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Before we begin, if you’re squeamish about your meat or have a moral aversion to what butchers do you may want to avoid this entry.

 

Sunday, I finally had my quail. We ordered them on Thursday and being super excited I planned and dreamed the rest of the week for what I was going to stuff them with and prepare as a side to these little birds. Saturday night I was ready. I instructed the husband as to what I needed at the market when he went to pick them up the next day. I went for my morning Sunday run and when I came home, I walked in the door and said, “Les cailles?

“Yup,” the husband said.

Quail or caille are very little birds of mostly bones and a meat that is somewhere between white and dark. Each one was under 200 grams. They were delivered all tied up with their little limbs packed close to their bodies. I took them out of their wrappings and cut away the string and then I saw something shocking.

Heads.

 I called to the husband, “My cailles still have heads on them.” I should have expected it. We hadn’t specified to the butcher to prepare the birds for me before we picked them up. But it was unexpected and very alarming. Not only did they have their heads, but this also meant that my quail also still had all their little organs inside, fully attached.

 

Have you ever prepared a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Did it have it’s head? Never in my life have I had to clean out a turkey, quail, or any bird, let alone decapitate one. Of course, you can buy a turkey that hasn’t been – shall we say – emptied, but usually the organs are detached from the body and wrapped up separated for use or for discarding. I stared down at the little heads, thankfully, their eyes didn’t seem to be staring back.

 I grabbed my very big meat knife. Took a deep breath. Then another deep breath. And then – Off with their heads!

 

And out with their organs. It was disturbing. But I feel like I’ve hit a milestone in my amateur chef-ness. I have decapitated an already dead animal.

With that out of the way, I had to prepare my stuffing. I kept it simple and traditional for the first time around. Mushrooms in cream with garlic onions and some herbs.

Roasted Quail with Creamy Mushroom Stuffing

  • 2 quail of about 200 grams each
  • 350 grams wild mushrooms (cèpe, girolles, morels, chanterelles etc)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 75 ml heavy cream (or about 4 tablespoons)
  • olive oil
  • chicken broth or stock
  • sage
  • thyme

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Clean your quail out of any organs. Set aside.

I really recommend yellow onion here as the yellow onion has a buttery scent and attack when it first hits your tongue – perfect for this type of stuffing. Mince your onion, garlic, celery. In a heated frying pan with a little bit of oil, cook over medium heat until the onions and garlic are fragrant, a minute or two. Add your mushrooms. I used frozen mushrooms which took about 10 minutes to cook and mix with the rest of the veggies. Add your heavy cream and herbs and mix until everything is warmed and fragrant. Salt and pepper to taste.

Keep warm but set aside while you prepare the quail.

Prepare a medium size casserole dish for roasting your quail the way you would roast a turkey. I simply put a little chicken broth at the bottom. No more than ¼ cup. Rub a little olive oil, salt and pepper into the quail.

Stuff the birds full of the stuffing and wrap up so that the stuffing can’t fall out while baking. I tied the legs of my quail together, but didn’t go any further than that because I didn’t have a needle to sew them shut. Careful when you stuff your quail because they are slippery from the oil and easy to squeeze – stuffing falls out everywhere if you squeeze too hard. This isn’t your typical stuffing either. There’s no bread, obviously, and though the cream will thicken as it sits, it doesn’t stick like traditional stuffing. So take care when you fill your birds.

With a basting brush, rub stock over the birds and then put in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes until bird is fully cooked and the skin is golden brown. Baste every 5-8 minutes or so for optimal moisture. Remember that these are birds just like chicken or turkey, but they do tend to have a bit of extra tenderness to them.

Serve immediately with extra stuffing. I added a handful of chopped walnuts to the stuffing.

As a side we had sweet potato “hash browns” which I’m only calling hash-browns because I cooked them in a pan with onion, garlic, and parsely instead of roasting them. They added a colorful and comforting texture to the plate as well as having a sweet taste that off-set the savory quail.

So how were they, the birds? Perfect. Quail, when roasted right have a moist, tender flesh with a buttery flavor. It’s not like the dark meat of the turkey – softer, lighter, a bit more wild, which went perfect with the wild mushrooms and cream.

