Ratatouille Méridionnale

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Méridionnale is the southern region of France famous for its ratatouille, classic in that it contains tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, and eggplant, but unusual in that it is cooked gently in the oven, not on the stovetop. This, according to Daniel Boulud, in his cookbook, “Café Boulud Cookbook,” published in 1999.


I bought the cookbook after going to Café Boulud in New York City, not once, but twice during the same visit back in 2010. My daughter and I stayed at the Surrey Hotel, located adjacent to the restaurant. I had accompanied my daughter to New York City for a major interview, which all turned out well.

To make our first night easy I’d made a reservation at Café Boulud, and it was so perfect that went went the next day for lunch. The food, the service, the ambiance – all was truly perfection. One thing that I remember is that when you were brought the check, it came with just-out-of-the-oven Madeleines.

The cookbook is uniquely divided into four parts.
1. La Tradition – the traditional dishes of French cooking
2. La Saison – the seasonal specialties of the market
3. Le Voyage – dishes from lands far and near, and
4. Le Potager – vegetarian dishes that celebrate the bounty of the garden.

So many recipes jumped out at me when I first read the book. A roasted chicken stuffed with a Tuscan bread filling that included chicken livers and prosciutto, for example, and veal chops stuffed with fontina and porcini. But I chose this ratatouille recipe, from the “La Tradition” section.

Right now my garden is abundant with most all of the ingredients in this hearty vegetable dish, so there’s no better time than the present to make ratatouille.

Ratatouille Méridionnale

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled, split, and germ removed
1 onion, peeled, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, deveined, cut into 1” chunks
2 yellow bell peppers, as above
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 small eggplant, about 4 ounces, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
1 zucchini, scrubbed, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
1 yellow squash, scrubbed, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, cut into 1” chunks
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thinly sliced basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In order for the vegetables to retain their distinctive flavors, you will need either to cook them in batches or to cook them in two separate sauté pans.

Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add 1 clove of garlic, the onion, and the chunks of red and yellow pepper. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften a bit but don’t take on color, about 5 minutes.

Either remove the vegetables and wipe out the pan or, while the peppers are cooking, take another sauté pan and warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the second clove of garlic, the eggplant, zucchini, and squash and cook and stir for 8 to 10 minutes, this time allowing the vegetables to color a bit.

Combine the sautéed vegetables in one large ovenproof sauté pan or baking dish and stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover the pan with a circle of parchment paper, pressing the paper against the vegetables.


Put the pan in the oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring the ratatouille every 15 minutes or so.

The ratatouille is done when the vegetables are meltingly tender but still retain their shape. Remove the bay leaves and garlic.

Serve while it’s hot, or when it reaches room temperature. Just before serving, stir in the basil leaves and the squirt of lemon juice.

The ratatouille can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.

Before serving, bring it to room temperature or warm it gently in a slow oven.

I served the ratatouille with roasted chicken. Simple and delicious.

I was really surprised after all the cooking time as well as stirring that the pieces of vegetables remained intact. I have seen many a ratatouille look like mush.

So it’s for that reason alone that I will make this recipe for ratatouille again. It’s pretty, delicious, and perfect for a glut of ripe vegetables.

My Favorite Green Beans

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Many years ago, I purchased a fairly obscure cookbook written by an unknown chef, at least to me. Sunshine Cuisine was published in 1994.

The book cover states that chef Jean-Pierre Brehier “combines the taste memories of his Provençal childhood (born in Aix-en-Provence) with the Florida-Caribbean influences that weave their way throughout his professional career.”

Also from the book flap, “Chef Jean-Pierre Brehier has trained in some of the best restaurants in the south of France… came to Florida in 1973 and in 1976 became chef-proprietor of the award-winning restaurant The Left Bank in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.”

I googled him and there’s not much information on the chef since 1998, but there is a website called Meet Chef Jean Pierre.

I guess he had a show on the Food Network, and also on PBS, but I’ve never come across him except for this one cookbook. Is anyone familiar with him?

I’ve made quite a few dishes from his cookbook, but one recipe originally stood out to me, and occasionally, I make it. If you know me at all, you know I rarely make the same recipe twice.

