Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Made in France, sold in Ottawa

Flavoured mustards from Made in France, a specialty store in Ottawa Flavoured mustards from Made in France, a specialty store in Ottawa, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

Check out my most recent guest post for Food Network Canada about Made in France, a specialty store in Ottawa that sells the most amazing flavoured mustards. My other favourite reason for going here is because it reminds me of my recent trip to France for a culinary vacation.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ichibei, a Japanese restaurant in Ottawa

Ichibei, a Japanese restaurant in OttawaIchibei, a Japanese restaurant in Ottawa, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

I recently wrote about my favourite Japanese restaurant in Ottawa for I also reviewed it earlier this year on beFOODled. I bet you're curious about the identity of that cute little animal in all of the pictures, the one with a bellyful of sake! Either post will tell you about him, so click on to find out more.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

George Orwell and beFOODled on the perfect cup of tea

George Orwell and beFOODled on the perfect cup of teaGeorge Orwell and beFOODled on the perfect cup of tea, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

Author George Orwell, who voluntarily lived like a tramp in the late 1920s to research material for his book Down and Out in Paris and London, paradoxically had no fewer than 11 outstanding rules on how to make a nice cup of tea.

I wish I could tell George that, aside from loving his afore-mentioned book, I have unknowingly been following most of his advice when making tea, maybe because I come from a family of tea aficionados. But I differ from him on some key points, for example, in belonging to the milk-first school. And some of Orwell's points simply do not apply in today's society, such as making tea in urns and cauldrons versus teapots, which perhaps happens in the army, but I can't think of where else.

So here's beFOODled's list of no less than eight outstanding points on how to make the perfect cup of tea.

* First of all, dump out any old water in the kettle and only boil fresh water.

* Make tea in a teapot rather than in a cup for maximum steepage.

* Loose tea in big flakes that can swirl freely around the pot or in a wire mesh are preferable to tea bags. (George was anti-wire-mesh holders, so he might raise an argument against this one.)

* Blend your favourite teas for a unique taste. My favourite recipe is 1.5 to two teaspoons of a strong black Indian tea, such as Assam, Ceylon or Darjeeling, usually found in blends for English Breakfast or Irish Breakfast teas. I then add a pinch of smoky Lapsang Souchong, a black tea from China dried over burning pine, for flavour, and a couple of crushed cardamom pods and seeds. Do not make tea using only Lapsang Souchong (S did this once and it was a bit of an issue). It's so strong and smoky that most people find it undrinkable as a main brew.

* Bring the teapot to the kettle, not the kettle to the teapot. (On this point, George and I agree.)

* Let the tea steep in the teapot for about five minutes before pouring out.

* Nuke a bit of milk in the bottom of tea mugs in the microwave for about 20 seconds. (George, who belongs to the tea-first school, would have been at odds with this point.)

* Pour tea in your cups and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Choice Cuts book review

Choice Cuts book reviewChoice Cuts book review, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

Do any of you have a favourite book on food writing out there? My friend Deirdre of The Film Cricket gave me Choice Cuts last Christmas. The title is an apt description because it's a compendium of food musings cut from the works of literary giants and food writers throughout the ages (all of whom are introduced in the foreward by Mark Kurlansky).

I particularly like the entries by George Orwell from Down and Out in Paris in London, where he describes the behaviour of Paris cooks and waiters. There are excerpts from historians Herodotus and Plutarch on Egyptian and Roman attitudes to food, and choice cuts from more modern but still pioneering food writers, such as French lawyer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and the American M. F. K. Fisher.

The chapters are arranged according to a creative theme, such as "Food and sex," "Poultry, fowl and other ill-fated birds," "The mystery of eggs" and "The dark side of chocolate."

Some excerpts are a few words, others a few pages. There are poems, quotes, literary passages and photographs with captions. It's truly a great gift idea for the busy foodie!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lamb braise with saffron rice

Lamb braise with saffron riceLamb braise with saffron rice, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

You may have noticed there are a lot of stew-type recipes on beFOODled. I think that's because braising is my favourite way to cook. I just really like the flavours and textures of tomato-based one-pot dishes. Plus, braises are slow food, and I often like to cook for a bit, toddle off to do something, such as blog, then return to eat. Yes, that's it. It's a method that is forgiving of distractions.