Don’t like quail? No problem.

Strawberries have arrived! We had a very warm winter and with it came an early spring and the first strawberries are here. We had them for dessert sprinkled with lemon juice and tiny sprinkling of sugar and basil. Light, fresh and sweet. And no heads in sight.

I spent a long long time trying to decide where we should eat on our last night in Nice. At first, I wanted Italian, then I wanted traditional French, then I wanted Indian, then I wanted Italian again. There was a brief moment of looking at Japanese restaurants, then back to Italian. Everyone else was of no help. No one wanted to make a decision.

Originally, I had planned for an Italian place that the husband had told me he had liked when he lived in Nice. Except that was 10 years ago and the current reviews – the most current being in 2011 – were very, very mixed. I got nervous and started looking for other places to eat.

At first, I was going to ask them to choose between Italian and whatever else I could find but in the end I just decided for them. Everyone met in the lobby at 7:30 and I asked my mom and sister “Have you ever eaten Lebanese?”

“Not really,” they said.

“Well, that’s what we’re having.”

And off we went to Ya Habibi.

Though the restaurant was only 500 meters from our hotel, I forgot to bring the address and consequently it took us more than 500 meters to find. No matter, we got there. Dinner was decided in moments – a Grand Mezze for four. The perfect treat for two who don’t know Lebanese and for the other two who just love a good mezze.

5 cold entrées and 6 warm entrées with fresh pita bread. It’s as simple as that.

Mezze is pretty standard. Hummus is par for the course along with taboule, babaganoush and grilled caviar d’aubergine. But our favorite of the night was the mehamara – a roasted red pepper spread with garlic, onion and grenadine. Sweet and spicy perfectly blended. We could have eaten that all night.

The six warm entrées were also pretty standard. Samboussi, falafel, roukak, moussaka, arayess lahme, and kebbé with grilled mushrooms.

The samboussi and roukak are fried dumplings the first of meat, the second of cheese. Crunchy and soft, no need for any dipping sauce – they were well seasoned.

 

I really loved the arayess lahme. A pita stuffed with meat and spices. It must have had some mild cream or cheese in it, because it had a creamy texture and was so delightful.

 

The moussaka was missing the meat. This was stated in the menu. But it was not missing flavor. We sat around the table trying to figure out how they cooked the eggplant. The flavor was perfect with soft flesh and a crunchy skin. I thought they steamed it. The husband is convinced roasting went on. Who knows?

 

We drank a wonderful Lebanese red wine, that was mostly syrah and cabernet grapes. It had a fruity aroma but a bitter, acidic taste and the two combined to create a complex enjoyable flavor that made me want to buy a bottle to take home.

 

Though dinner was simple, it was perfect. Good portion sizes, we were not left wanting. Every dish with a wonderful blend of spices. I have nothing but good things to say about my choice of Ya Hababi for our last dinner in Nice. A lovely treat for the pallet when you’re craving something a little different.

By now, my mom and sister have returned to Boston. We’re all going on a diet, but with happy memories full of good food and time spent together. It’s never enough but it will have to do until the husband and I can get ourselves to the States.

I make the same stupid joke every time I visit this city. Nice is nice. I can’t help it.

More than being nice, Nice is a wonderful city. All white and bright colors, bustling people, twisty streets and deadly drivers. Everything you might think of when you think of continental western Europe in general. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

Carnival is in full swing here. The husband and I had no idea when we made plans to visit with my family. If we had, we probably would have planned for that – but as it is, we got a glimpse of the end of the nightly parade.

In Nice, like much of costal Provence, the local flavor is all about the seafood. However, I’m terrified of ordering seafood at restaurants because of my allergy and my sister wasn’t in the mood for it. Nonetheless, we found ourselves at Restaurant les Pecheurs to at least SEE the seafood if not eat it.

 

The inside of the restaurant is set up to lightly remind you of the sea and the fishing boats that sail it. But it’s understated. There is a small fish tank in one wall, two portholes, slatted wood ceilings, blue walls. There’s no tacky netting hanging from anywhere nor any ugly mounted fish – fake or otherwise – you’re just reminded this is a fish restaurant.