The recipe is green beans with tomatoes, Kalamata olives and pine nuts. This recipe alone is the only reason I keep this cookbook, although I have made other good recipes out of it.

Green Beans with Calamata Olives and Toasted Pine Nuts
printable recipe below

1/4 cup pine nuts
1 pound green beans
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup Calamata olives, pitted and chopped

In a small nonstick frying pan, toast the pine nuts until golden brown.
Remove from heat and reserve.

Remove the tips and tails from the green beans and cut them into 1 1/2” lengths. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and poach the beans until tender but still firm, about 7 minutes. Drain into a colander.


In a sauté pan, heat the butter and oil and add the beans. Sauté 1 minute, then add the onion and cook until translucent, not brown.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, and olives. Sauté for a couple of minutes.

Add the pine nuts and serve immediately.

There’s just something about this group of ingredients that is spectacular. Of course it helps to love green beans.

The tomatoes and olives plus the crunchy pine nuts are just superb together.

And, with the addition of both onion and garlic, no seasoning is necessary. The olives supply the saltiness.

I’m not sure if it’s Kalamata or Calamata, but this chef spelled the olives with a “C.”

Other appealing recipes in this cookbook:
New Potato and Beet Salad
Risotto with Ginger and Carrot Juice
Roasted Peppers and Chili Sabayon Sauce

 

 

Meyer Lemon Pots de Crème

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When I was little, I used to love playing with my mother’s pots de crème set. I loved the dainty handled pots with the cute knobbed lids. These were way more fun than a tea set.

I remember her pots de crème well. It was silky smooth, mild in flavor, and just seemed to hit the spot. It was such a delight lifting up the little hat and be greeted with the creamy goodness inside.

Recently when I was reorganizing, I came across this set that she passed on to me, and realized I’d only made pots de crème once since I’ve been married. It was time to make it again.

I decided on a Meyer lemon version, just because I tend to not make lemonny desserts often, and it’s springtime. So I created a recipe.

Unfortunately, this post should be titled, “Do Not Make This Recipe.” My dessert bombed. Big time.

I have no idea what went wrong. There are so many factors with baking, and fortunately I don’t claim to be a baker. But I hate the fact that my blog is supposed to get people in the kitchen cooking, and then I present a failure.

Nonetheless I’m posting this anyway, mostly to show off the beautiful set, which I had a ball photographing! Following is a recipe not to use.

Meyer Lemon Pots de Crème

2 3/4 cups heavy cream, at room temperature
Zest of 4 Meyer lemons
10 large egg yolks, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
4 ounces sour cream, at room temperature

Place cream in an saucepan and heat slowly just to a light simmer. Add the zest and stir gently.

Let the cream steep with the zest for a few minutes, then turn off the heat but leave the cream sit for one hour. Set aside

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Using an electric mixer, beat yolks, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until pale yellow, about 2 minutes.

Bring the lemonny cream to a simmer, and immediately but gradually whisk it into the yolk mixture.  Whisk in the sour cream.

Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium pitcher with a pouring spout.

Divide the custard among ramekins; cover each with a lid (or foil) and place in a large roasting pan.  Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. So far so good. Maybe.


Bake until just set in center, abour 25 minutes.

I had no idea this custard would rise like a souflé! Uncover and chill until cold, about 3 hours. At this point the custard looked a little overbaked, but not bad… yet.

My little pots are only a 4 ounce capacity.

Then, the custards fell. I tried to cover it up with flowers but the flowers weren’t big enough! You can see the shrinkage. And, the custard was mealy, although I have to say that the lemon flavor was good.

This recipe made approximately 48 ounces of custard. Since I only had the little pots’ total capacity of 32 ounces, I used two ramekins for the remaining custard. I tried to decorate with candied lemon peel, but that wasn’t pretty at all.

Because I used zest for this recipe, I had 4 whole lemons leftover. I trimmed up the pith, blended them as is, added beets and beet juice, olive oil, garlic, and salt for a lovely lemon beet dressing!

So the day wasn’t a total disaster!

