Heavenly Food

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My life revolves around food, sadly. But that’s just the way it is. I get excited in the morning when I decide to make myself a special breakfast, like an omelette with mushrooms and Fontina. It’s a simple pleasure. I get excited about a fine-dining experience at a restaurant. That’s an extravagant pleasure. Or a picnic in perfect weather, no bugs, with cheese,charcuterie, bread and wine. That’s an experiential pleasure, because it’s so much bigger than the food itself.

And I love to discover new foods. Typically when we travel, my husband and I stay at hotels, so my food discoveries are at restaurants. That’s how I learned about samphire, in London, served alongside seared scallops. Such a great discovery!

But because of restaurant dining, I miss out going to a local market, and cooking all the wonderful and fresh ingredients. I don’t complain, ever, because I also enjoy the break from being in the kitchen.

However, when I was visiting Stéphane in France, it was quite the opposite for me, because I was actually there to shop and cook with him. And I got to learn about some of the seasonally local foods and experience them. It was a food immersion of sorts, and there were plenty of foods with which I had no previous experience.

One of these was fresh fava beans. Now many of you who live where I don’t already have eaten these, but I can’t buy them fresh. I’ve only cooked them dry. So I was very excited when Stéphane suggested that we get some fresh favas to munch on before lunch.

He showed us how to peel the fava beans, then dip them in a little salt and devour. It was a wonderful way to spend a little time before lunch, especially sitting outside in France!

Another lovely experience my daughter and I enjoyed for the first time were les petits Bigorneaux. Essentially sea snails that are boiled, then served at room temperature. This was yet another fun appetizer that we enjoyed sitting outside in the sun, pulling the stubborn snails out of their shells.

I could swear that some of my snails were still alive, because they would pull away from my toothpick. But Stéphane assured me that they were fully cooked, and had died for our enjoyment.

I always remember my French mother telling me about langoustines. I was probably a little appalled about the part where you suck the innards out of the langoustine head after you ate the body. And maybe perhaps for that reason I avoided them over the years. Until now.

They’re more like a mini lobster than a shrimp. You could try to get the meat out of the claws, but the claws are so small that it would take all day.

For this beautiful lunch, Stephane made a fresh chive aioli to go with the chilled langoustines, and it was a perfect pairing. I hope Stéphane didn’t notice that neither my daughter or I sucked out the head meat.

Before I left for France Stéphane asked me if I’d enjoy making a foie gras terrine. I think my heart skipped a beat. I’ve sautéd foie gras, I’ve made paté de foie, and I’ve made coarser meat terrines, but a foie gras terrine??!!! Mais oui! I was so excited.

It’s a family recipe and I will not reveal it. I was probably talking too much in any case to pay attention. But you essentially smother the lobes of foie gras with a spice mixture, and then press them into a terrine.

After an Armagnac bath, the terrine is sealed with pastry and cooked slowly in a bain marie. Then it chills for four days. Stéphane served it to us with Sauterne, and toasted slices of Briochette, which is a cross between brioche and French bread. It was certainly a gourmet highlight of our trip.

Then there were new mushrooms to experience – cèps, to be exact. They’re large and meaty. Stéphane sautéed potatoes in duck fat for our meal, then added the cooked cèps. Stéphane then served the potato-cèps mixture, seasoned with a walnut parsley pesto of sorts, along with duck confit for us, and eggs for my daughter. I was very happy to discover a new mushroom!

Lastly, the cheese. There was one spectacular cheese that was a standout for me.

It’s called Saint Felicien, made from raw cows’ milk in the Rhones-Alpes region of France. It was a lovely discovery, and along with the Camembert and Epoisses that Stéphane also served, went really well with the black cherry jam. The cherries in the jam are the size of blueberries. Another wonderful discovery that I should have brought home with me if I had been thinking.

There was so much more I experienced for the first time during my visit with Stéphane, but these were the standouts for me.

36 thoughts on “Heavenly Food

  1. Spectacular post! I had a couple of meals in Paris, one in particular was for my Birthday in 1994 – where I enjoyed all those seafoods, including the tiny snails that require a lot of skill to pull out of their shells – it was an amazing meal!

    what a fantastic cooking experience you had! Thanks for sharing… loved each word and image!