Lamb braise with saffron rice

1 kg lamb shoulder, cut into bite-size cubes
a handful of all-purpose flour
grapeseed (or canola) oil
a handful of pearl or cipollini onions, peeled
1 - 2 garlic cloves
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
100 mL of cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
a glug of your favourite BBQ sauce
28-oz can of plum tomatoes (I like San Marzano brand)
1/2 - 1 cup of chicken stock
fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
ground coriander
chopped parsley

Put the flour in a large plastic bag and toss the lamb cubes until lightly coated. Brown the lamb in batches in an oiled frying pan but do not cook all the way through. Set aside.

Add some more oil and fry the carrots, celery and onions for a few minutes. Add the garlic and. Turn up the heat and add the vinegar and sugar and deglaze the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat and add the tomatoes, the BBQ sauce, chicken stock and herbs and spices. Stir and cover and cook on very low heat (about 2 or 1) for 1 to 1.5 hours. Add a bit more stock if it needs more liquid while braising. Serve with chopped parsley sprinkled over.

To make the saffron rice, make basmati rice in your rice cooker as usual, but cook it using some water that's had a pinch of saffron soaking in it for about 30 minutes. It will come out a pretty yellow and taste fantastic.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Gastronati's Lebanese and Syrian night

After a long time off because of other commitments, the Gastronati, my group of foodie friends, reunited with a Lebanese and Syrian feast. S and I made a sweet and sour lamb stew with saffron rice. PB and J brought sweet, honeyed figs and dolmades. And Calimocho and Squeaky brought a green bean dish and a Lebanese moussaka. Lebanese moussake is made from eggplant and chickpeas and is more like a stew than the Greek version, which resembles a lasagna.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Herb and Spice — a friendly specialty store in Ottawa

All kinds of fresh foods have a home at Herb and Spice, a specialty grocery store in my old stamping ground of Wellington West in Ottawa. The produce here both looks good and tastes great, but I have found yet another reason to like the place. You can find out more in my guest post on Food Network's Bazaar :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cheese, mushroom and caramelized onion omelette

Here's the recipe for S's special breakfast omelette. It is delicious and a little bit sweet because he uses sugar to caramelize the onions.

Cheese, mushroom and caramelized onion omelette
half of a large onion, sliced
six mushrooms, sliced
dry herbs or fresh chopped herbs
green onions (optional)
balsamic vinegar
Worcestershire sauce
knob of butter
olive oil (or another oil)
2 eggs
mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper

Fry the sliced onion and mushrooms together in the oil. Season with salt and pepper after they have sweated for a bit (released some of their water). Add some fresh chopped herbs, such as rosemary or thyme, or some dried, and some sliced green onions, if you wish. Once the vegetables start browning, glug in about half a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, the same amount of sugar and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Let that reduce for a bit until everything looks like it has been absorbed. Set the mixture aside.

Crack two eggs in a measuring cup and beat together. In a separate frying pan, add a knob of butter, enough to spread around the pan. When the pan is at medium heat, add the eggs and swirl them around so they spread out evenly. Wait until the eggs have solidified a little bit. Add the mushroom mixture to one half of the omelette. Slice some mozzarella cheese and then rip it into chunks, and spread it over the top of the mushrooms.

Using a fork, peek underneath the omelette. Wait until the underside is just starting to brown and then take the pan off the heat and hold it over a plate. Slide the omelette off so that the side with the mushrooms lands on the plate first. Then lift the pan up and over so the other half of the omelette flops over on top on the mushrooms. Serve immediately.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Guest post by Ella: Italian tomato sauce

This simple and tasty sauce is a staple in Europe. Everyone has their own little spin on it and you’ll see that it’s just so much better than store-bought tomato sauce.

green onions or white onion
two cans of chopped tomatoes
bouillion cubes
olive oil
bay leaf

Cut up one to two small green onions (or one large, sweet white onion) and sauté over medium-high heat in a pot drizzled with one tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté for about 10 minutes until the onions turn clear. To make sure the onions are done — try a little piece, it should be sweet.