 

 

Mes Escargots

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So, I love snails. Shoot me. At least I think I love them. You could probably smother bits of shoe soles in a garlicky butter and parsley sauce, bake them, and serve them with good, crusty bread, and they would be good, too.

I was raised on snails, so they never scared me. Now, honestly, I don’t want to think about them really being snails because, well, snails are icky.

Recently I realized that I’ve never prepared my own L’escargots. And, it was about time to rectify this.

Funny anecdote: Right before we got married, my fiancé and I visited my mother, a couple of weeks before our elopement would occur.

My mother, being who she is, French, wanted to make my future husband happy, so for the first celebratory meal she prepared for us, it began with snails. And, he ate them. He ate other things, too. I guess he really loved me.

Photos below show two times I had l’escargots in France, in Avignon and Tourettes.

Here is a snail dish I had in Aix en Provence – snails on a salad. I’d always enjoyed l’escargots the traditional way, but this salad was superb.

To make snails the traditional way, you need snail shells, and you need snails. Fortunately one doesn’t have to forage in garden for either.

Escargots à la Bourguignonne
based on recipe in Saveur
makes 24

16 tablespoons butter
1/4 minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon white wine
1 teaspoon cognac
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
Salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste
24 extra-large snail shells
24 canned extra-large snails
Rock salt
Country bread

In a bowl, whisk together butter, parsley, wine, cognac, garlic, and shallots with a fork. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors meld.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of butter mixture into each snail shell.

Push a snail into each shell; fill shells with remaining butter mixture.

Cover bottom of a baking dish with a layer of rock salt to stabilize the snail shells.

Arrange snail shells, butter side up, on the salt and bake until butter sizzles, about 10-12 minutes.

Serve hot with bread.

Alternatively, to prepare l’escargots, you don’t need snail shells, just ceramic dishes with round indentations.

Put a snail and the butter in each indentation, then bake the same way in a hot oven.

You’ll still need a little fork and good bread.


Snails are a wonderful excuse to eat bread soaked in a garlic parsley butter.

 

 

Sauce Vierge

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I’ve mentioned how I plan my personal meals around condiments, and I’m not exaggerating! In fact, a condiment will inspire a whole meal for me. I guess it’s no different than a BBQ lover who sees BBQ sauce and immediately wants brisket, beans, and cole slaw.

Basic condiments like home-made aioli, mustards and ketchups are wonderful, but so are romesco, chimichurri, charmoula, persillade, harissa, chutney, and confit. So many condiments, so little time!

Recently I came across another sauce – Sauce Vierge – that is almost like a marriage of a fresh tomato salsa and persillade, loosely speaking.

I discovered the sauce on Food 52. Sauce Vierge translates to virgin sauce, and was created in 1976 by Michel Guérard, “one of the forces behind the lighter, fresher nouvelle cuisine that sprang up in reaction to cuisine classique, dripping with all its hefty mother sauces.”

I got excited when I read about the sauce, which includes tomato, lemon juice, and fresh herbs, because it’s a perfect sauce to make in the summer. And it’s summer!

Sauce Vierge

4 ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole, peeled garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1 freshly squeezed lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pinch of ground coriander
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs

Peel and seed the tomatoes, then roughly chop and place in a medium bowl.


Add the oil, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, and coriander.

Then add the fresh herbs. I used chives, basil, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary.

Cover the bowl, and leave to sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning, remove the cloves of garlic, and serve warm or room temperature.

To use the sauce, I grilled tilapia, and served the sauce at room temperature.

I wanted the sauce ingredients to really stand out.


I served the tilapia with boiled potatoes, on which I drizzled some of the herby oil. You can tell I’m not scared of a plate of olive oil!

In reality, is Sauce Vierge a condiment or a sauce? Where does a condiment start and end, and a sauce or paste begin?

My answer is “who cares?!!”

verdict: I will continue to make this sauce/condiment during summer months when I can get my hands on ripe tomatoes. It is exquisite. Over fish it was a great pairing, but I can see this on scallops, chicken, lamb, bread…

Note: Instead of using the ingredients at room temperature, you can alternatively mix the ingredients in a saucepan, and simmer the sauce slowly over low heat for 30 minutes.

