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Archive for July, 2008

I’ll never forget the day I first tried a Salade Périgourdine. Monsieur and I were in Toulouse on the way to a wedding in Lot. We had stopped for lunch at a terrace restaurant on Wilson Square and I was struggling to decide what to eat. In the end, I decided to try a the salade terroir (no, it’s not a salad of terror, but a salad of the terre, or region) which, in this case, was a Salade Périgourdine, named for a region of France where it’s simply impossible to avoid eating duck: Périgord.

That was the day that duck took on a new meaning for me. Until then, my experience of duck had been restricted to crispy Peking style, hanging in Chinese restaurant windows or listed on a takeaway menu. I liked Chinese duck. Would I like its French cousin? It was time to find out.

The salad appeared, a mound of lettuce leaves covered in different sorts of duck. There were slices of smoked duck (magret de canard fumé), little irregular pieces of duck (I didn’t want to know which part but later learned that these are gésiers, or giblets) and cresting the lot was a perfect round of foie gras. It seemed incredibly decadent to be eating foie gras in a salad but now, I blush to say that I am getting used to it and for the rest of that trip, I ate duck in all its forms at every opportunity.

Here is a basic salad recipe so you can make the Périgourdine at home:

  • Salad leaves – I like lamb’s lettuce for this one.
  • Duck giblets – you will need a good butcher or deli owner to get these for you if you want to cook them from fresh. Otherwise, you may like to stock up on tinned duck ‘gésiers’ when you are in France. In London, we get ours from Borough Market.
  • Slices of magret de canard fumé. This is smoked duck breast. You can buy them in packs from delicatessans. My local deli orders this in fresh for me. It works out tastier and a bit cheaper.
  • A small pot of foie gras. You don’t need very much per person, just a small slice each.
  • Green beans
  • A handful of walnuts
  • Optional additions might be a few stalks of asparagus when in season or an artichoke or two, but do note that these are not traditional ingredients of a Périgourdine. You can also add tomato segments and sliced boiled egg as extras.

Start with a mound of lettuce on each plate, then sprinkle the walnuts, gesiers and green beans evenly on top. Place the slices of smoked duck breast at even intervals around the plate. Crown with a slice of foie gras.

Serve with a slice of toast for the foie gras and a chilled glass of Sauternes. You may like to have a bowl of fig chutney on the table for people who enjoy the taste of fig with their foie gras.

Bon appétit!

 

 

 

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Monsieur and I were in Cannes for New Year but soon decided to leave the heaving Croisette for a little trip elsewhere. In our efforts to do just that we drove stop-start through the labyrinthine streets of France’s answer to Tinseltown trying to find a way out. This took a while but a U-turn and a few heart-stopping crossroads later, we finally found ourselves speeding along an autoroute to Grasse, the perfumery centre of France.

This was definitely a destination worthy of our time, although the approach is a little underwhelming. Lego-block apartment buildings climb in batches up the hillside to this famous town, portrayed in all the postcards as a charming olde worlde site filled with flowers and surrounded by fields of lavender. Obviously it would be too much to expect swaying fields of lavender in late December, finding instead at its centre a toboggan slide, caroussel and large, plastic nativity of neon plastic figures nestled in fake snow next to a marquee sporting a farm animal fair with all the braying and quacking that goes with that sort of thing.

A short walk later, the charm of the medieval hill-town became more apparent. There were perfume factories geared to the tourist that could entice a visit, a Longchamps shop filled with their signature bags at unusually competitive prices, narrow coffee bars squeezed like an after-thought between much wider buildings, the expected boutiques, gift shops and galleries, racks of perfumed soaps and a few exclusive-looking places at which to buy foie gras. There’s no doubt about it: Grasse may well be a perfumery town, but a good part of its economic health comes from the tourist. Even on a chilly winter’s day, there were quite a few of us about, snapping away at picturesque views that carry one’s eye as far as the sea.

Turning into an uphill alley, we passed under a frescoed scaffold hoarding between the two sides of the street, and there to my amusement stood an Indian restaurant next to a Vietnamese. Yes, we were ready for lunch but not quite in the mood for ethnic food that we can easily find in London. We walked on.

The sun was warm as we strolled into an airy square, with an oyster stall, florist stand and covered market selling everything from saucissons secs to fake pashminas. Next to the covered market was a restaurant called Café Arnaud, blessed with outdoor tables. As it was quite pleasant in the sun, we decided to take one. We chose, we ordered, we waited. And waited. And waited. And waved down the sole waitress in charge of all the outdoor tables. The waitress said she would chase up our first courses of salad. How long does it take to throw a salad together? 45 minutes apparently. Still, we were happy to be on holiday with Christmas behind us for another year, so waited patiently until, just as we had decided to go elsewhere, the salads arrived. Meanwhile, Mory Kante boomed out of the market marquee and the sun’s strength started to wane.