I ordered a creameaux de courge, or winter squash cream cooked with girolles mushrooms and set with one croquant de foie gras and volaille. This was a subtle dish. Very soft in texture and flavor and consequently, very comforting.

The husband was the only one of our party to have a fish based meal. His entrée was scallops on a bed of lentils with a spicy carrot ice cream on the side. I have a husband who loves to help me with my restaurant reviews and he described these scallops as very tender and soft but full of flavor being cooking in port as they were. The lentils were well spiced and the dish was complimented perfectly by the carrot ice cream.

For my main course, I ordered a duo de volaille – which is just two cuts of poultry – cooked with seasonal vegetables tandoori style. Served with coconut rice and a little cappucino de courgette (zucchini).

This again was a subtle and soft dish. For me, it lacked a bit of flavor. I enjoyed it – the vegetables were well cooked being both crunchy and soft, the poultry tender, but the tandoori lacked spice. Not that I wanted something to burn my face off like I would at an Indian restaurant, but the dish lacked oomf and instead was a bit too creamy and soft for me. The rice on the other hand was incredibly flavorful, the coconut very present and really an excellent side to dip into the tandoori sauce.

The husband had prawns served with the same coconut rice as well as the courgette cappucino and a crumble of sweet potato. His assessment of the two sides were that they were a bit strange for the main part of the plat, but for all that, pretty tasty. I agree about the cappucino.

His prawns were light and well seasoned but after the first course, which had been a wow moment for him, that it too was lacking in just a touch of flavor. Satisfying, but missing an extra zest.

The sister made up for our lack of restraint by ordering only a main course (and dessert) and had risotto cooked in a creamy chorizo sauce served with wild mushrooms and margret de canard. She felt that she couldn’t taste the chorizo, she could smell it, which added a mouthwatering pre-taste element. The duck was well-cooked, tender and tasty and the risotto with a perfect creaminess.

A moment to appreciate the plating. Everything was wonderfully presented, a bit on the modern side but again, like the decor, not overblown. The service was much the same, with a friendly, welcoming staff and a waitress trained to explain every aspect of the dish.

We also saw –courtesy of the other patrons in the restaurant – that if you order a fancy fish – such as sole – for two, they bring the raw, pre-cooked, whole fish to your table to present it to you, in order that you can approve of it’s freshness and quality.

For dessert, I chose a French classic : an apple tart, cooked upside down and flipped over when plated served with vanilla ice cream and a dab of caramel sauce. This was wonderful, again warm and soft, but what I loved was that it wasn’t too sweet. The plate let the sweet and tartness of the apples do most of the work and the pastry crust underneath was almost savory, it was such a nice buttery contrast to the fruit.

The husband and sister, who both have a thing for litchi, chose the same dessert. Charlotte de litchi served with a verine of litchi and red fruit. As I couldn’t resist tasting a bit of the litchi cream, I can safely say that this was a well done dessert. The lady fingers that make up the bones of the charlotte were very sweet, the cream light and full of the fruit. You knew you were eating litchi. The verine was served in a fruit vinegar sauce, which was acidic but contrasted well with the sweetness of the fresh fruit and the sweetness of the cake.

At times, we did find les Pecheurs lacking in a bit of flavor, but this is a gem of a restaurant in a city that boasts about it’s cuisine while at the same time catering to tourists. Let’s face it, in a tourist town, you’re never quite sure of what you’re going to get. Here we found ourselves satisfied. The prices are correct and the portions are good, even for the seafood which can often be quite expensive,  we had nothing to complain about. My menu – for instance – was 29 Euros.

All in all, though it’s slightly out of the way- about a 30 minute walk from the Promenade des Anglais and Vieux Nice, it was worth it. And there’s something for everyone – even for those people who like to go to seafood restaurants to order everything but fish.

One of the best things about having my family here is that I get to cook for people other than myself and the husband. Don’t get me wrong, I like cooking for myself and the husband, but we will eat pretty much anything. Tonight, in fact we just ate out of the fridge. Cold soup, cold cuts, cold lemon slices, cold red bean brownie. It was a light dinner, recovering from a HUGE lunch, but we were still standing up in front of the fridge, eating with the door open.

