Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fennel Salad with Goat droppings

Bought some beautiful fennel bulbs at our local farmer's market yesterday without any definite plans of what to do with them. Today's sunshine inspired me and I used them in a recipe that I usually do in summer. All you need is an organic lemon, some good olive oil, pepper fresh from the mill, some flatleaf parsley and "crottin de chèvre" which literally translates as "goat  droppings".

Fennel bulbs from our Farmer's Market

Crottins de Chèvre

These are small round and semi hard goat cheeses and I wonder why they are called by this not really appetizing name because they taste great! Anyhow, fennel and "droppings" make a delicious summery salad. Just quarter the fennel bulbs, cut out the hard core at the bottom and discard, then very finely slice the fennel. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fennel, season with a few rounds of black pepper and a generous splash of olive oil. Grate the goat cheese and mix into the fennel. Finely chop the flat leaf parsley and mix into the salad.

Fennel and Goat Cheese Salad

Monday, February 22, 2010

Oursinade in Carry le Rouet - Sea Urchin Festival

Carry le Rouet is a small habor town right next to Marseille where on the first three weekends in February they celebrate their famous "oursinades" - a sea urchin festival. Unfortunately, this year it was not only freezing cold, but the only urchins to be had were at the fishmongers. Normally you find stalls and stalls of this local delicacy around the port at festival time - but it seems the urchins are in danger of being over harvested and so some authority put a stop to them being sold at every corner.

Endangered species: sea urchins

Not that this mattered much to me - I am no big fan of sea urchins and much prefered to try "Calamar à la Provençale" which translates as "in a spicy tomato sauce" and was delicious, as were the moules marinières, prepared al fresco with more than just a whiff of garlic or the snails - all presented in huge round pans and steaming hot....

How do you open these prickly things?

The essentials are a pair of scissors and a sturdy glove

And because a festival needs a little bit more than just good food (and great wine of course  - we are in France here!) these Oursinades always start with a costume parade. These ladies wear Provençal costumes and play the typical one handed flute and their drum.

Playing flute against the cold

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Restaurant Rant

Had an interesting experience in a restaurant the other day: There were no dishes on the menu, just “formules”. The French are big on “formules” which usually means you either get a starter and a main course or a main course and dessert for a fixed price. So when I asked what I'd get to eat the answer was “we don't work like this”.
I am still sorry I didn't follow my first impulse – get up, say “and I don't eat like this” and leave. Because it got worse. First we were asked if we were allergic to wheat, dairy, fish, meat etc. etc. What is this – a doctor's surgery? By this point I remembered a friend from New York who always used to say “I'm here to eat, not to have a conversation with you” to overly familiar waiters. Not that I'd ever dare to be that rude....

Next Madame was miffed when I wasn't in the mood for soup as a starter - “but our soups are legendary – didn't you see the Gault Millau recommendation on our door?” Yes, great, but why does that make me have to eat soup?And so on.
In all fairness, the food wasn't bad but what I really hate is when restaurants take themselves more seriously than their patrons.
What is wrong with a well thought out menu that gives a couple of choices and more importantly – lets me know in advance what I get to eat?
And don't tell me how I have to eat it! Because in this place we were told to eat the amuse bouche (a drop of kefir surrounded by five or six different herbs and salad leaves) starting on the left and working towards the right side of the plate. And I thought I'd outgrown kindergarten! Do I need to say I won't be back in a hurry?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It is snowing again....

It is snowing again! Yesterday I saw a headline on one of the local papers: "On a marre de cet hiver!" which perfectly sums up the way I am feeling: I am "fed up with this winter", too!
So I went through all my cut out recipes (I am real big on cutting out things and then go through them every three months or so and throw half of them out...) and found one I'll go and prepare right now:
Crème d'ail - cream of garlic. "Facile et bon marché" it says on the recipe - easy to prepare and cheap -  always good. And garlic is good for you, especially in cold weather.

Crème d'ail - Ingredients for 4
8 cloves of garlic
40 cl liquid cream (no half fat stuff, please!)
salt, pepper fresh from the mill

Blanching the garlic cloves

Peel the garlic cloves. Pour water into a small saucepan, bring to the boil. Throw in the peeled garlic cloves, let boil for one minute, drain and discard the water. Repeat this process two more times, changing the water every time - this takes the garlic smell away but leaves the taste.
When done, boil the cream, add the blanched garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste. Let boil for two minutes (supervise carefully - this will boil over the second you so much as glance somewhere else). When done, mix with a hand mixer until smooth. Serve in shot glasses as a prevention cure against cold viruses and vampires.

Cream of Garlic

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Nyons - Fête of the new 2010 Olive Oil

Maybe I picked the wrong day, but this weekend's celebration of the new olive oil in Nyons was not exactly exciting. Okay, so there was a tasting of the different varieties of Nyons' A.O.C. oils lined up in a tent on their central square "Place de la Libération" where you could also taste some Côte du Rhône wines, but that was it. No olives or olive oil for sale - nothing!

Tasting Nyons' new olive oil

The only highlight was Alain Berne's cooking demonstration. The acclaimed chef  from Hostun in the Drôme prepared an elegant Olive Tart, very subtly perfumed with lime and lemon zest which I can't wait to try out. Have to buy some olives first though ......

   Chef Alain Berne prepares the pastry   
The Olive Tart

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Truffles in Buis les Baronnies

Went to Buis les Baronnies today, a lovely small Provençal village that is rather busy in the summer but right now the market is truly a village affair.
It was lovely to see the first mimosas today - here it is far too cold for them to flower yet, so these were almost certainly from the Côte d'Azur where they are always the first sign of spring.

Mimosas - the first sign of spring

But even better than the mimosas: there were truffles! Two weeks ago in Vaison la Romaine's market they were still at € 850 per kilo, now the price has come down to  € 600 a kilo. Since you only need one truffle the size of a golf ball to prepare a deliciously decadent omelette for four that would set you back about  € 35 - expensive still, but how delicious!

La dame aux truffes - the truffle lady