Pissaladière

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My first experience eating pissaladière was exquisite – an experience I knew I’d always remember.

It was May of 2002. My older daughter had just graduated from high school, and we took her and her sister on a tour of eastern France, from Nice in the south, ending in Paris two weeks later.

I’d always insisted that we would take the kids to Europe – anywhere in Europe – before they left home, and this was finally that trip. My husband had suggested we start with France because I’d lived there, and spoke some French still.

We booked the tour with Rick Steves – a tour company I highly recommend for many reasons. For one thing, there are only 24 people on these trips. For another, someone else does the driving for you and, the hotel reservations have been made and confirmed. And trust me, we are not “tour” people. Plus, half of the time, you’re on your own.

The name of Rick Steves tour company is Europe Through the Back Door. It’s not a traditional tour in that you get to see Europe as the Europeans do. Unless your specific tour focuses only on cities, you’re taken on back roads into villages and areas that the larger tours don’t and can’t take you. It’s very insightful and the experiences unique.

My husband and I have driven in Europe by ourselves, without a guide, but you miss out on a lot of information. Some friends I know are really good at studying before and during their trips, but my husband and I aren’t like that.

The tour guides for Rick Steves are incredibly knowledgeable people. You don’t work for him if you’re not skilled in the language, and passionate about the arts, the politics, history, and much more. We’ve also used Rick Steves in Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, and Scotland.

So back in 2002, we began our Eastern France tour by visiting Vieux Nice. After two days, we headed out of the city to Èze and had a picnic. And that’s where our guide served us local specialties that included pissaladière, which you can see in the photo on the right.

So that was my first experience. The weather was perfect, the view just stunning, my family was there and happy, and we were finally all in France!

To recreate the pissaladière, I used the recipe in this cookbook.

I’ve seen recipes that use pizza dough and also puff pastry, but whatever kind of crust, caramelized onions, anchovies and Niçoise olives are always on top.


Pissaladière

Pastry
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg
About 2 tablespoons ice water

Topping
Scant 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
2 or 3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
Water
20 – 25 small anchovy fillets
About 15 Niçoise or other small black olives

At least 2 hours before you wish to serve the tart, make the pastry: Place the flour and salt in a bowl. Use the coarse side of a box grater to grate the butter into the bowl, then toss with the flour.

Use a knife or pastry cutter to cut in the butter so that you have small buttery crumbs.

(Or, use a food processor!)

Break the egg into the bowl and mix in lightly with a fork. Add the ice water, starting with 2 tablespoons, tossing and mixing to moisten the flour. If necessary, add more water, just enough so that the dough comes together in a mass when you pull it together.

Transfer to a heavy plastic bag. Press from outside the bag to make a flat disk about 6 inches across. Seal well and refrigerate while you prepare the topping (the dough can be made up to 2 days ahead).

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a shallow 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

To prepare the topping, heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the onions, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and cloves and cook over medium heat, turning frequently, until the onions wilt and soften.

Lower the heat slightly and continue to cook: After they release their liquid, the onions will soften further, but as the liquid evaporates, the onions may start to stick – add a little water as necessary to prevent sticking (1/4 cup, or perhaps a little more).

The whole cooking process will take about an hour.

When done, the onions will be very soft and sweet-tasting. Remove from the heat, and remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

While the onions are cooking, prepare the crust: Lightly flour a work surface and turn out the dough. Flatter the dough by banging on it with a lightly floured rolling pin, then roll it out to a rectangle a little larger than the baking pan, rolling from the center outward.

Transfer the dough to the baking pan and gently ease it into the corners. Trim off extra dough with a sharp knife. If necessary, use scraps of trimmings to patch any holes, pressing down on the edges of the patch to seal well. Prick the dough all over, about ten times, with a fork to prevent puffing, then line it with foil or parchment paper. Weight the foil with dried beans or pastry weights.


Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, until the edges are firm and just touched with color. Remove from the oven and remove the foil and weights.

Spread the cooked onions all over the bottom of the crust, then arrange the anchovies and olives on top.

