Soups de Lentilles

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In 2014, my daughter and I visited Stéphane Gabart of the My French Heaven blog. I’ve sung his praises many times before on this blog as the result of now three visits to him in his French heaven.

His expertise, of course, are food and wine, but because visits are customized to your interests, he also can take you to castles, fortresses, and places like Abbey de la Sauve Majeure.

It was at the Abbey, in their gift shop, that I purchased a beautiful French cookbook, called “The Cuisine of our Grandmothers.”

Stéphane sent me a photo of me holding the bag with my new cookbook and, of course, also fiddling with my camera. And I had to throw a pic in of my gorgeous daughter, walking with me in the French countryside.

The cookbook is beautiful, with creative artwork, interesting stories and anecdotes.

I decided to make a lentil soup recipe from the cookbook because it contains two interesting ingredients – crème fraiche and hazelnut oil. And, the soup is puréed.

Why in the world would I think that a cookbook purchased in France would be in English? Silly American. Thanks, Mom, for the translation help.

Lentil Soup
printable recipe below

300 g of Le Puy lentils, about 10.6 ounces
2 carrots
2 shallots
1 celery stick
2 cloves garlic
Bit of butter, about 1 tablespoon
20 cl creme fraiche, about 6.7 ounces
80 g butter, about 2.8 ounces
Salt
Pepper
8 cl hazelnut oil, about 2.7 fluid ounces
2 ounces diced, smoked bacon

Peel, rinse, and chop the carrots, shallots, celery, and the garlic into small pieces.

Let them cook softly in a little butter in a large pot over low heat.

Add the lentils and add three times the volume of water.


Let the lentils cook for about 20-25 minutes.

Stir, then add the crème fraiche and butter.

Emulsify the soup with a hand blender, and incorporate the hazelnut oil.

Pour the soup into warmed serving bowls, and top with the cooked bacon.

It kind of bothered me to purée the lentils. I love the taste of le Puy lentils, but I love them also because they hold their shape, which is why they are not only good for soups, but even side dishes.

I should have put the lentil soup in a blender, but decided the texture was fine semi-puréed.

The texture obviously had no affect on the flavor, which is what I was most interested in. Unfortunately, the hazelnut flavor was too mild, and I wasn’t willing to add more oil.

But what I did love was the creaminess of the soup. Next time I’ll definitely include a bit more butter and crème fraiche, but not bother with the hazelnut oil, except for maybe a drizzle on top.

 

Stéphane’s Calamari in Red Sauce

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When I first met Stéphane, it was April of 2014. My daughter and I visited him for an action-packed four days in southwestern France.

If you’re not familiar with Stéphane Gabart, he is the author of My French Heaven, the beautiful blog that emanates his love for all things food, wine, and France. You immediately grasp his passion and joie de vivre through his stunning photography.

His business, which he has secretly told me is more fun than work, is called Your French Heaven, because one can basically customize a visit. In our case, my daughter and I went mostly, not surprisingly, for the food experience.

We visited a different farmers’ market every day, so that he could cook fabulous meals for us. Can you imagine! Four farmers’ markets in close proximity to your home?!! Not to mention bakeries and patisseries!

Because my daughter is a pescatarian, we ate a lot of seafood, which was wonderful!

Of course Stéphane also had the perfect wines, champagnes, Lillet, and Sauternes.

And bread and cheese, of course.

I’d include photos of the countryside we visited, along with castles, villages, fortresses, vineyards, and even a brocante, because we did do much more than eat, but I need to keep this post about Stéphane and the calamari he prepared one evening for my daughter and I. These are photos from that visit. I’ve never had calamari quite like it.

It’s calamari rings, sautéed, flambéed, then cooked in a red sauce until the sauce is deep and rich. The sunshine beaming down on the calamari just make them glow!

Here’s the recipe, as generously emailed to me by Stéphane.

Calamari Rings in Red Sauce

Sear bacon, shallots and onions in a cast iron pot.

In another skillet, sauté the calamari in olive oil. Flambé with cognac.

You then dump your seafood in the pot and add your bouquet garni. Add 125g of tomato paste for each pound of fish.

Darken the sauce on medium heat and wet it as you go along with a big glass of white wine.

When your sauce is dark enough, you add fish stock to level. Let the whole thing boil on low heat for a good 2 hours, adding liquid as needed.

When the sauce has reduced enough, add some garlic, a pinch of paprika and some cayenne pepper.

Let it all simmer very slowly for about 15 minutes and adjust your seasoning.

Then thicken your sauce with a bit of white roux.

And voila!

I made this calamari dish for Christmas eve, served with white rice.

It was exquisite.

Merci, mon ami!

 

 

Je ne sais quoi

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I’m sure you’ve heard the French expression “je ne sais quoi,” that something you just can’t put your finger on, that something not easily described. That is the country of France to me – my favorite European country.

Experiencing French culture requires an open-mind and adventurous spirit. And if you need help to embrace everything French, you need to visit Stéphane Gabart of My French Heaven, who lives in Libourne, outside of Bordeaux. His business is customizing culinary tours in France. And that includes him cooking for you in his lovely home!

I have two posts on my blog about visiting Stéphane with my daughter in 2014, here and here. Because of my wonderful experience last year, I knew I would be visiting Stéphane again. And I did.

Last month, my girlfriend Gabriella and I visited Stéphane for 8 fun-filled days. My friend had been to Paris, but she’d never experienced French villages, which is to me quintessential France. The hamlets with the cobble-stoned alleyways, the little bakeries, tucked-away restaurants, and the farmers’ markets. Oh, and also the vineyards and the chateaux and the castles.


What I love about having Stéphane as a personal guide and chef is that you can plan exactly what you want to do and eat. Days spent with Stéphane are called his foodie days. You plan what you want to eat, go to the market with him, and then watch him do all the work! You can choose half days as well, but if you did, you’d miss out on Stéphane’s great humor and joie de vivre.

But your visit doesn’t have to only be about food. For one thing, there are Stéphane’s artistic photography skills. Whether you’re passionate about photography, or only own an iPhone, I can attest that his expertise is inspirational. Look at his blog and you’ll see what I mean.

And, there is sightseeing, of course. You can travel with him to any area of your choice. My husband and I have already booked a trip with Stéphane to Provence. My husband is my favorite traveling partner, but he has hesitated coming with me to visit Stéphane because he thought Stéphane and I would force him to eat foie gras and snails! But the trips are custom-designed for exactly what you want to experience!

Gabriella and I spent a day in Cap Ferret and Arcachon on the Atlantic coast, and also a few days in the Dordogne region. To show you the variety of our daily activities, check out our travel itinerary here!

So why do I love France, you ask? Je ne sais quoi!

I mean, we have doors in the USA also.


And we have roses.


We have cheese.

There’s produce at our stores and markets.

And of course we have food…

Obviously I’m being tongue-in-cheek here. I’m not trying to compare what we have in the states to France, because there is no comparison. It’s not that only good food and wine is available in France. But to walk into an abbey from 4 A.D., to visit a village built in the 14th century, and to gaze upon a chateau from the 15th century – such as Chateau Filolie in the featured photo – is to experience what I love about Europe. The food and wine only add to the experience!

Merci, Stéphane! (that is obviously my look of pure bliss!)
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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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