Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Waiting for St. Sylvestre

Pile them high and ...

When I went to my favorite supermarket today I could hardly find my way - there were walls and walls of oyster cases stacked all over the place - a sure sign that "Le Reveillon de St. Sylvestre" - New Year's Eve - is coming closer.

...sell them not all that cheap...

After all the capons, turkeys and poulardes, the goose liver and Bûches de Noël (the traditional creamfilled Christmas dessert) for New Year's Eve and the next round of gluttony it is mostly seafood - lobsters, crawfish, scampi, oysters and scallops that are being served. The choice and quality is most impressive and so I had a real hard time to decide what to choose when I went to scout out what is on offer today.

Up for inspection - fresh oysters

... or rather some crayfish from Cuba?

... and what about scallops and some clams?

After much looking, sniffing and discussion I have made up my mind - we'll have some crawfish with a homemade mayonnaise and a scoop of fresh salmon tartare for starters. Since that is all I am in charge of this year I can happily lean back now until the 31st when I have to get up real early and do the shopping, because all the good stuff sells out real fast - The Provençal are dyed in the wool gourmets.
And because that is so I just know we'll have a real feast coming up - I have heard rumors of a whiskey-poularde and  I know that the cheese board comes from our wonderful local cheese shop. And then of course, just like last year, we'll have "Les treize desserts"  to see in 2011 in style. Can't wait!

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy New Year 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beautiful Blogger Award

I feel hugely honoured to have been nominated for the "Beautiful Blogger Award" by Claudia of "A Seasonal Cook in Turkey" - a wonderful Istanbul cum cooking blog I very much recommend reading. In order to receive this award Claudia tells me that I have to tell you five things you so far didn't know about me. Since Cuisine de Provence is first and foremost a culinary blog, I thought it best to keep my confessions along those lines. So here we go:
  • Biggest culinary failure - I cannot cook rice. I tried it the traditional way, I tried cooking rice in a microwave, I tried it with a rice-cooker, no matter what I tried - somehow rice and I don't agree. So whenever a dish calls for rice it is my beloved OH who does that bit of cooking and he does it fabulously well!
  • Food hate - in order to appreciate Jellied Eels I guess you have to be born and bred in the East End of London (at least that is what my London fishmonger told me after making me taste them and seeing me trying not to gag) and I think the same is true for Andouilettes. As I was not raised eating these pungent sausages I am sorry but there is simply no way I can stomach them. For those of you who have never seen them, they are made out of pigs intestines and that is what they smell like, too. And I have yet to be invited to a BBQ in Provence where they are not served...
  • Best loved food - almost anything Chinese. As much as I like French, especially Provençal or Mediterranean cuisine I just love Chinese cuisine - as far as I am concerned one of the best cuisines of the world.
  • Coffee or Tea? Having lived in London for quite some years I can't function without a big pot of tea first thing in the morning. But ever since George Clooney seduced me into buying our wonderful Nespresso machine more and more of those fragrant little black cups keep sneaking into our daily routine.
  • Favourite larder standby - chopped vegetables - carrots, red and green peppers, leek, beans etc. Okay so it is not strictly a larder but a freezer standby but whenever I buy or harvest vegetables I chop some up and freeze them. Take a handfull here and there, add some vegetable stock and when al dente stir in some pistou that has also been fabricated in summer when the basil was plenty and frozen in ice cube trays. Inhale deeply and wherever you are: this is instant Provence on a plate.
Also in order to receive my award I was asked to nominate five blogs for the Beautiful Blogger Award myself. So here we go - and for good measure here are six blogs I either have been following for some time or have justy recently discovered:
Avignon in Photos - I adore this photo blog that lets you discover (not only) the city of Avignon because Nathalie is a wonderful chronicler with a fantastic and artistic eye for details.
Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino - because Italian Cuisine is the next best thing to French-Provençal cooking and not only do Eleonora's photos leave me salivating, her blog is amusing and instructive to read, too.
Tumeric n Spice - two sister in laws write this blog that deals mostly with Indian Cuisine and is just too beautiful for words. Do go and see for yourself!
Our house in Provence - because Michel from California with a house in our neighboring village of Sablet has a knack for discovering the hidden beauties of Provence, plus he is a fabulous restaurant tester - one look at his blog and you'll know where to go.
A Feast for the Eyes - because it is just what it says and Debbie who calls herself a "foodiewife" is a joy to read.
Schnitzel and the Trout - because Susan (the Schnitzel) writes one of the nicest, interesting and yummy foodblogs, often commented upon by her flyfishing husband (the Trout) - lovely!

So I guess I have now earned my Beautiful Blogger Award - thank you so very much Claudia - I wish I could nominate you right back because I really do enjoy your blog a lot!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Vacqueras' Christmas Market or "La grande Bouffe"

Mulled Wine helps fight the freezing Mistral  

So there was mulled wine (generously offered by the local winegrowers and much needed to fight the freezing gusts of Mistral) plus a few art and craft stalls but what this mornings Christmas Market in Vacqueras really showed was that come Christmas time what interests the true Provençal is "la grande bouffe" (politely translated: big dinners).

