Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jingle Bells, Cookie Time...

Fellow Blogger and namesake Barbara from Moveable Feasts got me in the mood with her cheerful, fabulous post on Cranberry Rum Shortbread Cookies . So yesterday I spent a whole day in the kitchen producing not only those truly delicious and very adult cookies (thank you, Barbara for sharing this recipe, a real keeper!) but also batches and batches of the ones you see above. Simple sweet shortbread with lemon sugar glaze. They will be served as one of several desserts at our traditional "Countdown to Christmas"- party. Now I can't stop humming "Jingle Bells"......

Friday, November 30, 2012

France's best loved Desserts

It had to be chocolate! Of that I was fairly certain when I spotted the headline "The 40 Desserts the French like best" on the title of Gourmand Magazine at my local supermarket checkout. I would have betted on Mousse au Chocolat, but no, Fondants au Chocolat made No.1, relegating good old Mousse to No. 3! I really don't see the attraction of these little muffins with the molten chocolate heart, much preferrring solid classics like the Tarte au Pommes (No. 4), Crème brûlée (No. 7), Tarte au Citron (No.15) or a good old fashioned Clafoutis (No.18) but I guess we have to be thankful that "foreign intruders" like Banana Split and Brownies had to share a ranking at No. 21!  So tell me please: What is your best loved dessert?
Fondant au Chocolat as seen on Gourmand's title

Gourmand magazine

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No more publicity please!

Do you also get those flyers announcing all the special offers your local supermarkets have on offer? Here in Provence almost every second letterbox has a sticker "Pas de Pub svpl" (no publicity flyers please) but until now I have always wanted to have on that would say "Pub svpl" (yes, please give me all those flyers and leaflets) because I like to see what's going on. I actually like to study all those pre holiday offers - where to get the best oysters or goose liver, the freshest lobsters, tastiest capons and best wines and champagne. Because that is what all holidays in France are - an excuse for an extravagant feast.
Well, my passion for studying these offers has been pretty much killed off I am afraid. And before you look down I have to warn not only all vegetarians but everybody else, who, like me likes to eat meat but not always thinks too much about what his food looks like in its natural state.
Because this is what I found in today's leaflet advertising this weeks special offers in my local supermarket:

For the royal price of just € 2.20 there are half a pig's head (without tongue and brain as is so helpfully stated) plus two pig's feet to be had. € 2.20 = $ 2.80! And just in case you are wondering - these are the main ingredients for the famous French "fromage de tête" or head cheese - meat in aspic that is. The pig's feet being the source of the jelly that binds the "cheese" together. Too much information? Definitely. Now where do I get that "Pas de Pub" sticker?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Marks & Spencer eat you heart out - or my mushroom soup

Sometimes I prepare recipes again and again and then somehow just forget about them. Happened to me with this mushroom soup. When I lived in London for a few years, Marks & Spencer sold such a wonderfully flavorful and delicious mushroom soup I never even thought of preparing my own.  But as these shops do, all of a sudden they stopped selling it. So I saw the error of my ways and found this recipe to prepare my own and just as tasty soup. And then forgot about it. Totally. This Tuesday it was freezing cold and our Provençal market had but two items in abundance: walnuts and mushrooms. And all of a sudden I remembered and then even found my old recipe - the search took longer than the cooking...
5 dried porcini and 600 gr (1.3 pounds) chestnut mushrooms
olive oil
2 shallots and 2  cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of thyme
1/2 l (2 cups) vegetable stock
3 tbsp crème fraîche (thick cream)
salt and pepper, some stalks of flat leaf (Italian) parsley
Soak the dried porcini in 1/4 l  (1 cup) warm water until soft. Clean the chestnut mushrooms with a brush, save two mushrooms for decoration, roughly chop up the rest of the mushrooms. Peel and also roughly chop the shallots and garlic. Heat a splash of olive oil, add mushrooms, shallots, garlic, the leaves of the tyme and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Add the soaked porcini. Pour the soaking water of the porcini through a filter to catch any remaining dirt, then add the filtered soaking water and the vegetable stock to the mushrooms and season with a few rounds of the pepper mill and a pinch of salt. Let simmer for about 10 minutes before liquidizing the mixture with a stick blender. Stir in the crème fraîche, adjust the seasoning if necessary and decorate with mushroom slices and some chopped parsley.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cauliflower and Fennel Soup