Finely mince one to two cloves of garlic (depending on how garlicky you like your sauce). Add to the onions and sauté for about two minutes.

Add two small cans of chopped tomatoes (or one large can). Make sure you buy good-quality tomatoes, such as the San Marzano brand.

Stir and add:

1/2 to one bouillion cube, depending on cube size (beef is best but vegetable or chicken works just as well)
1 bay leaf
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 teaspoon sugar (you may not need as much sugar if your onions and tomatoes are very sweet)
1 tsp dried oregano (you can add more or less)
1 tsp dried basil (you can add more or less)

Turn the heat down to low and simmer with the lid on for about 30 minutes. Stir every few minutes and remove the bay leaf when the sauce is done.

This makes a great and simple sauce for pasta! Serve the sauce with some fresh basil and parmesan cheese.


Vodka sauce:

Add 1/2 cup cream and 1/8 cup vodka (optional) at the end. Simmer for two minutes.

Cream and herb sauce:

Add one teaspoon of herbes de Provence with the basil and oregano. At the end, add chopped basil and 1/2 cup of cream. Simmer for two minutes.

Chorizo, mushroom and red wine sauce:
Halfway through the cooking of the onions, add two finely chopped chorizo sausages and one cup of finely chopped mushrooms. Add in a few drops of hot sauce or chilli peppers and 1/4 cup of dry red wine when adding the other spices.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gnocchi and tomato sauce

Gnocchi and tomato sauce, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

Please accept my apologies for being a tardy blogger of late. I have still been having foodie adventures, but just haven't had the time to write about them until now.

Without further ado, let me tell you that Ella and I made gnocchi from scratch the other day and had a very fun afternoon. Once again I was squidging about in some nameless dough, elbow deep in flour :)

We made the gnocchi the way Ella used to make it with her grandmother in Switzerland. It made me nostalgic for my Oma in Holland, who was also a very good cook. Oma knew my penchant for gravy and always made a meal with it when I was visiting. Once she even made a gravy for fish. Do any of you have a favourite recipe that reminds you of your grandmother?

We ate the gnocchi with some homemade tomato sauce and it was really good. However, we did have some trouble at the stage where you have to add flour before you roll out the dough. How much is too much? Our dough was still sticky and wet, so I just kept adding flour until I was almost halfway through the bag! This is roughly what we did:

Making gnocchi, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chillis for chilli sauce

Chillis for chilli sauce, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

My colleague JC had such a bumper crop of hot chillis this fall that she had to give some away. So me and another colleague took home some jalapenos, long reds and habaneros, a relative of the hottest chilli ever, the Scotch bonnet. We each made a version of Anna Olsen's chilli sauce and had an impromptu chilli tasting at the office. JC used one habarnero and hers was nice and mild. Mine probably averaged about three chillis and was at times a bit too hot for me. I also made the mistake of touching the habaneros while I was cooking and my hand throbbed for about 10 hours.

I roasted my chillis, but I left them in the oven too long. Most of the long red ones were completely charred and I was only able to salvage a few strips of the others. But wow, did my chilli sauce ever sizzle! A little habanero goes a long way. The first thing I taste is the lovely mild celery flavour and then ... POW!

Chilli Sauce

recipe adapted from Anna Olsen's chilli sauce

I made about two-thirds of her recipe and it gave me about a litre of sauce. Instead of using banana peppers, I used two habaneros (my estimate of what I salvaged from the oven), a jalapeno and a long red chilli pepper. I also used cider vinegar instead of white and simmered mine for about an hour. Anna Olsen canned her extra portions, but I froze mine instead.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Ottawa wine and food show

S and I went to the Ottawa Wine and Food Show last week. We tasted the wine of 500-year-old vines and found out which winery made a pact with the devil to keep thieving hands at bay! We also met some local chefs, including The Piggy Market's David Neil pictured below with his girlfriend, a student at Ottawa's Cordon Bleu culinary school. They took part in a 100-mile cook-off hosted by celebrity chef Ken Kostick.