Place the tart back in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges are touched with brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

I served mine with a salad, topped with a basic vinaigrette and finely grated Parmesan.

The sweetness of the onions pairs so well with the salty anchovies and olives.

It’s truly a match made in culinary heaven.


And this crust was total perfection – delicate and flavorful.
Vive la France!

Socca

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When I travel, I like to try local specialties. It’s just part of the fun of eating and drinking in other countries. But learning about different foods and experiencing them is also a huge part of becoming a better cook.

I’ve had haggis in Scotland (a bit bland), banana beer in Rwanda (terrible), conch in the Cayman Islands (incredible.) Two foods I’ve refused to try were Casu Marzu in Corsica, a cheese covered in live maggots, and red-sauced, still-moving snails in Spain.

I’ll probably never eat fried spiders, grilled grasshoppers, and definitely not barbecued guinea pigs. So I guess I’m not the most adventurous when in comes to experiencing local food, but I do my best.

In the fall of 2015, my husband and I traveled to France, to begin a magical two-week road trip. Our guide was the incomparable Stéphane Gabart, from the blog My French Heaven. This was my third time visiting him. He knows and loves France, and he has great passion for French food and wine. He’s a professional chef, photographer, he’s really funny, and best of all, he’s my friend.

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On this trip we traveled throughout Provence, stopping in quaint villages. Stéphane planned lunch in Castelnaudary, just so we could experience authentic cassoulet. And when we reached le Côte d’Azur, we enjoyed traditional bouillabaise in Cassis. In Avignon, I ordered pieds paquets, or veal toes, after treating myself to snails (the kind that are not alive).

Before leaving Nice to return home, I wanted to try a local specialty socca. I must have seen it in a cookbook, but had no idea what to expect. I expected socca to look more like cornbread, but it was more crêpe-like.

What makes socca different is that it’s made with garbanzo bean flour and not wheat flour.

The restaurant where we lunched in vieux Nice is at the left of the plaza.

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At our final lunch together, I ordered socca with a Salade Niçoise and this is what it looked like.

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Just for fun, I thought I should recreate socca at home. I am using a recipe from the blog Foodie Underground, written by Anna Brones.

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Mine don’t look quite the same as what I had in Nice, but they were good!

Here’s what I did.

Socca
Makes 8 – 6″ in diameter

1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup garbanzo bean/chick pea flour
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon salt

This is the garbanzo bean flour I used for the socca.

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk well.

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At this point, the batter is watery. Cover with a dish towel and put the bowl in the refrigerator for one hour minimum. The batter will thicken, but still be a “thin” batter.

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Lightly oil a large round flat skillet. I used my Le Creuset crêpe pan that came with a little wooden tool. I’ve never used it for crêpes, just flatbreads!

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Turn the heat to high. When the oil is smoking, gently pour a scant 1/3 cup of the batter onto the skillet, much as you would a crêpe.
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The high heat really grabs the batter. You can see little holes forming around the edges.
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Wait just until the middle of the socca has firmed up, then flip it over. To best assist with flipping the socca, I used a giant spatula that I usually only use for moving pastry. It’s really thin.

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Flip over and cook for just about 30 seconds. This one got a little too browned on the first side.

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While still warm, I folded the socca into quarters. My French socca were definitely more pliable than these.

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To serve with the socca, I put together a green salad with some fun goodies.

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The vinaigrette is a creamy lemon and parsley.

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The socca were fantastic. I really loved the flavor of the Herbes de Provence.

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Other recipes for socca list cumin or rosemary.

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I’ve also seen recipes for socca that are thicker and cooked in the oven, served in wedges. I’m definitely going to experiment more because there is obviously more than one way to make socca. Plus, there are Ligurian recipes for the Italian version, called farinata, which makes sense since Liguria is so close to Nice.

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Notice the lacy look of my socca.
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The taste is really lovely, and there was no bitterness from the garbanzo bean flour. Their look is so-so, but I’d definitely make these unique pancakes again!

If you’re interested, check out highlights of our trip here Je Ne Regrette Rien.

