get the necessary sausages. I guess I couldn’t completely forget about tomatoes so I found a way of including them. I baked the courgettes on a bed of homemade tomato sauce.

That was our lunch and everybody loved it. The roast chicken I had been preparing for lunch was simply promoted to dinner which meant we had lots of time to kill. And what better to do with an unexpectedly free afternoon in August, when the weather is playing along with our wishes, than go to the beach. And what a lovely beach we have.
Those enormous courgettes have had place of honor on my kitchen table for the last few days, some slowly disappeared into a ratatouille others into omelettes. One of the most satisfying dishes that I’ve made out of them in the last few days is a last-minute improvised pasta dish that I threw together when my wolflike family had just returned from the beach and could not wait very long to be nourished. I love to use mint in everything these days, its one of the key tastes of summer for me. We are having so much luck with our mint growing this year, the more we use the more it grows. I feel like I am sending the kids out three times a day to get more mint for my cooking, sometimes they even turn up in the kitchen with mint or thyme just in case.

In this house, being prepared means having herbs in your pocket.

stuffedcourgettes

Courgettes farçies (stuffed zucchini)
(serves 4-6)

Preheat oven 180°C/ 350 F

2 very large zucchini, or 4 medium-sized ones
8 good-quality sausages – approx 450 g/ 1 pound
½ bunch of parsley, chopped finely
1 onion, sliced finely
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely
¼ tsp épices Rabelais (alternatively all spice)
110 g/ ¾ cup fresh breadcrumbs
150 g/1 & 1/2 cup Emmental or parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp mustard
Salt & black pepper

For the sauce:
3 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1 can plum tomatoes, crushed (you can use your hands or a potato/vegetable masher
2 tbsp red wine
Sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf and a dash of oregano
Coarse salt and black pepper

Make the sauce:
In a saucepan, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil and cook 3 garlic cloves (finely sliced). Add one can of crushed plum tomatoes, a few sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf, red wine and a dash of oregano. Season with salt and black pepper. Cover with parchment paper and simmer on a low heat for one hour.
For the filling:
Trim zucchini and slice lengthwise. If they are very large (like mine in the photos), divide them into three to four logs. Scoop out the seeds, leaving approx. 1 cm zucchini flesh inside.
In another bowl, squeeze out the sausage meat. Mix sausage meat with spices, garlic, mustard, thyme, half the breadcrumbs, onion, and parsley. Season with coarse salt & black pepper. Stuff the zucchini with the mixture.
Pour the sauce in a baking dish, place stuffed zucchini on top and sprinkle with grated cheese and breadcrumbs.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes 180°C /350 F until meat is cooked and melted cheese is golden.

courgettepasta

Zucchini pasta
(serves 4)

2 large zucchini, grated coarsely
2 garlic cloves, slice finely
3 tbsp crème fraîche
1 tbsp butter
500 g pasta of your choice
¼ tsp piment d’espellette (optional)
125 g pine nuts
Olive oil
A handful of chopped basil and mint leaves
Salt & pepper for seasoning
50 g /1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Put the pine nuts in a dry skillet and cook on a medium heat for 3 minutes until golden, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool and chop them coarsely.
Trim zucchini and grate coarsely (I use a food processor/ medium grater disc) – they look like short match sticks. Alternatively you can chop by hand.
Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water. Reserve ½ cup cooking liquid.
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan, add zucchini. Toss for a few minutes, then add garlic, piment d’espellette, crème fraîche, and cooking liquid, continue to stir for 2-3 minutes. Add 1 tbsp butter, season with salt and pepper, mix gently.
Add pasta to the zucchini pan. Add grated parmesan cheese, chopped mint and basil and chopped pine nuts. Toss everything together.
Just before serving, sprinkle with more parmesan cheese, chopped mint and basil. Serve immediately.

beach

Plenty of mussels

moules

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

mimimoules

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

moules&garlic

peaches&melon

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

biscuits

garlic

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

moulesbefore&after

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

mouleprep

Mussels with sausage meat (serves about 4)

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

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

biscuits2

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

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

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

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

blmoules

Bastille day barbecue

peachsoup

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

ventreche

balloons

peachsoup3

carambar

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

squiffy

jeanie

hudson&ventreche

peachsoup4

peaches

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

mimi&zucchiniflan

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

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

ventreche&zucchiniflan

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

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

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

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

peachsoup2

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

Bastilleday

Duck burger & cherry clafoutis

cherryclafoutis

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

fieldofflowers

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

pool&coccinelle

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

duckburger2

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

pool

field

cherryclafoutis2b

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

alfresco

alfresco3

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

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

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

duckburger

Duck burger patties (for 8 patties)

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

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

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

Hamburger buns (makes about 16-18 buns)

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

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

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

sliceofclacoutis

Cherry clafoutis

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

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

Preheat oven 200°C/ 400 F

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

A day in the life of Yves Lajoux

flambe

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

catchingamule

greentomatoes

mimi&mule

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

cherries&lajoux

cabane

cherries

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

yveslajoux

pate

mimi2

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

yves

yves&mimi

cabin&gambas

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

mimi&hudson

yves&hudson

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

mulecarpaccio

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

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

dogs&pate

Chicken liver terrine (makes about 3 terrine pans)

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

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

gambas&tomatoes

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

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

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

Rendez-vous across the river

poultryman2

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

patisserie

cherries

flowergirl

ari&audur

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

makingravioli

duckravioli2

salmontartar2

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

thecherrytree

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

duckravioli

morilles

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

stephane

stemilion

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

Merci Stéphane for sharing these wonderful recipes!

salmontartar

Stéphane’s salmon tartare

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

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

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

duckravioli3

Duck confit & foie gras raviolis

Ingredients:

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

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

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

moulin

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