Thirsty for more details? Read the full story in my guest post on Food Network's Food for Thought :)

Saturday, November 15, 2008


S and I ended our trip to France with two days in Paris. It was my first time in this great city and I loved it. I made a point of eating French onion soup every day. We had baguette sandwiches at a café that S remembered from a long time ago before he met moi.

Our first night, we didn't know where to go, and ended up in a horrible creperie that reminded me of Smitty's Pancake House in Kingston! On our second night, we visited La Taverne du Sargent Recruteur, a place that Jackie at Gourmet Safari had recommended. This restaurant made up for the previous night's letdown. I had a duck confit that was so tender, it melted in my mouth. If you ordered crudités or charcuterie as appetizers, they would set down giant wicker baskets at your table, bursting with whole, fresh veggies and all the cold cuts you could imagine still in their original coils.

And so ends our wonderful trip to France. I really hope that you have enjoyed reading about it, and know a bit more about life in Provence and the great people that live there. I have certainly enjoyed reliving it on this blog. If you can go, you will find that it's the trip of a lifetime!

France, je t'aime. À la prochaine!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Three-pepper soup

On our last night in Provence we made a spectacular soup. It looks like a lot of work, but appearances are deceiving. You just make three purees and swirl them together. We personalized them with different designs for the guests at Les Tuillières. The meal that followed was a turkey fricassee with olives, and for dessert, lavender crème brûlée. It was a beautiful finish to a wonderful experience, made even better by the company — Susan and Hermann, the other cooking students and their partners, and also a tableful of Welsh, English and French people. We were the loudest table having the most fun singing all of our national anthems during dinner :)

Three-pepper soup

serves six

Bell peppers — three red, two yellow, 1 green
500 mL vegetable stock
1 Tbsp pine nuts
1 tsp curry powder
125 g natural yogurt
250 mL milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 circles of pineapple, diced finely
pineapple juice
chives, chopped finely

Deseed the peppers and cut into a large dice. Fry the pine nuts over medium heat in a dry frying pan ... only for a few minutes until just browning. Pour onto a cutting board or a room temperature bowl to stop the cooking process.

Divide the stock and curry powder among three separate pots in proportion to the number of peppers. Bring to a boil. Add the diced peppers, each colour to its appropriate pot. Simmer until soft.

Puree each pepper mixture with a stab blender. Add the yogurt and milk to each puree and mix well. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper and a bit of pineapple juice. Let each soup cool for at least 30 minutes.

Place each soup with care in a bowl in a creative design, making sure the colours don't mix, and garnish with the roasted pine nuts, chives and pineapple pieces.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Creamed mushrooms

On Friday we made another delicious French lunch of creamed mushrooms in the kitchen at Les Tuillières. Hermann says that you can make extra of these mushrooms and freeze them for when unexpected guests drop by. We served them inside puff pastry shells and topped with a little puffed pastry hat, but you could also serve them on toast.

Creamed mushrooms

1 kg (2 lb) sliced button mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup cream
1/3 C white wine
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp herbes de Provence
one chicken bouillon cube, crushed
nutmeg to taste
salt and pepper
fresh parsley to garnish

Fry the onions and garlic in butter and oil until softened. Add the white wine and stir. Add the mushrooms and herbes de Provence and mix together. Fry the mushrooms until they start to release water. Cover and continue to cook for three minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover, add flour and stir. Cook for a few minutes.

Add cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg, or reduce the salt and add a bouillon cube. Stir in the lemon juice. Adjust the consistency by adding milk.

Serve on toast or puff pastry shells made in the oven. Decorate with fresh parsley.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

La Bouquinerie - saladerie et salon du thé en Provence

After our visit to the Nyons market, Susan treated all of the cooking students to lunch at La Bouquinerie, a wonderful second-hand bookstore and tea room that elevates the humble salad to a work of art :)

There are hot and cold salads inspired by various locales: the Provençale, the Asian with spring rolls, the cold Italian, the hot Italian that S and I ordered pictured above, and several other varieties. There's also a small dessert menu of interesting tarts, tortes and cakes baked in-house.

La Bouquinerie is in Le Poët-Laval, a very old and beautiful walled medieval village built during the 12th century. The tea room is actually located in a very steep, unevenly cobbled lane in the old castle in the centre of the village. Back in the day, the castle was also a refuge for crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. The monks offered shelter to the tired and treated the sick pilgrims passing through.