Pâté

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Pâté is one of my favorite delicacies. Of course, it helps that I like liver – a lot. This pâté has a subtle liver flavor because it’s made with mild chicken livers. It’s silky smooth and spreadable.

spreadable

Pâté is not to be confused with foie gras, which are actual lobes of fattened liver, usually goose, typically served in slices with a fruit compote of some sort.


There are also terrines, sometimes called Terrines de Campagne, which are dense loaves made from coarsely ground meats, that typically don’t include liver. Terrine slices are fabulous as part of an aprés-ski spread, especially for non-liver lovers.

Quite often in the fall or winter, I’ll make this simple and inexpensive pâté, even though I’m usually the only one who enjoys it. I like it served the traditional way – on toast points or bread, as part of an hors d’oeuvres platter.

This recipe is my mother’s. I’ve seen similar recipes, but I just stick to this one because it always comes out perfectly. Here it is:

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Pâté

2 pounds chicken livers, at room temperature
1 large onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Few bay leaves
2 sticks butter
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Pinch of salt
A few grindings black pepper
4 tablespoons cognac

The first thing that needs to be done is clean the livers. There are membranes and sometimes little blobs of fat that need to be removed. You’ll feel the membranes – just do your best to pull on them while holding the livers in the other hand, until you can pull them out. Then discard. Continue with all the livers, rinsing them as you go, and placing them in a colander.

Place all of the livers on paper towels to dry; set aside.

Meanwhile, have all of your aromatics ready to go. Then heat both sticks of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. I like to brown the butter slightly.

When the butter is bubbling, add the onion, garlic, and bay leaves. Sauté for 5 minutes.

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Add the livers to the skillet, plus the thyme, allspice, salt, and pepper. After about 5 minutes of cooking and occasional stirring, add the cognac. Stir the mixture and let it cook for another minute or so. Turn off the heat and let everything cool down.


When it’s all cooled, cover the mixture and place in the refrigerator overnight. Before making the pâté, bring the liver mixture to room temperature or even warm gently.

Remove the bay leaves. Place about half of the livers in a blender, not including all of the liquid. Have a rubber spatula handy.

Blend on low; it will look like it won’t blend, but it really will. Be patient with the mixture. Move it around with the spatula, and blend again.

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Once it’s smooth, pour into a terrine, or loaf-shaped mold, then repeat with the remaining liver mixture. The terrine I used measures 4 1/2″ x 11 3/4″, and is 3 3/4″ deep, but you can use multiple dishes as well.

Chill the pâté, covered, for about 2 hours. Then, cover it with about 1/4″ of duck fat or slightly warm butter. Then cover again and keep in the refrigerator for two days before using.

Serve at room temperature, with bread or toasts alongside a jam, chutney, or my favorite – Dijon mustard.

note: Except for foie gras, the terms pâté and terrine can be used interchangeably. I took a picture of this curried chicken and raisin “pâté” when I was wandering through Le District in NYC recently, (France’s version of Eataly,) and I bet it’s more of a meat terrine, and mostly likely doesn’t contain liver. To me, a pâté is smooth, and a terrine coarse in texture, sometimes even containing sausages or eggs. But never make assumptions. Do keep in mind that if you dislike liver, you could still enjoy terrines.
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Tartiflette

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Years ago our family was travelling through Eastern France, and we stopped in the beautiful town of Annecy for lunch and a stroll. We were in Annecy-le-Vieux, the old part of town and we randomly chose a restaurant at which to have lunch. Our restaurant was one of the ones on the right side of the canal in the photo below. The canal encircles the ancient prison.
the-palais-de-lile-on-the-thiou-canal-annecy
We sat outside, the sun was out, it was about 70 degrees – we didn’t think it could get much better than this. But we were wrong.

My husband and I chose the local specialty Tartiflette for lunch. Tartiflette is a potato dish baked with a cheese called Reblochon, one of the cheeses of the Savoie province of France which we were in. The Tartiflette was extremely memorable, but Reblochon is now one of my favorite all-time stinky French cheeses.
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Reblochon is a cows’ milk cheese with a washed rind. It smells like, well, you’re in a cow paddy. But cheeses never taste as bad as they smell, do they?


