Monday, December 19, 2011

Countdown to Christmas in Provence

The festive season is in full swing here in Provence - this weekend we have been celebrating so much that I almost feel I should skip the real holidays and go on a New Year's diet straight away. It all started Friday with a trip to Avignon - not to see the rather lacklustre Christmas Market but the huge Crèche (nativity scene) at the Hôtel de Ville (Lord Mayor's house). More than 600 santons (the traditional Provençal nativity figurines) are set into a valley depicting life in Provence as it used to be. (If you click on the photos to enlarge them you can see all the pretty details).

The big Crèche at the Lord Mayors house in Avignon

The on we went to the Palais du Roure just around the corner, where this delightful lady (below) was guarding another, much smaller but also very pretty crèche and explaining the "Treize desserts de Noël" and why the frist week of December we seed lentils or wheat to have the green sprouts on the table in time for Christmas (this is supposed to guarantee money all year round).

Night fell and on we went to the Hotel La Mirande just below the Pope's Palace to the grand opening of the hotel's Christmas market.

For me the main attraction there was this monsieur, the "Roi des Pois Chiches" (King of the Chickpeas), who, gifted with a fabulous personality and an unparalled gift of the gab sold chickpeas, chickpea flour and pots of poichichade, a delicious chickpea dip.

In the beautiful old kitchen of La Mirande I was more than delighted to meet Nathalie, whose blog Avignon in Photos I have been following for quite a while and who I admire for her creativity, her unique eye and sense of style. Can't wait to see this still life in her blog!

Cooking demonstration in the kitchen of La Mirande

After slaving in my kitchen all day long (more on that later) Saturday night found us at the
Cave la Vigneronne in the beautiful village of Villedieu where the new wines of 2011 where presented in the cellar of the Cave.  
Delighted with their find - guests at La Vigneronne

When in France you eat when you drink. On the menu: Oysters from Bretagne and walnuts and cheeses from Provence


For dessert: fruit tarts

and cream filled choux 

We all left rather happy - thank you Alain for driving us!

Sunday we had our official Christmas picture taken and made our friends take a more or rather less orderly queue towards the kitchen stove where a big pot of Goulash was simmering.

I always serve this Ghoulash at what we call our "Countdown to Christmas" - a happy and informal get together of friends around the Christmas tree with Ghoulash, a cheese board, some desserts and lots of red wine.... 
Desserts this year: Mince pies made by my friend Nadira, also known as Queen of Confitures

Pecan Tart and

Tiramisu made by moi  
Dancing around the Christmas tree!

Cuisine de Provence wishes you all very
 Happy Holidays
and a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful
NEW YEAR 2012!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Some more Foie Gras

A quick snap I took when browsing my favorite supermarket the other day - just to give you an impression of the huge choice of foie gras products on offer now before the holidays. Did you know that foie gras was declared part of the French National Heritage in 2005? A quick answer to the then first banishments of foie gras from the menus of certain New York restaurants and to a new law that will make it illegal to produce, sell or serve foie gras in California from July 2012.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sinful and delicious - Foie Gras

It is that time of year again - that time of year when our letterbox is overflowing with publicity leaflets from all the local supermarkets that deal with only one thing: Food! But not food as in everyday specials, oh no - the festive season is looming and festive in France equals with champagne and fine wines, oysters, lobster, foie gras, capons and what to fill them with. So in order to get myself organized and not leave everything to a last minute frenzy I have started to prepare my Foie Gras.
This year I cheated a bit and bought a Foie Gras that was already cleaned, so I only had to

take the lobes apart, season them with pepper, fleur de sel and a pinch of quatre épices (a spice mixture of nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cinnamon) and a swig of real good Cognac.

The seasoned lobes then get pressed into the terrine and go in a bain-marie into a very low oven (150°C/302°F) for 35 minutes.

After slow cooking for 40 minutes it comes out looking like this (below):

Off you pour the grease and keep it, because this is the best fat to fry the worlds best tasting fried potatoes in

When cold, the goose fat will solidify.

Now the Foie Gras (and don't call it a terrine or pâté, because this is pure Foie Gras with nothing mixed into it) has to be weighed down and and left in the fridge to develop for at least two days.