La classe.

There are some things out there that I like to call gourmet comfort food. Pasta – regular pasta with fresh tomatoes and onion and garlic – that’s comfort food. Cappellini is my favorite. This is pasta that is comfort food with a zing. Fresh, homemade ravioli with peas, smoked and diced ham, garlic, basil, Parmesan and a hint of lemon.

The original recipe comes from Joy the Baker. I cut back on the olive oil, added the ham, ignored the tomatoes, etc. The modifications are key for me, but she gets the credit for leading the way.

The above photo is how I test the pan to see if it’s hot enough. I could always, I don’t know, wait patiently until I know it’s hot enough, but there’s no fun in that.

I added about 150g of lardons fumés which I can only translate as smoked diced ham. I’m not exactly sure of what it is other than you usually cook it à poêle and it can be a little greasy. The salt and smokey flavors of this particular ham add a layer of flavor to the peas, basil and garlic. I wouldn’t call it a depth, because there’s nothing deep about it – it’s right there: Bam! Salty, smokey ham! But then the freshness of the vegetables kicks in and leaves you feeling light and refreshed.

So it has that comfort element mixed into something with a delicate base.

Putting together ravioli can be done alone, but it’s so much more fun, or at least more efficient with help.

I like to call this one 6 hands, 24 ravioli. Mom was taking the photos. Some days I wish we had more workspace.

The husband is the king of making ravoli look good. At least he works with what he has. I can do the base – the dough, the filling – but don’t ask me to plate it pretty.

Not only is it fun to cook for others, but we worked together. We made a mess of the kitchen – flour everywhere, but that’s par for the course with pasta. We had a general good time. Or at least I did; I hope everyone else did. I don’t usually get all sentimental but there’s little better than comfort food with a twist. But sharing it with your family makes it extra special.

The family has arrived. By that I mean my mother and sister. They, and the husband, pretty much constitute my intimate family. I have cousins, aunts, uncles, a grandmother, in-laws as we all do, but I’m bad about keeping in touch with them.

That’s neither here nor there I guess because France is a long way away from the US and I’m the only one who went back to the old continent.

It’s also vacation for me. At first, I was going to be nice and work and make my students happy. Then I realized that my family had spent thousands of dollars to come and visit me and the least I could was tell my students to take a hike for 10 days. This, to no one’s surprise, leaves all of us with more time to explore, eat, and cook.

On the menu for the week:

  • Sunday lunch at Table du Vigneron
  • Three days, two nights in Nice with a quick trip to Monaco
  • Plenty of restaurants in Nice
  • A visit to the Puyricard factory (see previous entry on Valentine’s day)
  • A dinner with the in-laws featuring Filet mignon de Pork – Wellington style, chocolate and lemon tart
  • Homemade pea pesto ravioli
  • and anything else I feel like cooking up

Yesterday had it’s own introductory meal. My sister and mom have both been to France before, several times each. Nevertheless, we had to do something classic for them. The husband and I went through a myriad of options including Cassoulet -too fattening and heavy, Raclette -we don’t have a raclette set, Lamb -we couldn’t decide what to do with lamb, Boar -not the right season. The husband wanted cheese. This is nothing new. He always wants cheese.

So we went with a mont d’or. Mild, creamy, brie-like cheese with white wine baked in the oven for 30 minutes.

Serve with potatoes, vegetables, ham, and fresh baked bread.

We had two Mont d’or because one is never enough. Everyone ate their fill and then some.

Today, we broke out the sugar and made fudge.

My mom is the Queen of Fudge. No joke. She makes the best fudge of so many different flavors, always perfect, smooth, soft, fondant. Last year she tried to send me some for the holidays, when she normally makes it but it arrived two months late and was hard and moldy – completely ruined. This time we had an action plan. She brought the ingredients and made the fudge here.

Lots of sugar – at least a kilo.

A jar of fluff.

I think the reason why my mom’s fudge is so good isn’t the ingredients, but the fact that – as she says “I like stirring.” And if you’ve ever made fudge, you’ll know how much stirring it takes.

Stirring.

