Around two years ago I was walking the streets of Toulouse after a wonderful meal: the local Cassoulet and some heavenly desserts. We had invited my aunt, Francine, who more than anyone inspired me to start cooking and I was in high spirits as I walked the streets of the “pink” city in the beautiful afternoon light. Then came the blow. One phone call from my banker telling me that the loan everybody had told me we would get, wouldn’t be coming after all. It was complicated, it had gone fairly smoothly through the system but stopped at the top. But he wished me a great weekend. I still remember the street I stood in, the pretty rose-colored patina of the house next to me, the joyful sounds of my children walking ahead of us. The worried look on my husband’s face.
We had found the house of our dreams, and through the kindness of the man selling us the house we had already spent precious moments there, made little visits, had picnics. The kids had been scared by the ghosts, the bat and the cat. We had peeled off some wallpaper, found an old gramophone, we had danced in that house. And now it might never be ours. After an hour of some anger, some frustration, we got optimistic again. That house would always become ours, one way or the other. Then we had pizza. I even had spritz. And I don’t like spritz that much.
1 rue de Loudenne was always more than just a house to us, even more than a home. It is an idea, a project, one that will keep evolving. I knew from the first day I set foot in it that this house could only lead to good things. It has, wonderful workshops, countless family meals and moments, a long list of beautiful feasts with people we care about. That crazy pop-up ‘family restaurant’ we did last summer.
And last but not least …
… the cookbook I wrote last year.
I had already written one cookbook but I was overflowing with ideas for new recipes and eager to include some classic ones. Oddur said the other day “that’s a good recipe I think”. I looked at him and answered “they are all good recipes”. And I mean it. Why would they ever have gotten in there if I didn’t think that. I just love this book so much, in some ways it was harder to make than the first one, we were after all, renovating a house at the same time, and raising a little girl, uh-hum and a few other kids.
The pop-up family ‘restaurant’, what an adventure. We assembled a very curious team, we had so much fun. Perhaps most meaningful of all, I think the guests who came loved it. At least I was satisfied. We set out to do something, sort of impossible, and at the end it all my goal was this: a restaurant I would have liked to have gone to and been happy I did. I think we managed that.
‘French Country Cooking’ is my new love and I can’t wait to have her in my hands in a few weeks. The best feeling is that for better or for worse, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Like I say somewhere in the book, it’s the cookbook that wrote itself, these are the recipes I love and the memories I treasure.
October 25th can’t come soon enough so I can share it all with you.
I’m so excited about this book and of course I want as many of you as possible to have it … which means, at least in most cases, to buy it. I think that’s what any creator wants, for people to enjoy what he has made. So we came up with this little incentive, for those of you who are as impatient as I am. Anyone who preorders the book before October 25th will get a special, pocket-sized notebook for keeping notes and planning meals.
To receive the notebook all you have to do is sign up here and provide proof that you have preordered French Country Cooking. The many who have already preordered the book are of course also eligible for the notebook.
I’m very happy with this idea of a little kitchen notebook, in fact I can’t wait to have a few of them myself, very useful in the kitchen these little books. This time we had a French illustrator help us with a few images and one of them will be on the notebook, a Smooth Fox Terrier – of course.
‘French Country Cooking‘ available for preorder at:
We decided to share two recipes from the book, something light and easy that everybody would like. By the way, the book is divided into several sections and these two I’m sharing come from Goûter (the special snack time in the afternoon for children of all ages) and Staff Meals (inspired from our moments before or after service last summer).
All I can say is that I’m waiting very anxiously for this book and I hope that at least some of you are a little bit excited too.
Mimolette and Comté Mac and Cheese
Serves 6 to 8
This section of the book turned out to be a who’s who of comfort food—and it wouldn’t be complete without the king of comfort foods: mac and cheese. As a kid in Hong Kong, I remember reading about this exciting dish and desperately wanting to try it. I also remember my disappointment when, having coaxed my mother or some nanny into buying a ready-made version, I realized that maybe it wasn’t the best food in the world after all. But all that is relative. You reap as you sow. I still believe in the power of mac and cheese when it is done right. With just enough glorious, pungent cheese, it can still be, on a good day, the best food that a little girl ever dreamed existed.
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, halved
5 tablespoons/60 g unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups / 600 ml whole milk
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of piment d’espelette or mild chile powder
1 pound/500 g dried small penne or macaroni pasta
10 ounces/300 g mimolette cheese, grated (about 2 2/3 cups)
5 ounces/150 g comté cheese, grated (about 1 1/3 cups)
1.Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Butter a large ovenproof skillet.
2.Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
3.In a food processor, pulse the bread crumbs with the garlic and 1 tablespoon / 15 g of the butter.
4.In a medium skillet, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons / 45 g butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Immediately whisk in the milk, little by little, and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the mustard, nutmeg, and piment d’Espelette and season with salt and pepper.
5.Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente according to the package directions.
6.Whisk half of each cheese into the sauce. When the pasta is al dente, drain and mix the pasta into the sauce in the pan until well combined along with the rest of the grated cheese.
7.Pour the pasta mixture into the buttered ovenproof skillet. Scatter the breadcrumb mixture all over the dish and transfer to the oven. Bake until bubbling and golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve hot.
Fig and Pistachio Cake
This is my garden party cake, the one I’d make if the Queen of England ever came to visit. She’d have to come in fig season, of course, and we’d have tea and a slice each of this moist cake. We would sit there and discuss our dogs and she would comment that fox terriers have a terrible reputation and that, in her opinion, corgis are a much more interesting breed. She’s the Queen so I wouldn’t argue with that; afterwards we’d just stick to the weather and have more cake.
1 1/3 cups/200 g unsalted pistachios, plus more for garnish
8 tablespoons/120 g unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
¾ cup / 150 g sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
6 large egg whites pinch of fine sea salt
½ cup / 120 ml heavy cream
¼ cup / 60 ml mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons honey, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons orange flower water
10 small fresh figs, quartered
1.Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C.
2.In a food processor, combine the pistachios, butter, ½ cup/100 g of the sugar, and the vanilla and pulse for a minute or until you get a smooth paste. Add the egg yolks, one by one, and pulse until well combined. Transfer the pistachio mixture to a large bowl.
3.Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites, and when the mixture starts to foam, add the salt. Continue to whip on high-speed, gradually adding the remaining ¼ cup/50 g sugar, until the whites hold stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the pistachio mixture.
4.Grease an 8-inch/20 cm cake pan with butter. Pour the batter into the pan and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before unmolding onto a wire rack to cool completely.
5.Using an electric mixer, whip together the heavy cream, mascarpone, honey, and orange flower water until the cream holds stiff peaks, about 3 minutes.
6.Spread the cream on top of the cooled cake and arrange the quartered figs on top. Crush some pistachios and scatter all over. Finish with a drizzle of honey to gloss it up. Serve immediately.