Monsieur tucked into a generous salade Niçoise, while I enjoyed a Périgourdine, trying to save the piece of foie gras from Monsieur’s fork until I could savour it last. The air was chill, now, and Monsieur’s hands went blue. I also felt the drop in temperature, but wrap myself in layers during winter, no matter how shiny the sun, so it didn’t bother me too much. I was just happy to be outside on a crisp January day.

At a long table next to us, an extended family lunched together, the children wriggling their way through polite eating until they finished and were released from the table, at which point they careened around the square, thoroughly enjoying being kids. In the covered market, people were selecting from fresh produce for their evening meal, as a gypsy-looking woman with a tumble of black hair and pale grey eyes sat down to eat with her husband and their newborn. The square was humming with interest and local life.

Waiting for the bill at The Slow Restaurant gave Monsieur a nasty cold, although we didn’t know it at the time. In the end, we had to venture inside to pay, otherwise we may still be sitting there, waiting, today. So that was Café Arnaud. If you’re ever in Grasse and decide to give it a try, the salade Perigourdine is delicious but I’d recommend you to take your seats inside.

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One of the special somethings that Monsieur brings back from trips to France is a pack of galettes. These buck-wheat pancakes are popular in Britanny, and brown, compared to the white of the regular flour crêpe.

If you’d like to make the galettes yourself, you could follow this recipe:

To make about 10 galettes:

Ingredients:

330g buckwheat flour
10g coarse sea salt
75cl cold water
1 egg
Put the flour and the salt in a large bowl and mix together. Add the water slowly, mixing constantly until the mixture becomes a batter with an even consistency.
Next, add the egg and stir through. Then cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Ladle the mixture into a frying pan or crepe pan making sure it spreads evenly by using a spatula. When the surface is solid, brush lightly with clarified butter and arrange filling on the galette.

When making a stack of galettes for filling later, you might like to only cook them on one side, cooking the other side only when you have the filling prepared and are ready to eat. You may also like to have the oven on to keep them warm if you are cooking for a crowd and would like everyone to eat at the same time.

Chez nous, Monsieur and I find it much easier to buy ready-made packs of galettes to go. That way, we can concentrate on making their fillings.

Using the ready-made galettes, we heat a little butter in a frying pan and pop in one galette. When it has warmed through, we flip it over and layer the fillings on one half of the pancake. Once the cheese has melted/ egg has cooked etc, we fold the galette in two, creating a wonderful half-moon of yumciousness.

For a different style of presentation, place the filling evenly across the middle of the galette. When it has cooked, fold in the edges of the pancake so that the perimeter is in a square shape, but leaving a gap in the middle so you can see the filling. This is particularly effective when you break an egg in the centre of the galette, before folding in the edges, so that in final presentation, the yolk is visible.

Here’s a picture of our prosciutto + mozzarella galette, heating up.

Some of the savoury varieties we’ve made so far include:

  1. Ham and egg, sometimes adding a little cheese. This combination is known as a ‘complet’
  2. Smoked salmon, a dollop of creme fraiche, chopped chives and a squeeze of lemon
  3. Prosciutto and grated mozzarella

On the yet to try list would be:

  1. diced tomato, feta cheese and chopped olives
  2. Mushroom stroganoff
  3. Fresh seafood with a bechamel sauce
  4. Shrimps (cooked) with cream and parmesan, and a sprinkling of paprika
  5. Spinach with goat’s cheese
  6. Cheese, lardons, leftover potato diced, crème fraiche, chopped salad onions and parsley. This combo is supposed to be Da Daddy of Galettes, according to one of my friends. I look forward to trying it out!

Comfort food fillings include:

  1. Grated cheddar and a sprinkling of diced onions
  2. Just plain cheese. Use whichever cheese you prefer
  3. Thin slices of saucissons secs with cheese
  4. I’ve also heard that a spread of salted butter and a drizzle of honey is also divine in a warm galette

Traditionally speaking, a galette should be savoury and a crêpe reserved for sweet fillings, but I have seen both varieties used both ways and the rule seems to have lost a lot of its rigidity. For the complete Breton atmosphere, you should serve this with Cidre Brut, a Breton cider, and perhaps a green salad garnish.

At our place, we have galettes as part of a weekend brunch ritual so eat them alongside juice and coffee from our paranormal machine . We’ve even thrown them together at midnight as a soak-me-up after a few evening drinks. Whichever way, they’re tasty and light and hold no end of potential filling combinations.

If you read this and know of any good galette combos that I haven’t mentioned, please let me know!

For a sweet galette version, see Razzbuffnik’s Pre-Bastille Day Dinner post.

