Monday, March 29, 2010

Vacqueras Wine - full of Character

Lucky me! My friend Jean-François Bertin, who runs the beautiful B&B “Bastide Saint Claude” invited me to accompany him to a wine tasting course to the aptly named wine cellar “Vignerons de Caractère” in Vacqueras.
I do not know who was the creative genius behind this reinvention of just another dusty old wine cellar into a gleaming high tech place, but since it was revamped about two years ago this must be one of the most interesting, stylish and creative wine cooperatives of the Côtes du Rhône wine growing area.
So there we were, listening to the explanations of our delightful, knowledgable and enthusiastic guide Valérie, learning to use our eyes, nose and palate to evaluate different wines: checking the color, sniffing perfumes, tasting aromas and guessing the vintage. Did you know that wine can have an aroma of fruits and berries, flowers, animals, truffels, tobacco, fresh butter, even beer? One thing is certain - as far as wines are concerned I still have a lot to learn! I am already booked for the next course which “Vignerons de Caractère” will be doing every Friday from June until the end of September: a two hour walking tour at sunset through the vineyards when a wine grower will explain the secrets of his craft.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

An Alien in Provence

At first glance I thought I'd seen an UFO! On my way to do some shopping in Le Pontet (Avignon-Nord) I had a hard time to trust my eyes when I drove by this shimmering, glittering alien (click on photo to enlarge) yesterday. A real American diner has landed in Provence! So I did a U-turn and went for closer inspection. The place was packed! Not by American tourists – not one word of English was spoken, everybody was happily chattering in French. The ultimate give away that these were French customers: they were eating their hamburgers with knives and forks!
And yes, dear readers – I did inhale! A melt patty and a diet coke, for research purposes only, of course. And did it taste good? You bet!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cooking straight from the Heart

The season started early this year: Debbie and Fred came all the way from Middleton, Wisconsin to « Cuisine de Provence ». And so they were the first ones to get the new aprons I'm rather proud of. When I was still undecided about the colors my Dutch neighbor Janneke who is a healer and does energy and healing seminars at Le Grand Barsan steered me towards doing the lettering in green “because the heart chakra is green”. And since all we cook up here in my Provençal kitchen comes from the heart I thought that was a real good choice.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A heavenly Stinker

The truffle season officially over I still had one of Provence's “black diamonds” (an especially generous gift) squirreled away in my freezer. And we had especially nice friends for dinner. And I had always wanted to try out this “truffeled Bried” I'd so often heard about. Also we have this famous cheese shop  in our town that, rumor has it, even delivers cheeses to such far away places as Rajastan when some Maharajah's daughter gets married.

So there I went and good thing I did. Turns out you can't do this with just a quarter of a Brie as I had in mind. And a Brie is just too big if you don't want to feed say twenty five people.

So Josiane, the cheese lady, recommended a Coulommiers instead, which I bought on Tuesday. At home I cut in in half horizontally, grated my well brushed truffle, mixed it up with some mascarpone and carefully spread this on the bottom part of the cheese. You then carefully set the other half of the cheese on top and wrap the whole thing tightly in cling film. I left it in the fridge until Thursday night, left it at room temperature until Friday late afternoon, then discarded the cling film and let the cheese breathe. You should have smelled my kitchen – the truffle had permeated the cheese which had started to run a bit....

I served it with a rustic, crunchy Baguette de Campagne (and a real good red wine of course) and see what was left after eight people were served seconds. Somehow I think they liked it....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Found in Marseille

Strolling around the fishermen's market at the Vieux Port (the old habor) in Marseille and cursing myself for not bringing an icebox to take the beautifully fresh sardines, turbots or merlans home, I made a rather gruesome discovery in a box under one of the stalls:

Do you know what this is? Must be one of the best kept secrets of the trade. It is the head of the fish they here call "lotte" (monkfish) and I although I never thought about it before, I now know why never, and I mean never as in "never ever" the whole fish is displayed. All you ever get to buy is "queue de lotte" (the tailpiece). And now I know why!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Third time lucky - Snow in Provence!

Here we go again! Not only did the snow come two days earlier than the weather forecasters thought it would (when do those guys ever get anything right?) but it also came fast and heavy! For the third time this winter Provence was under about 20 cm of snow - unheard of in this part of the country! My 78 year old Provençal neighbour told me that they didn't have this much snow "since the war" - 1940 that is.

Snow in our back yard this morning

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lemon Tart - Sunshine on a Plate

I cannot believe it! So we had a week of sunshine (and a lot of fierce Mistral wind that normally blows all bad weather away) and of course everybody thought “this is it” - winter over, spring starts! Well, no such luck it seems, the weather forecast has it that snow will come back to Provence Tuesday latest. So the roses we planted yesterday just have to show what they are made of – survive or die!

But before another round of winter blues sets in I decided to bring a little sunshine onto tonights dinner party table. We'll have “Tarte au Citron” (Lemon Tart) for dessert. Our wonderful greengrocer sells those big, fat, juicy organic lemons from Menton on the Côte d'Azur that taste almost sweet. But the magic ingredient are the eggs. I am lucky enough to get them from my friend Berthe who gets them from her former cleaning lady who keeps chicken in her garden. They must be very happy chicken because I have never before had eggs like these: when you use them to bake a cake the cake turns a beautiful golden color.

So take a roll of short crust pastry (you could of course make your own pastry if you prefer, but with the quality of the ready made ones here in France my life is too short to make my own). Blind bake the pastry for 15 min at 180° C, get the shell out of the oven and leave to cool.

You'll also need:
8 eggs
250g sugar
4 lemons plus one for decoration

Juice four lemons, very finely grate zest off two of the lemons , then mix the juice and zest with 250 g sugar and gently heat this mixture in a saucepan, stirring all the time, until the sugar has dissolved. Beat four whole eggs and four egg yolks together, add the egg mixture to the sugar/lemon mixture and heat over gentle heat, again stirring all the time until the mixture thickens. Pour the thick lemon curd into the pastry shell, very thinly cut 6 slices of the 5th lemon to decorate the tart with. Let set in fridge for about 2 hours and voilà: sunshine on a plate!

Tarte au Citron - sunshine on a plate

If you want to prepare an extra fancy version, beat the remaining four egg whites with 100 g sugar until very stiff, omit the lemon slices and distribute the stiff egg whites on top of the lemon curd before baking at 180°c for 20 minutes. That will give you a “Tarte au Citron meringué”.
One I made earlier: Tarte au Citron Meringue

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The most beautiful Stall at Vaison's Market

Not only are their homemade tapenades the best, this young couples' stall was the most beautiful at todays Provençal market in Vaison la Romaine - they had taken the trouble to decorate it with fresh mimosas - so pretty! You can go and taste (and buy) their delicious spreads every Tuesday in Cours Taulignan.