We ate inside, surrounded by old books on bookshelves built into the castle walls. However there's also a very romantic patio where you can sit and eat under a ceiling of grapes! It was raining when we were there, but I still got this wonderful shot of that patio and the view beyond it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The open market in Nyons

On Thursday morning we got up early again. The power was back on after an amazing lightning storm that knocked out the neighbourhood's transformer the night before. We drove with Susan and the other cooking students to go to the market in Nyons. It was again pouring buckets, but one third of the vendors were there.

Nyons is a town in the southern part of the Drôme that hosts the largest open market of the region. On Thursdays, vendors take over the whole town square and trickle down the alleyways, laying out a feast for the senses. The usual food stalls of bread, meat, cheese, and fruit and veg are just the beginning. Even on a rainy Thursday there was a great variety of other things for sale, too: scarves, soaps, essential oils, plants, fabrics and lavender sachets. I took this photo at the stall belonging to Susan's favourite spice lady.

Since it's surrounded by silvery olive groves, Nyons is also famous for its locally made olive oils and wines. Susan took S and I and the other cooking students to the olive oil co-operative, where there were wines to be tasted free of charge, confits and tapenades lining the walls and olive products galore. I even found some olive oil bubble bath to take home :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Goat Cheese and Herb Dip

On Wednesday we assembled once more at 4 p.m. in the kitchen at Les Tuillières to make a four-course meal for the guests. In France, entrée means first course instead of main, and tonight it was a lovely eggplant gratin. Our plat principale was a lamb and artichoke stew and for dessert, we made a chocolate almond cake.

Our appetizer was a goat cheese and herb dip. It's delicious and fresh-tasting. I've since brought this little bit of Provence to a few parties where it has passed many a taste test.

Goat Cheese and Herb Dip

4 oz soft fresh goat cheese (pure white and not encrusted with anything)
1 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp plain thin yogurt
1 Tbsp each of finely chopped fresh herbs, whatever you have on hand: chives, parsley, rosemary, thyme, mint or coriander
salt and pepper to taste

(optional) 1 Tbsp fresh edible flowers, hand torn: violets, primroses, sage blossoms, nasturtiums, pot marigolds, young rose petals, fragrant geraniums or poppies with the black part of the petals removed.

Blend the goat cheese, olive oil and yogurt. Add the fresh herbs and flowers, if using. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until dip is cold and the flavours have had a chance to meld, about two hours.

Once the dip I made turned out too hard. If that happens, mix in a tablespoon of warm water or add more yogurt.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Poached salmon and fennel salad

On Wednesday, S and I made a salmon and fennel and salad for lunch with Hermann in the kitchen at Les Tuillières. We poached the salmon, the best way to cook it according to Hermann, and had great conversation about the poaching liquid, which is officially called court bouillon when it’s for fish and seafood. Hermann started one from scratch (pictured above), but he said that you can reuse the same liquid over and over again, just by straining it and freezing it in between cooking sessions. At some point, maybe by the fourth or fifth time you use it, it becomes richer than the salmon and gives back more flavour than it takes, so the fish always gains. I asked Hermann how long he would keep using it and he said “Jusqu’à je suis mort!” So there you go, we mere mortals may come and go, but our poaching liquids can live on forever.

Poached salmon and fennel salad
serves 4

salmon fillets, fresh or frozen
4 fennel bulbs
1 tsp ground fennel and coriander seeds
juice of one lemon
2 Tbsp Pastis (anise-flavoured liqueur)
salt and pepper
olive oil
cider or white wine vinegar

Poaching liquid

3 1/2 cups water
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 Tbsp salt
a few peppercorns
bay leaf, thyme, parsley

Bring the poaching liquid ingredients to the boil and simmer at the barest simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered.

Add the salmon and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Wash and trim the fennel bulbs. Cut off the tops but reserve some of the green sprigs for garnish. Cut the fennel bulbs into quarters, remove the core at the bottom and discard. Slice the bulb quarters as thinly as possible.

Place the fennel slices in a bowl and add the lemon juice, fennel and coriander seeds, and Pastis. Mix well.

