Monday, March 28, 2011

If in Nîmes - go to the Market Halls

Provence Olives

It had been some years that we had been to Nîmes and at the time we had not been very impressed. So we decided to visit again, also to check out its museum of contemporary art "Carré d'Art" built by the British architect Sir Norman Foster.
To put it in a nutshell: If you never get to go to Nîmes don't cry, you won't miss all that much. If you are serious about contemporary art, the museum, a glass building that mirrors the shape of the Roman Temple "Maison Carré" next to it, is really not that exciting. If you want contemporary art in Provence pay a visit to the wonderful Collection Lambert in Avignon. 
Wandering around the city center we finally found something really worth looking at: the market halls of Nîmes. Its been a long time that I have seen such an abundance of olives, olive oils, tapenades, fish and meat stalls, wine merchants, charcuteries or bakers - a foodie's delight! And they really urge you to taste:
Sun dried tomatoes: Tasting obligatory

We tasted lemon, chili and cilantro tapenades, the best ever sun dried tomatoes, looked longingly at the fish stalls (why do I never learn to always, just always keep an icebox in my car?) and bought a local speciality "Le Petit Nimois", cute little pastries with a meat or fish stuffing which I reheated in the oven and served with a salad on the side. Those with fish were best.

Le Petit Nimois - savoury little pastries

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Dessert straight from the Heart

Confession: I love to browse through kitchen gadget catalogues. There is something to all those pots and pans, cupcake and shortbread moulds, handmixers and stick blenders, mini choppers, chicken roasters, herb mills, garlic presses, pasta machines and potato ricers that I find deeply interesting, regretting only that I really, really don't need to buy anything anymore because my kitchen is far too well equipped already. But then, once in while there is something I just need to have:

Coeur à la Crème Mould

I probably wouldn't even have known what to use these for, had the very clever people at Lakeland not put the recipe right next to the pics of these delightful little heart moulds. This was years ago but Coeurs à la Crème are still one of my favorite desserts - light and elegant and, best of all, to be prepared one day in advance so there is no last minute stress involved.
For 8 Cream Hearts you will need:
8 heart moulds, 8 muslin squares
300 ml yoghurt
150 castor sugar
300 ml cream
2 eggs
Separate the eggs. Mix the yoghurt, the egg yolks and all but 2 tbsp sugar together. In another bowl whip the cream until stiff, then combine with the yoghurt mixture. In yet another bowl (yes, there is a bit of washing up involved...) whip the egg whites until stiff, add the 2 tbsp sugar and whip some more. Carefully fold the egg whites into the yoghurt/cream mixture.
Dampen the muslin squares and line the coeur à la crème moulds, then divide mixture between the moulds, filling them generously (they will loose moisture and set overnight). Put all moulds in a deep enough dish that will hold the liquid that will drain from the coeurs. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Hearts set for draining

To serve, turn out the hearts and decorate with a fruit coulis of your choice - here I choose papaya.
Monday evening my friend Thérèse invited us for dinner and I offered to bring dessert. So these real pretty plates are hers (...jealous sigh....)


Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Painter's Philosophy

"I would drink milk if cows would eat grapes" (Henri de Toulousse Lautrec) - found yesterday in Uzès at the entrance of a wine merchant's shop. Wonder if he knows that the brillant painter died of alcoholism....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

'Tis the Season to start Cooking....

The season at Cuisine de Provence starts this coming Wesdnesday and I am really looking forward to meeting my first guests who flew in from Australia! The new aprons have arrived just in time, I have busily been testing recipes on my favorite and ever patient OH guinea pig and today I started spring cleaning the kitchen. First step: putting my overflowing bookcase that holds most of my cookbooks into some kind of order. Not an easy task! Not only because I own more cookbooks than I care to admit (and still regularly break my self imposed ban on buying new ones) but because I got stuck reading - and these are just a few of the books that kept me from getting my task done today....

In here I found the inspiration for a lovely raspberry clafoutis that has become one of our favorite desserts - thinking of it, I can't wait for new raspberries to be found at Vaison's Tuesday market....

Not only am I really, really jealous that I didn't think of this title first but also, given my love for tarts, quiches and the like that I didn't write it! This fabulous book is a great source of ideas whenever a fast lunch is needed.

Found a real good recipe for "Ketchup à la Provençale" in Gui Gedda's sumptous Provence cookbook today that I will try out as soon as there are decent tomatoes to be found. Too early yet. Anybody who is interested in Provençal cooking and looking for a cookbook - this is the one!
And now -  back to the kitchen.....

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Last Dish of the Winter Season

It's springtime in Provence! Today we had lunch outside and tomorrow we will get the lemon trees out of their winter quarter, back onto the terrace and into the Provence sunshine.  So I kind of had to hurry to prepare one of the last winter dishes  - and what a feast it proved to be! I had already told you about the oilve oil marinated lamb I bought at Gilles', our local butcher's:

Gilles' olive oil marinated leg of lamb

It comes as a vacuum packed deboned leg of lamb, marinated in olive oil, herbes de Provence and fleur de sel (kosher salt) which I prepared as the famous "Seven Hour Leg of Lamb" (Gigot de sept heures).
First I peeled and very finely sliced potatoes:

Onto which I liberally sprinkled semi-dried tomatoes, seasoned with pepper and salt,

then put the meat and most of the oil marinade on top plus added one whole head of garlic "en chemise". That is one expression I just love. Doesn't "garlic in a shirt" sound so much more poetic than "unpeeled garlic"? All that was then left to do was to firmly close the lid and put the pan into the oven, heated at 100°C/210°F.
After seven hours it looked this this, smelled heavenly and tasted even better:
Delicious One Pot Dish: Seven Hour Leg of Lamb