Shopping for oysters: Father Christmas

And this is what he bought

We met Father Christmas at the oyster stall, discussed the price of truffles - 980 Euros a kilo at a stall that advertised them as "washed and brushed" and 320 Euros at another stall where they didn't look all that dirty either. Selling truffles unwashed, i.e. adding expensive grams of caked dirt to the precious tuber is a well tried trick of Provençal truffle merchants.

Somewhat expensive but clean truffles

Christmas dinner suggestion: Stuffed duck legs


So instead of stocking up on truffles  - that will have to wait until after the holidays when the price goes down - we admired Santons, the typical Provençal figurines that populate the "crèche" - the nativity scene. I especially liked this truffle hunter:

Truffle Hunter

Guarding the Wine

Driving home we met yet another Father Christmas. This one was guarding the entrance to the Vacqueras winery, probably in preparation to a night shift of stuffing stockings. I sure wouldn't mind receiving one of those!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Day - Another Queen

Magali Queen of Eggs

After just having brought Nadira, Queen of Confitures to your attention, just this morning I met yet another Queen at Vaison's famous Provençal market. Magali where I always buy my eggs is now the self proclaimed "Reine des Oeufs Coques" (boiled eggs). That's what her apron says and right she is: her eggs are not only big and organic, they are delicious, too.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Queen of Confitures

I used to make my own confitures, as they are so prettily called in French - much nicer than jam, don't you think? But not anymore! Now, whenever my OH who's the one who eats all the confiture in this house is running low we go and pay a call to Nadira, the "Queen of Confiture". Although I keep pestering her, Nadira does not yet have a website to order from. So if you want to taste her divine creations keep an open eye when visiting markets in and around Montpellier. Tomorrow she is still to be found at the Christmas Market in Palavas les Flots, next weekend at the Christmas Market in Lattes (11th and 12th of December) and from December 17th to December 19th in La Grande Motte. Believe me - once you've tasted Nadira's pure fig, red fruits, kumquats and ginger or melon and star anise confiture - nothing else will do!

Nadira - La Reine des Confitures

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Daily Bread

Yesterday I was leaving my friend Thérèse's shop through the back door into one of the small side streets of Vaison where I'd never paid much attention to the baker who has his shop there. But this time he made me take notice: What a beautiful display of the different varieties of bread he has on offer!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Magic Moment

On our way back from the oil mill in Mirabel-aux-Baronnies where we delivered the first big batch of our just harvested olives to be pressed into "the gold of Provence" as our wonderful olive oil is called we stopped for a quick coffee at our much beloved village square in Villedieu. The huge old plane trees had just been pruned and so you can see just how beautiful a day in Provence can be - at the end of November...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Friends go - Recipes stay

It's funny, but some of my very best recipes originate from former friends that for various reasons I am not in touch with anymore. Yesterday when I prepared a spinach potato gratin it made me think about the friend from London that I lost because another (very much ex-) friend told her some bad lies. But then again this very much ex-friend gave me the recipe for the best ever beef stew which no matter what I think of her I will never give up making (the fact that the preparation of this stew involves at least half a bottle of brandy does help -there is always a little swig left for the cook).
And yet another long lost friend is the author of a chicken recipe that everybody, but truly everybody loves. And even if sometimes it is sad:  friends may go - but real good recipes are here to stay!

Finely sliced potaoes covered by just wilted spinach

....and covered by another layer of very finely sliced potatoes

Fresh from the oven: spinach and Potato Gratin

"le beau reste" as the French say
To feed 4 to 6 people you need:
750 g (1 1/2 lbs) potatoes, peeled and very finely sliced. A big bag (500g/ 1lb) of baby spinach leaves, 1 clove of garlic, 300ml (1 1/2 cups) of crème fraîche (or sour cream or double cream), pepper and nutmeg fresh from the mill and kosher salt. A handful of grated cheese (Gruyère is best).
Butter a gratin dish and cover in one even layer of very finely sliced potatoes. Generously sprinkle with freshly milled pepper and nutmeg and kosher salt.
In a big pan heat a few drops of olive oil add the spinach and let wilt. Discard spinach into a sieve, let cool and press out most of the moisture. Distribute the spinach over the first layer of potaoes, then cover with another layer of sliced potatoes. Season as before - generously please as potatoes "eat" spices - i.e. need rather a lot of them. Very finely mince (or press) one clove of garlic and stir into the crème fraîche, sour cream or double cream, dilute with a little bit of milk if necessary to give the cream pouring consistency. Pour over the spinach-potato gratin, sprinkle with a generous handful of grated cheese and let bake in a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F for 40 to 45 minutes. I like to serve this alongside smoked or poached salmon.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Indian Summer in Provence

It has already been snowing on Mont Ventoux and it won't be long before the skiing season will be under way but for the moment we are basking in glorious sunshine (20°C/68°F this afternoon) and admire the beautiful autumn colors of the vineyards - Indian Summer in Provence!