I have to admit - I am partial to pretty soups. A bright red pepper soup or a pale orange carrot soup served on a white plate is as pleasing to the eye as it is delicious. Sadly with this soup you will have to work on the presentation, as pretty it is not. But its grey paleness hides masses of flavour and the Pastis gives it  a certain something très Provençal! Ladle the soup into a brightly coloured plate, sprinkle lots of parsley on top - et voilà - one more delicious soup to chase away the cold and winterblues.

Peel and chop 2 cloves of garlic and one half of a big white onion. Gently fry in a good slug of olive oil until soft.

Chop one fennel bulb (discard the hard core) and add to the pot. Sprinkle one tsp of tarragon leaves and keep on stirring until the vegetables are softening.

Add the florets of half a cauliflower, 1/2 liter (2 cups) of vegetable stock and let simmer until the cauliflower is soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper, a good slug of Pastis and some crème fraîche and mix until smooth. Serves 4

I'd like to give credit for the inspiration of this soup to Tim Vidra of E.A.T. whose Halloween post made me buy the cauliflower of which I only used half (and very good it was roasted according to Tim's recipe, too!) and to Claudia of A Seasonal Cook in Turkey whose delicious Cauliflower Soup recipe reminded me of this one that I had all but forgotten about. Thank you!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Does it ever snow in Provence?

Does it ever snow in Provence? I am often asked this by my lovely guests who come to cook with me at  Cuisine de Provence . Well, here is the answer - this is the view that greeted me this morning when I opened the window. After having had lunch outside until just two days ago now we are experiencing a real bad cold spell - icy Mistral winds and probably the earliest snow in Provençal history!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

All those pretty Bottles and Boxes

No matter where I travel to there is always one point on the agenda that I never miss - a visit to a local store, supermarket, souk, bazaar - you name it, I go there. I can spend hours there sniffing out the local produce and sometimes buy something not even knowing what it is, just because the vintage style packaging appeals. This little box started the trend. I found it at my local greengrocers and still have no idea what to use this spice mix for (it smells a bit like allspice) but isn't the box pretty?
Spice mix

This was brought to us from Germany - a tin box containing 12 little bottles of after dinner digestive herbal liquor. Now used to store vanilla sugar.
I will have to use this pretty soon - great excuse to whip up a Tiramisu...
Found in Spain: Paella Spice Mix
Tuna Fish Spread from the Côte d'Azur
My all time favorite: Bovril beef extract as found in Spain, don't you just love the bottle?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Marianne doing her bit for the French Wine Industry

I found this at a winery. It says:
Marianne (the French national symbol) is born in 1792, but of all that Blue, White and Red (the French national colours) she has kept only the red....

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Aigo Boulido - How to treat a Hangover or prevent a Cold

Now what did I need all that garlic for that I showed you how to speed peel in my last post? To cook some "Boiled Water". That is what Aigo Boulido translates into, a very traditional Provençal peasant soup which serves as a famous hangover cure and an at least even contender to chicken soup when fighting the beginnings of a cold. Here below you see what you need: 2 leeks, a head of garlic, 2 or 3 tomatoes, some sprigs of flat leaf parsley and a generous sprig of sage, plus 1 big or 2 to 3 small potatoes and some chicken or vegetable stock.
Ingredients for Aigo Boulido
Break up the head of garlic and peel the cloves, clean and chop up the leeks, pick the parsley and sage leaves off the stalks, peel and halve the potatoes. With not too much water and some chicken or vegetable stock (I use powdered) bring everything to the boil and let simmer until the garlic cloves are real soft. Fish out the potatoes and set aside. Strain all the rest through a fine sieve, pushing with a spatula so you get all the garlic puree into the broth. Let cool a bit then in a mixer blitz the potatoes into the broth. Drink.
All chopped up and ready to cook
It might not look like much and the consistency is indeed more or less like boiled water but the taste is fabulous and your hangover will be history within minutes. Plus all microbes hate garlic just as much as vampires!  And have no fear: since the garlic is cooked you won't even smell. Santé!
Aigo Boulido