Break the lukewarm salmon into bite-sized pieces with your fingers and add to the fennel. Add a vinaigrette of vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil, and gently toss.

Boiled potatoes are a nice accompaniment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Côtes du Rhône wine tasting

S and I joined Susan and the other cooking students after lunch on Wednesday for a Côtes du Rhône wine tasting. Susan introduced us to three whites, three rosés and three reds, and I took away three things — even with a spitting bucket you can get quite tipsy, I should no longer ignore rosés and most importantly, I have expensive tastes. (My favourites were the Domaine Font de Michelle 2004 Chateauneuf du Pape red and the Saint Péray Terres Boisées white ;)

The Côtes du Rhône region makes approximately 420 million bottles of wine a year, and about eight million of those are exported to Canada (2005/2006 statistics). Wines must be made from several grape varieties to get appellation status. Another requirement is that yields must be small to keep the grapes of good quality, so the winegrowers cut back their vines every fall.

From the car, I saw many vineyards with rosebushes growing in front of each row of vines. Susan told me roses fall prey to the same insect pests as grapevines, but show disease earlier, so the roses are a sort of early detection system by which the farmers gauge the health of their vines. The thicker the trunks, the older the vines and the finer the wine.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Picodon cheese and Madame Jullian's goat farm

On our fifth day in Provence, Susan took all of the cooking students to the village of Truinas to visit Madame Fabienne Jullian's goat cheese farm, which is high up in the mountains. We took home six packages of one-day old goat cheeses and had them for lunch with a smooth raspberry coulis dribbled over. It was delicious! At this stage, the cheese is almost like cottage cheese, but with a much milder flavour.

There are 60 nannies and two billies at Mme Jullian's farm. The nannies were overjoyed to receive visitors. If you move your hands over their heads to pet them, they think you're offering food and try to eat it, but if you pet under the chin, they know you are giving affection. At six months old, they start visiting the billy. We saw the billies too, but they were too tired to come say hello.

Mme Jullian makes a fresh raw milk goat cheese that's locally known as Picodon cheese. It's one of many agricultural products that have AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) status.

She pours the milk into these small moulds that have tiny holes and adds a little bit of rennet and salt. Then the little rounds dry in her fridge for two to four weeks.

Some goats in the region live even higher in the mountains and graze on the wild mountain thyme that grows at those altitudes, which gives their milk and its cheeses a special flavour.

I don't think these cheeses make it to Canada, and that's too bad because they are delicious! Susan says that cheeses cured over 60 days are allowed into the United States, but the fresher raw milk cheese like the ones chez Mme Jullian are all too young to make it over.

We saw Picodon cheese everywhere in the supermarkets. Young cheeses, like the day-olds we ate for lunch, can lose a lot of weight during the aging process and develop a rind and a hardened centre. The flavour is so concentrated that it "piques at your dents" (teeth). I preferred the younger versions, but I can see how the aged Picodon could become an aquired taste.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Les Aubergistes in Marsanne

On the way home from Mirmande, S and I stopped for dinner at Les Aubergistes, a hotel restaurant in Marsanne. S had the poulet fermier laqué au miel et lavande, and I had the noix de veau rôtie et son jus aux pleurottes. Those loosely translate to chicken with lavender honey and round fillet of veal with mushrooms.

I noticed that certain French phrases here were very different from the Canadian French we have absorbed living so close to Quebec. Maybe it's just the way of the service industry, but French French seems more formal and emphatic. For example, instead of de rien or bienvenue for your welcome, the servers here say je vous en prie. Draft beer on tap here is bière en pression, not bière en fut, and we also heard la facture more often than l'addition when we asked to pay our bill.