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  2. Sure sounds like a fun trip and great experience.

    When we vacation in Europe, we no longer stay in hotels. Discovering web sites like VRBO.com and Homeaway.com has made our trips much more enjoyable. Just one example is this place that we’ve rented for an upcoming Italy vacation http://www.vrbo.com/279521# This place is just two short blocks from Rome’s main street market Campo dei Fiori.

    We travel as a party of three (my wife and her sister) so we would need to book two hotel rooms. It is considerably less expensive to get a nice apartment or house when you factor in all costs.

    Meals at good restaurants have gotten to be so expensive in Europe that dining out can be the major cost of a trip. We’ve refined our daily routine to keep those costs under control. Our usual practice is have breakfast in our apartment, then lunch at a nice restaurant. If we splurge on an upscale place with a Michelin star one day, we try to go for pizza or pasta the next day to balance out our costs. Our evening meal is usually back at our apartment, but not always. If we had a big lunch, we might just snack on cheese, paté, fruits, and wine with a crusty loaf of bread for dinner.

    If we decide to cook something for dinner, it will likely be either something quick and easy, or something we just couldn’t resist from a street market. Seafood found in those street markets can be so fresh and high quality that it can make a special and quick meal. Two of our favorites are two wonderful flatfish not found in American waters: Dover Sole and Turbot. Those is no better eating than those particular fish filets sautéed with a pan sauce of butter, capers, and reduced lemon juice. Add some roasted fingerling potatoes and baby artichokes for a spectacular and easy meal. If you go in the fall, you will find fresh and meaty Porcini mushrooms (called Cepes in France) which are heavenly when sliced and quickly sautéed in butter.

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  3. I enjoyed reading this post so much – it was almost like we’d been brought along for this part of your trip. What amazing food!!! You probably already know this, but (esp. in Louisiana) people suck the heads of crayfish to get out all the goodness buried in there. I’ve never done that but I’d like to try it!

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  4. What a lovely post dear Mimi! Your pictures are great. I love the glass with the Sauternes. Great use of the light and golden color… I miss you guys so much!!!

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  5. Sounds like you had a wonderful visit! BTW, I get fresh favas and St Felicien cheese at the Whole Foods by me. Perhaps you have one nearby and can continue the enjoyment at home. And next time you get the chance, suck the heads! It really is the best part! Sounds like a great excuse to go back soon. ;-)

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    • I’m giggling, because of course you do! You live in California! I live in Oklahoma. It’s very different here. I actually shop at a whole foods in austin, texas, when i visit a friend there. It’s an incredible store where I can buy just about everything! That store probably also sells favas and saint felicien! Thanks for your comment. I’ll think about the head sucking business…

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  6. So much good food. Looks like a great trip. I felelmy life revolves around food, too. Sometimes too much but one has to splurge when traveling,

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  7. Oh don’t ever apologies for your live revolving around food, you are in very good company there. What an amazing post and experience, thank you for sharing. :-)

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  8. What a wonderful time you had with Stephane!! I prefer a hands on experience with food when I travel and choose to rent an apartment or homeswap so I have a kitchen. Getting away from the tourists and visiting food markets, even supermarkets is quite an excursion when you’re travelling and usually a highlight for me, though fine dining is always on the itinerary too

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    • It of course matters how many days you are in one place. We tend to travel around, three nights max in one place. But it’s all good. Like you said, fine dining is good, too!

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  9. Wonderful post Mimi! What an amazing trip! Love visiting anywhere in France as the food is always terrific. Felt like I was on this trip with you and can almost taste those cheeses!!

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  10. I love your vacation. I love your posts about it, the food you ate the joy you get from being around and learning about food. It’s contagious. Very exciting.

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  11. Oh my gosh Mimi! What a great time! You’ve tried some fascinating things that I’ve never had a chance to try. So thank you Mimi! I get to enjoy your experiences through you! Kristi @ Inspiration Kitchen

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    • I was just reminiscing with this post and cause your unanswered comment! Sorry! Yes, it’s so much fun to try new foods and drinks. The best part about traveling!

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  12. Oh Mimi I am so jealous of your trip to France. It looks like you had so much fun. Those langoustines are the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. I adore sea food. French cheeses are the best. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Emma xx

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