Monday, October 8, 2012

How to peel a lot of Garlic real quick

Reading recipes online I stumbled upon a more than useful method of how to peel a lot of garlic real quick. So simple, so useful!
Separate a head of garlic into individual cloves

Pour boiling water over the cloves, let sit for one minute, rinse with cold water
You will have those cloves peeled in no time at all - great!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Autumn in Provence

We did our best to pretend it didn't happen, but when this sight greeted me this morning when opening the windows I knew there is no denying anymore: autumn has arrived in Provence. Our Mulberry tree dropping its leaves is always the first sign that summer is officially over. We can still have lunch outside, but the mornings are real cold crisp and actually I should have been warned when I found this at last weeks market - one of the perks of autumn is that it is mushroom season, right? 
Girolles and Ceps at Vaison's Tuesday Market

Monday, September 24, 2012

Politically Correct Fig Chutney

"Le Météo" as the weather forecast is called in France gave us a rather stern warning yesterday: Thunderstorms and torrential rains was what they promised us for today and guess what we woke up to? Torrential rains and thunderstorms. Good thing that for once I believed what was said and harvested the last of our figs. I don't think we ever had such good and many figs as this year. We have been eating them straight from the tree, on fig tarts and I must have about 15 pots of fig jam stashed away in a corner of the wine cellar. This time I tried my hand at something I'd never done before - fig chutney to go with foie gras.
 The last figs of the season
The inspiration to this was my friend Theda who told me about a recipe one of her friends had given her and which she generously shared with me. Not entirely happy I searched the Internet for alternatives and ended up combining Theda's friends' recipe with one I found on .
Having two ingredients missing and doing this on a Sunday (where shops around here are only open until noon) meant that I had to wait until the rain this morning subsided to go and get fresh ginger and raisins.
So I already cut up my kilo and a bit (1200 g) of figs, added 150g red pepper, cut into very small cubes,  one finely chopped white onion (150g), 150 g chopped prunes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 400 g brown sugar and stirred it all together with 3/4 cup of red wine vinegar plus 3/4 cup of red wine. All this was left to macerate overnight.
 Left to macerate overnight - Figs, prunes, red wine, brown sugar, spices and red wine vinegar
This morning I added a walnut sized piece of very finely chopped ginger and 120 g of raisins, brought the mixture to the boil and over moderate heat and frequently stirring let it patiently simmer until most of the moisture was evaporated. This took about 90 minutes before I could fill my newly acquired jam pots. Which made me laugh. Because even on jam pots the Academie Française reigns supreme! See, whenever a foreign word is used in France the Academie Française, a very honorable institution that was founded in 1635 makes sure there is an astrisk added and the word translated. So zealously the Academie guards French against foreign influence that French radio stations are not allowed to play more that 30 per cent foreign music and "homemade" on the lids of my jam pots had an asterisk added and the translation "Fait Maison" on the side of the lid. Politically correct Fig Chutney.....
Fig Chutney
Home made of course

See the asterisk? Translated to make the Academie Française happy

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Poichichade - Chickpeas go Provençal

Until recently chickpeas to me were synonymous with houmous. Until I met "le Roi des Pois Chiches"  and then tried and tried again to recreate his wonderful chickpea dip that is so different to houmous but just as addictive. Finally I now think I've got it licked: Poichichade à la Provençale!

You can of course start by soaking dried chickpeas overnight but as I always think that life is short enough I simply start but unscrewing a jar of chickpeas and then - and this is important - rinse them thoroughly under cold water. Into a food processor they go together with 3 peeled and crushed garlic cloves, the juice of half a lemon, a good splash of olive oil, a good pinch or two of powdered cumin and sweet paprika powder. Then it is pulse and scrape down, pulse and scrape etc. so all ingredients get nicely crushed and mixed. To get a real nice smooth consistency and round the taste I then add some highly concentrated chicken stock. Pulse again and let the mixture "sit" for at least an hour for the flavors to come together. Serve sprinkled with some sesame seeds. To be eaten as a dip with vegetable sticks or on crackers.