Mont Ventoux this afternoon

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Delicious Days - Vaison's "Rencontres Gourmandes"

They really would have deserved better: just as Vaison's Gourmet Weekend "Rencontres Gourmandes" opened yesterday so did the sky and sent torrents of rain - and it is still pouring today. A real nightmare for the owners of all those beautiful and very lovingly decorated stalls of  organic "Produits du Terroir" - local delicacies. They had hoped to promote (and sell) their produce in front of Vaison's town hall and put together tasting platters meant to be eaten inside the hall where long rows of tables were set up. Why the organizers hadn't thought of providing a marquee from their tents to the hall is anyone's guess. After all it does rain in Provence and if ever there is a rainy season here this is it...

Waiting for customers - the Wine Bar

For decoration only - this one is made of salt dough

Handmade delicious organic baguettes and  fougasses

Mme Diglé promotes her husbands famous olive sausage

Eggs fresh from the farm

Sunday lunch anyone?

The prettiest stall of all

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Olive Oil - the Gold of Provence

There is nothing much to harvest in our kitchen garden anymore these days - some tomatoes, a few lost raspberries and leftover grapes but our olive trees are dripping with fruit. It looks like we'll have an extremely good harvest this year and I can't wait to pick them, bring them to the olive mill and then get my very own "Gold of Provence". For that is what our precious olive oil looks like - liquid gold!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What a Lovely Summer - Cooking in Provence

Just a small collage (click on the photo to enlarge) to show what fun we had at Cuisine de Provence this summer. A big "Merci" to all the lovely people who came to visit us in Vaison la Romaine and cooked up a storm. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gilles' Golden Rooster

Gilles Diglé, Vaison la Romaine's butcher and very popular caterer was awarded the "Coq d'Or" (Golden Rooster) by the French Guide Gourmand. Gilles received this honour, which in France is taken very seriously for his delicious olive sausage called Pontias. If ever you come to Vaison go and taste it, it is worth it!
And if you want to celebrate a big party you can't do better than to ask Gilles to prepare his famous Paëlla.

Gilles prepares his famous Paëlla

A feast not only for the eyes - Gilles' Paëlla

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wine Harvest in Villedieu

Arriving at the Wine Cooperative "Caveau des Templiers" in Villedieu today the first thing I noticed was the smell - sweet and almost intoxicating. The wine harvest has begun! A steady queue of agricultural pickups were waiting to unload the Côte du Rhone grapes that had been picked this afternoon and there were lots of happy faces. After a hot summer and just the right amount of rain the 2010 wine promises to be a real good vintage! I will keep you posted on the results!

Unloading the grapes

The grapes are weighed....

.... then crushed

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lost in St. Maxime

Look what I found in St. Maxime yesterday - Santa got lost on the Côte d'Azur! Or how else would you explain this "petit bonhomme" guarding the beautiful fruit display? I have seen a lot of early Christmas decorations but this is sort of ridiculous don't you think so, too?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Three Barbaras in one Kitchen

Today we were three Barbaras in my kitchen! These two lovely ladies from California are spending their vacation exploring Provence. Of course this also includes exploring the food and wines of Provence and this is how they came to visit Cuisine de Provence. It seems all Barbaras share some characteristics - we all like to talk and laugh a lot and we love to eat! We had a great time preparing all those Provençal recipes - thank you Barbara and Barbara (also for the Californian dates you brought - they are delicious)!

Friday, September 3, 2010

If you're going to Avignon...

...anytime soon, whatever you do, don't miss the wonderful exhibition of the Spanish (or, to be precise, Catalan) artist Miquel Barcelo at the Collection Lambert, the only museum of contemporary art in Provence worth a visit. Although one could image that this fantastic and much photographed sculpture right in front of the Pope's Palace would lead the crowds into the exhibition, yesterday and from what I hear most days Barcelo's paintings and sculptures can be enjoyed without any queuing at all.

Having fun in front of the Pope's Palace
Barcelo's Elephant

The show is still on until november 7th and right now there are big discussions going on in Avignon whether to keep the elephant or not. Just in case anyone is interested: my vote goes towards keeping him - seems he makes everyone smile and that can only be a good thing, right?

Collection Lambert, 5 Rue Violette, 84000 Avignon, Tuesday to Sunday 11am to 6 pm

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Garlic Festival in Piolenc

The Garlic Festival in Piolenc is one of the nicest food festivals in Provence. A true village affair it centers around a beautiful market and starts with a mass that is held in the Provençal dialect. Then the Confrerie de l'Ail (loosely translated: the Club of the Garlic Brothers) leads a procession of carnival floats through the village. Today even Christian Etienne  a very well known French chef came to Piolenc and held a cooking demonstration. If you are in Avignon and feel really flush go to his restaurant right next to the Pope's Palace. But do have a look at the prices first!  And since pictures talk more than a thousand words, have a look at the ones I took this morning.

One of the carnival floats

Obélix was there, too 

Marinated Garlic

Garlic made pretty

Nice Price - 3 Euros per Kilo

Flavors of Provence

Cooks with Garlic: Chef Christian Etienne