One of the guests at Les Tuillières told us that the French think Canadian French is quaint, and gave us the example of how the Québécois say char for car. To the French, char is an old-fashioned word for a cart or wagon. Another instance happened when I told a bartender in Paris that we were going to faire du magasinage demain, he didn't seem to understand and then chuckled with an ahh, oui! Later, I looked it up and in France they say faire les courses or quite simply le shopping. So ours must be an older French and the language is obviously not evolving the same way in Quebec. But no matter what Canadian French we mustered up, we were always understood, and in most cases even my rusty French was better than their English. Hourra! All those years of public school French have not been in vain!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fruit recipes from Mirmande

On Tuesday afternoon we went to Mirmande, another medieval village perché that is almost 1,000 years old and has received many national accolades. It's a maze of narrow, twisting alleyways, and houses with ancient stonework and beautiful wooden doors. At the very top is a very pretty church, St. Foy, with amazing views of the countryside.

Mirmande is nested among orchards and has a thriving fruit industry. The office of tourism's website has a link to the recipes of one of its employees. Click on Recettes de Marinette for some authentic, handwritten Provençale fruit recipes, in French of course ;) like sorbet à la pêche, clafouti de cerises and tarte aux figues fraiches.

Mirmande is on France's official list of most beautiful villages. It has also won awards for its rooftops. At one point, there was a law exempting houses without roofs from taxes, which led to many homeowners dismantling them. After this, the price of buying a house was based on the number of roof tiles still on it!

In the thirties, an artist named André Lhote moved to Mirmande and decided to save it from ruin. He encouraged other artists to move to the village and bring it back to life with their trade. Lhote's own art became part of the cubist movement. By the seventies, Mirmande had became known for its modern but traditional terracotta tiles in beautiful colours of red, straw and pink. The inhabitants had roofs over their heads once more!

Mirmande has also gotten national recognition for its gardens and plants, which are selected for their ability to grow in dry, stony ground by a group called "Les Rocailles Botaniques” (Botanic Pebbles).

Mirmande overlooks the Rhone valley and the Massif Central. Its name has gone through many incarnations, but it originates from combining the Latin mirus, which means admirable, and mandare, which means to dominate.

As we made our way to the top, I couldn't believe that such a place existed and that the 520 or so people who live here are able to make a living in a remote medieval village. I asked Susan about it later at Les Tuillières and she said that people have artisanal lives here — some have an orchard and grow apples, others have goats and make goats' cheese. They do one thing and they do it well.

And just when I was starting to get carried away with how old and romantic things were, S and I heard two little boys playing in the streets, humming the theme to Star Wars.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cheese and Rosemary Heaven

Today, our fourth in France, was another full day of tooling around the countryside. It was market day in La Bégude de Mazenc, so we went there first and bought bread and two wedges of these cheeses, pictured above, for more baguette sandwiches. The cheese vendor was very friendly and when she found out we were from Canada, naturally the conversation turned to the weather. In this part of France, she said, it snows very rarely and mostly in the mountains, and the temperature never really gets colder than minus five. Reason number 8394 why I love Provence.

We also bought some beautiful Teflon-coated tablecloth fabric in purple, olive and yellow, which will look great under the French dinners we'll be cooking for our friends soon. Provence is famous for its bright and colourful fabrics.

In the afternoon we set off for Grignan, one of the many fortified villages perched above valleys in Provence. It has a well-preserved Renaissance château, built in the mid 1500s. The château owes its celebrity to the French writer Madame de Sévigné, who visited and died here in 1696.

Along the footpaths were huge bushes of lavender and rosemary like the one pictured above. I couldn't believe how big they were, in fact, almost as big as me! It was so nice to see them in their native habitat growing to their full potential. I kept running my hands through them and sticking my nose in them. I thought of my own little rosemary plant, entrusted to Squeaky's dubious care while we were away, and I wished it were like this one. (The last plant that I had entrusted to Squeaky, a lavender plant, was put on her roof and forgotten about. But I'm happy to say that she took great care of my rosemary and African violet, albeit to the detriment of her other houseplants that I noticed were wilting when I went to pick mine up.)

This next picture on the right really shows how neat these fortified villages are. The ramparts, wash houses and earthworks surrounding the castle are so well preserved that they have become people's homes with the addition of openings for doors and windows. You can see that this is someone's backyard and in their garden the lovely rosemary and lavender plants are flourishing :)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The regional Provençale dish of magret de canard

Our first night in the kitchen! I was so excited :) Our teacher was Hermann Jenny, in the middle in the photo below. He and his wife Susan own Les Tuillères. He is a trained professional chef who has managed several luxury restaurants in Europe and Asia. I knew that S and I were going to learn a lot, and over the next week we did — not just about cooking and eating, but also techniques, the agricultural roots of Provence, and the philosophical side of food and wine appreciation.