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Last summer when Monsieur and I found ourselves at the Saturday market in Sarlat-le-Canéda, we were tempted into buying some delicious foie gras at one of the many stalls selling duck produce. The foie gras is long gone, but the preserve jars in which it was sold are still with me. Time and time again, Monsieur has threatened to throw them out, but as I love collecting jars as airtight containers for herbs and other kitchen condiments, I’ve insisted they stay, knowing I would find a use for them.

Earlier this year, I joined Monsieur in Paris for a long weekend and while he was at meetings (le pauvre), I walked across to the 7th, to ogle the contents of épicerie windows and boulangeries and boutiques and leather goods shops. For lunch, I stopped at Tribeca on rue Cler and ordered a tomato and mozzarella salad. Well. Be still my heart. The salad may have been Italian in creation but it was toute French in its inspired presentation, arriving in a chilled preserve jar, set on a plate with fresh green leaves and dressing!

Recently, the foie gras jars once again came close to being thrown out by Monsieur, so to prove their worth to him, I did my best to replicate the salad I’d so enjoyed that day in the 7th. Here’s how to make it:

Start with a basil leaf covered by a slice of fresh mozzarella in the base of the jar and lightly season the cheese. Push a slice of beef tomato on top, followed by a couple of slices of avocado. Add another slice of mozzarella, another of tomato, a last slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf on top. Lightly season each layer as you go. Depending on the size of the preserve jar and the thickness of your slices, you may find there is room for more layers. Then drizzle your preferred dressing over the top. This will slowly leak down to the lower layers. At Tribeca, the dressing was laced with basil, which was delicious, but you could also use a vinaigrette or simple oil and lemon juice.

Once the jar is closed, the salad will keep for 1-2 days if refrigerated, and because the jar is airtight, the avocado won’t discolour. It’s an ideal starter that can be made well in advance of guests arriving, leaving time for last minute fussing over the main. It’s also an attractive way of serving food, with the red, white and green layers visible through the glass. Once properly chilled, the jar can be upturned to allow a perfect tower of tomato, mozzarella and avocado to sit on the plate, if you don’t want to eat straight from the jar.

Merci beaucoup, Tribeca chefs, for teaching me a new way to present this salad…

Now, be good readers and try this at home. Then drop me a line to say how you get on. Bon appetit!

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This beauty shop in La Rochelle stopped me in my tracks because of the painting hanging in its window. Apologies for not being able to lose more of the reflection on the glass, but if you look closely, you’ll see three topless old women smiling back at you. A better advertisement for booking an appointment I cannot think of!

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Here’s day two of my first visit to Paris, from a journal written when I was an awkward fifteen years old. It’s a bit of a history lesson, this entry. Goodness only knows how I managed to take such accurate notes without missing the sights. Anyway, the itinerary is interesting and I’ve created lots of links in case you want to learn more about the places of historic Paris.

Woke up early, had weird buffet breakfast downstairs before joining our first tour at 8.50am. We got on a bus for a tour of historical Paris. We had a lovely French guide speaking in English and German – her German was atrocious, though, with verbs in all the wrong places.

We paused at the Place Vendôme. There is a column in the middle of the square that was built in the 17th Century by Lous XIV. Napoleon is on top of it, wearing a Roman emperor’s clothes. It is bronze, made from cannons taken by Napoleon’s soldiers at Austerlitz. Then down the Rue St Honoré where nearly all the buildings are pre-Revolution. We passed a church (Eglise St Roch) where the tomb of the creator of the gardens at Versailles and the Tuilerie Gardens (André Le Nôtre) is. We passed the theatre of French comedies and then l’Opéra in the Avenue de l’Opéra. We saw the northern wing of the Louvre which contains the Ministry of Finance. It was a large palace and now the greatest part is an art museum.

Past the Place des Victoires built at the time of Louis XIV, then past the Bank of France built before WWII.

The Place des Victoires is a replica. All things like it were destroyed during the Revolution of 1792. It has the same architect as Vendôme. The Central Paris Post Office was next, part of it is always open – day and night! The old food market was in the Rue du Louvre but now there are buildings – shops, restaurants etc there. Now the market is near Orly airport.

The Palais du Louvre was originally a fortress at the end of the 12th Century to defend Paris – then much smaller than today. After that, it was the residence for French Kings and Queens, from Francis I to Napoleon III). Every king built on a new part in a different style. Since 1793 it has been the national building for art.

Next was a church called St Germain l’Auxerrois. It had a beautiful façade and was built in the 17th Century. We passed the Académie Francaise and then crossed the Seine on the ‘new’ bridge (Pont Neuf) which is actually the oldest in Paris and was finished during of the reign of King Henry IV.