Within the rind, Reblochon is a rich, velvet-like cheese that is perfect as is, served with my fruit and nut bread, or baked into tarts, or with potatoes, like this Tartiflette recipe.

When we got back to the states, I was so thrilled to discover that I could order Reblochon from fromages.com. Fromages.com has a recipe for Tartiflette, as well as an interesting history on Reblochon. (I learned that it’s actually made from a mix of milk from three different cow breeds!)

Then I happened upon a Tartiflette recipe in Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. I have to quote him on what he states about Reblochon:

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Here’s more evidence that you can never have too much cheese, bacon, or starch.”

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So here’s the recipe from Mr. Bourdain’s cookbook:
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Tartiflette

INGREDIENTS
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled (I use russet)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound slab bacon, cut into small dice
3/4 cup white wine
salt and pepper
1 pound Reblochon cheese

EQUIPMENT
large pot
paring knife
strainer
large sauté pan
wooden spoon
round, ovenproof dish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the potatoes in the large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with the paring knife. Remove from the heat, drain, and let sit until they are cool enough to handle. Cut the potatoes into a small dice and set aside.
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In the large sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat and add the onion. Cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, until golden brown, then add the bacon and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Add the potatoes and wine and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
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Remove the mixture from the heat and place half of it in the round, ovenproof dish. Spread half the Reblochon atop the potato mixture.

Cover this with the other half of the potato mixture. Top with the remainder of the cheese.


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Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling. Serve hot.
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As you can tell, I used four ramekins for the tartiflette.

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You can prepare the tartiflette as one large casserole, like this one I made last year, but I wouldn’t make it in a deep dish pan because the cheese to potato ratio is critical!
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Also, when searching online for how tartiflette is presented, because I find it challenging to photograph, I came across other ways to prepare tartiflette. You can place the whole wheel of cheese over the potatoes, or slice it horizontally first.

note: You can make Tartiflette with a different cheese, but please don’t. You’re missing the whole point. This dish really requires this stinky cheese, and you’ll be amazed at how smooth and mild Reblochon is with the potatoes. I personally love the rind, but my husband doesn’t, so I trimmed it.

photo from Annecy

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

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The translation for non, je ne regrette rien, which is a French song title, is essentially, “I regret nothing.”

Made famous by Edith Piaf, the song came to mind when I was discussing the matter of recently “eating” my way through France.

Food is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Of course, my highest priorities are my lovely family and fabulous friends, but beyond those, my life revolves around food.

My husband and I took a two-week trip that began near Bordeaux, continued easterly through Provence, and ended on the Riviera. Our itinerary was custom-designed by Stéphane, from the blog My French Heaven. Because our French vacation was essentially a road trip, we ate at restaurants. I know – heaven! So I thought I’d put together some of my photos showing what we ate.

Even with a basic knowledge of French, menus in France can be challenging. But with Stéphane’s skill in menu interpretation, my husband and I always got exactly what we wanted, and also tried some locally traditional as well as new foods. Below is a shot of my husband seriously contemplating a menu, with Stéphane’s help.
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So when I was thinking about all of the food I enjoyed in France, about that second croissant I enjoyed one morning, with butter, of course, about the abundance of octopus I ate until they were practically crawling out my ears, that eclair that I was really too satiated to eat, but I did anyway… I realized that I enjoyed every bite of food and had no regrets.

Like the few bites I took from this nutella calzone. Be still my heart. But not too still.

Stéphane worked hard to find restaurants we would enjoy the most, whether in a village plaza, on the ocean, or in an alleyway en plein air. As much as upscale restaurants are fun, I much prefer what we call in the US the hole-in-the-wall types, with crooked floors, leaning stairs, and the bathrooms about 1/2 mile walk.

On our first day’s drive, we stopped in Castelnaudary to have traditional cassoulet. It was at a small restaurant off of a side street filled with locals. Always a good sign. All they served was cassoulet, but you could request your choice of meat. I chose pork and sausage. It came out bubbling hot, of course, so we had a chance to enjoy a local red wine and people-watch the regulars.


Here is the town as you enter it:

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If you want to read a humurous post on cassoulet, which includes a recipe, check out this blog post here, by Serious Eats.