Finding out that we were going to make magret de canard in our first class was a very nice surprise. We had only been in Provence two nights and had already seen this dish on two different menus, stuffed with chèvre at La Fontaine Minérale, and with honey, peaches and pears at Les Voyageurs.

Hermann's is a tender, pan-roasted version marinated in red wine, soy sauce and Dijon mustard. He showed us how to trim the excess duck fat and score what remained. We also learned that if you double a quantity of meat, you only need to increase the marinade by 50 per cent. The final dish is served with a creamy mashed potato and drizzled over with a rich, flavoursome sauce that looks like purple velvet. So beautifully unctuous, as Nigella Lawson might say ;)

There were four people taking cooking classes, S and I and two French people. We were all raised our eyebrows when Hermann told us we would be cooking for 18 that night — I thought we'd just cook for ourselves, but no, you cook for every guest paying for the table d'hôte!

We made a five-course meal, and ate it outside on a big, long table in Les Tuillères' beautiful courtyard. On the menu was aioli, a garlicky mayonnaise that the Provençales use as a dipping sauce with blanched vegetables, an eggplant risotto as an entrée (the first course), magret de canard and mashed potato, a plate full of local cheeses, and dessert, a fig and apple crumble that we made with fresh fruit from the garden.

Hermann and Susan are kindly letting me publish a few recipes to share with beFOODled readers, so without further ado, here is how to make magret de canard à la Les Tuillières (already taste-tested and heartily approved of by some discerning girlfriends in Ottawa).

Duck breast (magret de canard) with herbs
serves four

2 duck breasts, 12 oz. each
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper

2/3 cup red wine
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 shallot, roughly sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, roughly sliced
1 Tbsp herbes de Provence
freshly ground pepper

Prepare the marinade and trim the duck breasts of excess fat. Marinate the duck for one to two hours in the fridge.

Set the duck aside and reduce the marinade by half in a saucepan. Brown the duck breasts in a separate sauce pan — about seven minutes with the fat side down, and three on the meat side.

Remove the duck and keep it warm on a covered plate.

Return the pan to the heat and add the reduced and strained marinade. Simmer for a couple of minutes. Season, take of the heat and add the butter cubes.

Serve alongside mashed potatoes with sauce drizzled over. You will love this!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lunch at the Château

S and I roamed the countryside on our third day in Provence, stopping in random towns and wild corners, wherever looked interesting or like it had secrets to give up. We had rented a car in Valence for the week, so the world of Provence was ours for the exploration. We started what was to become a habit during our free time: Pack a lunch, look at the map, plot a random winding course and go.

My favourite part of this particular ramble was our discovery of the little vieux village of Soyans. As we were rounding one of the scary blind corners that seem more common in Provence that straight roads, I saw an old crumbling château on top of a small mountain in the distance. "Let's go there," I shouted. Yippee — I had found a castle, one of my favourite things!
We parked as close as we could, and walked through an ancient little village — can you imagine owning the view from this little backyard on the right? Then we walked past a sign that we couldn't completely translate but which was some official notice from the mayor saying Interdit (forbidden), and up an ancient-looking, sunken stone staircase already half reclaimed by the soil.

Many stairs later, we came across this crumbling church, and just behind it to the north, some castle ruins where men were busy doing restoration work (hence the interdit signage). There was a sign identifying the church as Église St. Marcel. It was built in the 12th century and is dedicated to St. Marcellus, the 5th century bishop of a nearby town called Die.

The church dominates the valley of the River Roubion to the east and the village to the west. The view, as you can see from my photo, is breathtaking.

We ate lunch here while enjoying the scenery. We had done some grocery shopping the previous day, so I had packed baguettes. Here's the recipe for our French lunch at the château:

Take one-half of a baguette from the boulangerie, generously slather on some Dijon mustard, fill with strips of local picodon goats' cheese and prosciutto slices, and enjoy on top of a French mountain with eroding medieval ruins in the background!

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