We saw a department store called Samaritaine and went to the heart of Paris – the Île de la Cité – passing the place where Marie Antoinette was locked up, the Conciergerie, which used to be a prison. We saw the spire of the Holy Chapel of the 13th Century,and then a tower in the late Gothic style – St James (or Saint Jacques).

The two towers of Notre Dame were in the distance as we passed the Hôtel de Ville in renaissance style. The first town hall from the time of Francis I was burnt during the Revolution.

We went into a suburb called the Marais and saw two houses from the 14th Century. Next was a Jesuit style church and a museum dedicated to the history of Paris – Le Musée Carnavalet. At the Place des Vosges we were told that at the beginning of the 17th Century a lot of rich families had apartments or houses there. In the 19th Century Victor Hugo lived there (but died elsewhere). The house is now dedicated to his life and works.

It’s strange to look back at a time when all of the above-mentioned places were new to me. Now, the Place des Vosges is as familiar as the shops on rue du Temple in the Marais. Monsieur took me to the Carnavalet Museum when I first visited Paris with him, ogling the recreated prison rooms which held the French royal family prior to their meeting with Madame Guillotine, and fascinated by the room sets, town models and paintings throughout.

There are still places for me to visit in Paris, however. My fine and decorative arts tutor would probably bring back revolutionary beheadings if he knew I still hadn’t set foot inside la Sainte Chapelle with its starry night ceilings. On the other hand, my old drama teacher would be thrilled to know that Monsieur’s mother took us to see Shakespeare in French at the Comédie Française last Christmas. Still, it’s wise to remember that if you don’t see everything when you visit a new place, then you’re only leaving something to go back for in the future.

One question, though: in the first paragraph The Fifteen Year-Old Moi complains about the ‘weird’ breakfast. I wonder what on earth she meant.

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When I was fifteen, I saw Paris for the first time. My parents had decided that our southern hemisphere summer holidays should be spent seeing some of the great cities of Europe, so here we were in the City of Light, mid-winter, just in time to celebrate the New Year.

Here are my journal entries from that time. They’re not particularly sophisticated, so please remember that they were written by a fifteen year-old with braces on her teeth.

We’d just flown from Munich to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport when the entry begins:

28th December

Once we were off the plane we went down amazing escalator walkways. Then we went up some more, inside perspex tubes. They were fantastic. It didn’t take long for our bags to come through. We went and changed some money and then found a chauffeur driven Mercedes into Paris. The chauffeur was Parisian and drove us on a motorway to the Paris ring road. We drove through the suburbs until we got to the north west of Paris where we entered the city. We passed by the Arc de Triomphe first, then the Eiffel Tower and the Ecole Militaire. We went through lots of side streets to Montparnasse where we were dropped at the Meridien Hotel.

There was a computer (!) in each room and a bottle of champagne, fruit and two bouquets of flowers with a “Happy New Year” card addressed to us from the Manager. After a small celebration, Dad went and got a map and tour brochures from the desk, so we read them briefly and then headed off on a walk. We went past Galeries Lafayette and a shopping centre on a large shopping street full of boutiques, shoe shops and every other kind of shop. We went into a magnificent art shop – two stories of every art supply imaginable! I couldn’t think to choose what I needed. We walked on and on for ages until we got to the River Seine.

We went into Notre Dame Cathedral which was amazing at night. It was eerie and dark but the candles and people at Mass lightened it up a bit. We saw a memorial to all those members of the British Empire who fought in the First World War. It even had a New Zealand coat of arms on it. We passed confessionals and candles so we lit a candle and left it burnng.

We walked back to the Latin Quarter where we found a lovely Italian restaurant, got a table and sat down. I chose lasagne. It was delicious! After dinner we walked back to the hotel. It was a long walk. Eventually we got there after seeing typically French things e.g. self-cleaning loos.

**Before we got to the River Seine, a tramp (about 60) came up to me, stared at me really closely and snorted in my ear. Weird. All the way home, I imitated what he did and everyone laughed! At the hotel we booked tours for tomorrow and went to sleep – after watching BBC1, Greystoke – The Legend of Tarzan. Good movie.

It’s interesting to read back over this. For a start, I have absolutely no recollection of a tramp snorting in my ear, so I have to trust my ancient journal on that one. I do remember the escalator tubes at Charles de Gaulle and the thrill of seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. It was like travelling through one of my school French textbooks, only no longer black-and-white. This was 3D Paris, live.

Whenever I’m in Paris now, I always look at that inescapable black monstrosity, La Tour Montparnasse, and remember that first visit. Today I asked Monsieur a question:

“Darling, do you like the Tour Montparnasse?”

“No.”

“Does anyone?”

“I don’t know. Probably not.”

If you read this and have a view, either way, on the Tour Montparnasse, please let me know because it confuses the hell out of me. It reminds me of an ugly black wart on the face of an otherwise elegant Grande Dame.

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