Poichichade Provençale

Saturday, September 8, 2012

It's a Dog's life: Public Transport in Provence

Public transport in Provence is hard to come by. From Vaison there is a bus in the morning to Orange and Avignon that takes forever because it stops at every little village along the way and that is about it. I always warn over optimistic tourists to better rent a car if they want to explore Provence. So you can imagine my enchantment when I went to the farmer's market this morning and saw that things are getting better - at least for dogs, that is.....

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Roasting Garlic in the Microwave

Having bought a huge bunch of garlic at the Garlic Festival in Piolenc I  now tend to use these deliciously pungent bulbs even more generously than I normally do. For tonight I have a Côte de Boeuf, panroasted cherry tomatoes and potatoe & garlic mash on the menu. For this absolutely divine mash the garlic has to be roasted. But to turn on the oven for at least half an hour to roast a single bulb of garlic? I don't think so. Plus it so happens I have just read an article by the three starred Michelin chef  Heston Blumenthal on microwave cooking. If he can cook fennel in the microwave I can roast garlic, right? So I wrapped the bulb tighly in plastic wrap, gave it 3 minutes full power -  eh voilà - perfectly "roasted" soft garlic to be squeezed out of its skin into the steamed potaoes to be then happily mashed up with some of our very best olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Can't wait....

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sunday in Provence - Garlic Festival and a new War Memorial

We just love to go to local food festivals and village fêtes and although we had already been to the Garlic Festival in Piolenc having visitors was reason enough to go again. Arriving there we were astonished to see quite a few American Flags beside our French BleuBlancRouge and respectfully joined the crowd of spectators to find out what this was all about.

Alongside local dignitaries and highly decorated military men members of the "Confrerie d'Ail" (Garlic Brotherhood) were watching the inauguration of a memorial commemorating the liberation of Piolenc on this very day 68 years ago by the soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division of the US Army. A very touching ceremony!

 Confrerie d'Ail
 Commemorating the liberation of Piolenc
But then  of course we concentrated on the garlic - the displays were so tempting that my kitchen is well stocked now. And I paid close attention when one of my culinary heroes - the Michelin starred Chef  Christian Etienne  from Avignon gave a cooking demonstration. I was quite flattered when he asked me to come up onto the stage to have a closer look. And best of all, my brother was real quick and took a photo!
Beautifully presented: garlic, garlic and more garlic

 Cute but maybe a bit heavy: Garlic Earrings
Chef Christian Etienne and me

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Master of the Mussels

Moules Frîtes - steamed mussels and french fries being something close to a national dish in France, I am more often than not surprised how it is  sloppily thrown together not very well prepared. Just pouring some white wine over the mussels, adding a few onions and a bay leaf just doesn't cut it and then the fries are lukewarm and pale - well, you get the picture.
But there are exceptions. I think we ate the very best mussels ever (à la plancha and marinated in a garlicky herby mustard sauce) on a bull farm in Camargue - a dish we still dream of and never found as good again.
But now we were invited to the Master of the Moules. Moules Marinières - cooked by our friend and neighbor Claude on his BBQ. 15 kilos of fresher than fresh, big, fat and juicy mussels. What a feast! And I was so fascinated by the slow and very precise preparation I never got around taking photos of the fries - dark, crunchy, home made proper french fries. How come we never get them like that in restaurants? Would you believe it - 11 people managed to eat all 15 kilos of mussels. La vie est belle - life is good!
Mussels on the BBQ - Ice and all
Claude  - the Master of the Mussels

15 kilos of fresh mussels cooked on the BBQ in a custom made pan
with lots of chopped flat leaf parsley and shallots and white wine

Later there was a bit of trouble with a cork that went into the bottle and had to be filtered....

.... before our host presented the digestif - his home made herb liquor