Then you can either give in to your greed and serve it with any good bread and - if you like it the French way - with a sweet wine. Or - if you are reasonable, wrap it well and freeze to get it out in time for the holidays. Saying that I guess I better get another one on the way - I think in a couple of days I will just want to make sure and check that this one has turned out as it should....

Monday, November 14, 2011

Glamorous Coffee Break

Isn't this the best piece of bling ever? I just love and adore my new ring!
And ever since I got it, I am having ....

very stylish coffeebreaks! A little glamour goes a long way....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What does France really eat?

Now have a look at this: Doesn't the dish on the cover of this magazine look just like a nice, juicy pork roast? I think it does and was more than surprised when I saw the headline "France's best loved dishes". But knowing that France is also the country where McDonalds has the highest turnover outside of the US I thought anything is possible and was intrigued. But no, pork it is not, it is duck breast and "Vie Pratique Gourmand", a very popular cooking mag you buy at supermarket checkouts had asked it's readers to name their top forty favorite dishes. Duck Breast was voted most popular dish, followed by Moules Frites and - Number Three: Couscous!
Classic dishes such as Lapin à la Moutarde - rabbit in mustard sauce (20), Cassoulet (32) or Bouillabaisse (37) were beat by BBQ'd salmon (11), Spaghetti Bolognaise (17) and Pizza (18). Interesting, isn't it?
And what is your favorite dish? Mine seems to be an alltime favorite: Steak Frites, the more saignant, the better! And I am not the only one -  Steak Frites made it to number 6 on the "Vie Pratique Gourmand" ranking.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Foodie Walk through Istanbul - III. and last Part

The one and only day is wasn't raining during our stay in Istanbul fellow blogger Claudia of  A Seasonal Cook in Turkey very kindly took us on a foodie tour through Beyoglu, the heart of Istanbul. We had met just a few weeks before when Claudia whose blog features mouthwateringly delicious recipes came to visit Provence with her lovely husband TT. Well I can tell you one thing: this walk was not for the fainthearted, already at the first stop Claudia had some convincing to do:

Robert, my OH was more than sceptical: "What do you want me to eat? Kokoreç - Sheep intestines?"

But since Nazmi, the vendor, was such a delightful man who proudly told us that he put his two daughters through university with the earnings off his stall, we decided to be polite and have a taste. Surprise - it tasted great, politeness evaporated, sheer greed took over - yum!

What a beautiful still life! We generally found that Turkish stallholders have a knack for decoration!

Here no one had any qualms about tasting - freshly pressed pommegranate juice is so delicious.

And warm, melt in the mouth börek, I think I could easily live on this....

Some street art thrown in and then:

The Orient Bar of the famous Pera Palas Hotel, Istanbul's first luxury hotel where Mata Hari, Marlene Dietrich, Alfred Hitchcock, Jackie Kennedy and Agatha Christie used to stay. Our friend Volker invited us to 

a fabulos Turkish Coffee, before we then went on to visit 

The Master of the Pickles!

Along the way we learned how else to spell "Charcuterie " as that was what we tasted next: 

This very friendly, in fact absolutely adorable man who has been running this stall on the exact same street corner for some thirty years he told us (hence his three devoted "regulars"), turns this - cooked sheep heads,

into this (photo below) - an absolute delicay. We not only admired his knife skills - it was quite a spectacle watching him deftly cutting up the heads, getting out the meat, then finely slicing onions and chopping lots of flat leaf parsley. Seasoned with pepper, salt and pulbiber, the Turkish chilli flakes you find on every restaurant table

Kelle, as this is called was seriously good!

But then we went to the famous Spice Bazaar and guess what? Yes, we did find a little space left in our by now well stuffed tummies to taste nut and pistachio filled dates, apricots and figs. And special chocolates and even Iranian caviar that is sold at very competitive prices.

Blogger meeting in the Spice Bazaar: Claudia, Barbara and Joy

There we were joined by Joy, a pastry chef whose baking demonstration at Istanbul's Culinary Institute I unfortunately missed by a few days and author of the delightful "My Turkish Joys" blog. Joy took us to her favorite spice shop in this amazing and fragrant labyrinth of spices where I stocked up on black pepper, pulbiber, dried thym (now that the winter starts I want to give my thym plants a rest), red pepper, tea, and lokum of course, also known as Turkish Delight. And that exactly sums up this wonderful day: it was truly a Turkish Delight - thank you Claudia for guiding us!