Then we headed in to Provence. The region is known for its olives, and so it was common when ordering an aperitif to be greeted with olives, toasts, and tapenade. At one bistrot, we enjoyed the bright green Picholine olive, which even Stéphane had never experienced. Crunchy and buttery. I’m still trying to get my hands on some!


The countryside was full of the beautiful grey-green olive trees and we even visited a working olive orchard – Bastide du Laval.

In France, it’s common to order from three groups – typically entrée, plat, and dessert, whether it’s a lunch or dinner menu.

At a tiny restaurant in old Aix en Provence, I ordered octopus salad for my starter, followed by curried cod. Both were magnificent. Especially paired with a Bandol.


I felt somewhat obligated to accept a dessert, because it was part of the price. I shared it.
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I actually lived in Aix as a child. I remember nothing! But it’s beautiful.

Our next destination for 5 nights was Le Bastide de Boulbon, in Boulbon. I offer a photo of the hotel, because we ended up eating in their beautiful dining room 3 nights in a row. Their chef was inspired and the menus changed daily. Plus it ended up being our favorite hotel.

One night we drove to a recommended restaurant called Bistrot du Paradou. It was a large, bustling bistrot, with red and white checkered napkins on old wooden tables. Every night they served only one main, and on this night it was rotisserie chicken.


Stéphane and I started with ravioli, and my husband had pistou, which he said could have been his whole meal. The chicken doesn’t look like much, but it was excellent.


The first photo, above left, shows the chef’s table in the kitchen, with the rotisserie chickens along the back wall. The other photos shows the mafia members who filled the table near us. They don’t know where I live.

On another day, we traveled up over 3,000 feet to visit the Gorges du Verdon, which is like the French Grand Canyon, except really small. We climbed to the top-most village called Rougon for an enjoyable few hours in the sun. At possibly the only restaurant in “town” – a crêperie, with one of the best views in France, my husband and I ordered pizza-styled crêpes, which were delicious.

In Cassis, on the coast, we stopped in a seaside restaurant which has the highest rated boullabaisse, according to Stéphane’s research. The whole experience was really fascinating.
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They first cook up all of the fish and potatoes for the bouillabaise, and present it to you on a platter. Then a waiter ladles a thick rich broth that is more like a bisque into your bowl. You place the different kinds of fish and other goodies into the bowl. To finish, a spicy aioli is spread on toasts, which are placed into the bouillabaise. According to our very engaging waiters, no one has ever finished a meal of bouillabaisse!

One day we drove to old Avignon and visited the Palais des Papes. I’ve never seen cobblestones quite like here.


It was one of the two times it rained on us in France, so we enjoyed a long lunch, in order to stay dry, of course. I ordered l’escargots cause, well I could. They’re such a great excuse to eat bread!

Stéphane and I ordered veal toes, called pieds paquets. They were fabulous. Just don’t think about it.

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On another day in St. Tropez, I sardines for lunch. It was in a beautiful seaside restaurant.
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And then there was a very special meal in Menton, which was my favorite of the cities along the Riviera.


It’s actually closer to Italy than Nice, and the colors of the buildings are striking, similar to those in Vieux Nice. But what came as a surprise to us was the wonderful Italian lunch we had off the beaten path, sitting outside, of course. Not having had my fill of seafood yet, I chose squid in a red sauce. The boys had pizza, and we all enjoyed everything.


Along with Tiramisu and my nutella calzone, the cutest glasses of limoncello I’ve ever seen, plus the tall, dark glass of water that was our waiter, this was a lunch that I will always remember, and never regret!


On our last day before flying out of Nice, we spent the morning exploring vieux Nice, and shopping at its market.

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At lunch I tried socca, which is something that’s always tempted me. It was in the form of a crepe, served with a Niçoise salad. I also had a Niçoise salad on another day. When in Nice…

There were many more restaurants, many more villages, miles walked, and a million laughs – especially listening to my husband attempt speaking French! Then it was over. We had to say au revoir to Stéphane, who is the best friend and guide a person could have. We already have two more trips in the works!!!
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