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.

French Heaven

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As many of you know, especially those who have seen the photos of beautiful French food that I’ve been posting, my daughter and I flew to Bordeaux to spend four days with Stéphane. He is the author of My French Heaven, his blog, and Your French Heaven, his business.
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As soon as he picked us up at the airport, we knew we were in good hands. Stéphane is so likable. Lovable, in fact. He’s funny, smart, and slightly irreverent, which suited our personalities to a tee.
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I’m not here only to promote Stéphane’s business; it needs no help from me. But for a little explanation in case you’re not familiar with it, he customizes your visit to the part of France where he was born and raised, based on your likes and desires and how many days you have to spend.

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Of course for me and my daughter as well, our daily plans revolved around shopping for food, cooking it, and eating it.
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But we also got to see the stunning countryside, enjoy the local wines, and see some sights for the benefit of my daughter and her specific interests in the world of art history.
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We also shopped at a brocante, which was a new word for me. It’s a combination of an antiques shop and flea market.

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This blog post could easily be a book because of how much we packed into each day.

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I’ll keep most of the details to myself as cherished memories, because Stéphane designed our time together just for us. He will most likely never duplicate these days, because of course all of the food we prepared together was based on what was fresh and available at the daily markets.

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Some people may not want to have the same extreme foodie days as we did!
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As much as I enjoy meat, we wanted to focus primarily on the lovely seafood available in that corner of France.

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My daughter and I stayed at Chateau Saint Jacques Calon, near St. Emilion, which is the B & B that belongs to Stéphane’s family. That is not mandatory, but it added to the magic of our holiday.

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In fact, the weather was so perfect on 3 of the 4 days that we took breaks and sat by the beautiful pool.

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After a generous breakfast every morning, we drove to a different market.

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No matter where we went in the area, everybody seemed to know Stéphane. It was lovely hearing him chat away in his native French.
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And speaking of that, Stéphane’s English is perfect. I had moments of remembering French words and phrases, as French was shared with English in my home as a child, but mostly I let Stéphane do the talking.

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Stephane always had a general menu in mind for the day, but it all depended on what was available at the market, of course.

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On the first day together, I got to get my hands “dirty” when I helped prepare a foie gras terrine that was planned for our last day.

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That first evening, we walked to a local restaurant, owned by friends of Stephane, and enjoyed a wonderful meal as we watched the sun set.

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The most exciting thing for me was the walk through the French countryside, with grape vines just popping new leaves, and flowers showing off their spring splendor.
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The one good thing about hanging out with another blogger is that it’s okay to constantly take photos. My daughter was often the focus of our photos, because of her innocent beauty. She might have cared, but she didn’t show it, which is a testament to her calm and patient personality.
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She was often my model.

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As well as my hand model.

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Every morning we went to the market, and also stopped by Stéphane’s favorite bread baker for fresh baguettes.

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Then we’d go back to his house to prepare and enjoy lunch, typically outside because the weather was so perfect.
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One day we visited the beautiful village of St. Emilion.

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Which is where we also went to a wine tasting.
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Stéphane also showed us a beautiful part of Bordeaux.
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I’ve never been to this corner of France before, so everything was new to me. The expansive vineyards are quite impressive, especially along the Dordogne.
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Stéphane made sure we always sampled the many different regional wines, and kept us well stocked.
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He also made sure we enjoyed some of our favorite cheeses, as well as experience a few I’ve never heard of before. Fabulous!

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On our final full day with Stéphane, he put out a variety of cakes that he’d ordered from his favorite patisserie in Libourne.
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Both of our birthdays, mine and Stéphane’s, are in April, so we celebrated Easter as well as birthdays!
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I even got a birthday candle!!!

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For our final dinner together, we began with the foie gras terrine paired with Sauterne. Life just doesn’t get much better than that!
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It was bittersweet leaving France, but at least I got to spend a few days with my daughter in London, before leaving her behind and returning home. But we both shared fun, beautiful, and delicious experiences, thanks to our host, Stéphane Gabart.
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And I didn’t have to do dishes!!!
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Au revoir Calli!
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