And then came the butterscotch. Why make chocolate when you can have butterscotch with chocolate on top?

This was a group effort. One to stir, one to add the butterscotch chips and one to take photographs.

Pouring it into the pans and adding the chocolate was also a group effort.

As was licking out the pot in the end. We love our fudge.

This is just a taste of what the week is going to bring. We’re all loosening our belts and enjoying a vacation together.

February 2nd in the United States is all about waking up some poor, snuggly groundhog and showing him his shadow. Or not depending, on whether or not you like ski season, I guess…

In France, February 2nd has it’s own name: la Chandeleur, also known as Candlemas. It has to do with the Virgin Mary and Jesus and before that it supposedly had to do with asking the fertility gods to come back and bless the various barbarian tribes of Europe.

Far from being a religious celebration, the French have forgotten all about the Virgin Mary and Jesus and instead, February 2nd has become all about the food. Much like everything else in France. I think that’s what I like about the French. It’s always all about the food.

From bars and cafés to gourmet restaurants, February 2nd is where we all sit down at the table – or stand around the stove – and eat crêpes.

What can I say about crêpes that hasn’t already been said? Other than if you haven’t had one, make them immediately. They aren’t pancakes because they are too flat and thin and they aren’t pannenkoeken for kind of the same reason and because they are French. Pannenkoeken I’ve been told are encouraged to puff. It would be a crime to puff a crêpe.

There are two types of crêpes that can be served today. Sweet and savory. Both are easy to make, but require a different set of ingredients. This meant I had to make a mess of my kitchen.

Some of you out there might have plenty of space to work with. I don’t. I live in an Ikea-sized apartment. The kind you see set up as an example of small living spaces. We’re still setting up.

Anyway. First get out your crêpe pan. It’s thin, flat, and thin. My crêpe pan was inherited from the husband’s grandmother and is rather small, but that’s alright. It just means we get to layer our crêpes in the end.

Prepare your savory:

Makes 8 crêpes

  • 150g Buckwheat flour
  • 1 egg
  • 375ml water
  • ½ tsp salt


Buckwheat flour or sarrasin has an essential color, flavor and texture that is important to the savory crêpe. It’s just that much better than all purpose flour because it’s thinner and more wheaty in taste. I  have no idea what to call it – wheaty seems good.

Anyway, whisk your ingredients together. Set aside.

Prepare your sweet:

Makes 8 crêpes

  • 125g flour (see below)
  • 30g unsalted butter, melted
  • 25g – 30g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 120ml water
  • 120ml milk


There are other batter recipes out there, but this is the one I used and it came out lovely. A word on the flour – I used farine de fluide which supposedly exists as fluid flour in English speaking countries, but I had never seen it until I moved here. It’s very, very fine. I might see if there’s something else I can do with it other than crêpes because I have so much of it now, but anyway, if you don’t have farine de fluide, all purpose works fine.

Mix everything in a bowl, whisk together. Set aside. In the meantime, do your dishes. And prepare your toppings. People recommend letting your batter sit for an hour or two, but I let it sit for 30 minutes and it was perfectly fine.

You can put practically ANYTHING on your crêpes. Seriously. Take your pick. I’ve seen hamburger crêpes, chicken curry crêpes, cheese filled crêpes, lamb crêpes, whatever. I decided on an egg with veggies and some aged gruyère. The husband had an egg with ham.

This was my first time handling the crêpes entirely on my own. The two years previous the husband did the cooking and flipping. It was a stressful moment.

The photo is blurry, but I still thought it a neat shot.

The thing about crêpes is: for the perfect one you want the batter to be completely even on the pan, and as thin as you can possible get. You want to be able to almost see the black of the pan under your batter.

I kind of failed that so my crêpes are a little thick, but that’s alright. It just means they took longer to cook and were slightly harder to flip.

Pile your toppings on your crêpe. Make a little sandwich with the savory ones. It’s delightful.
Crêpes are designed to be enjoyed one at a time, made one at a time standing over a stove top. So it’s the type of thing you eat standing up. Enjoying a glass of cider. The husband was in charge of that. Pajamas are par for the course.

Anything goes for the sweet crêpes too. There’s the crêpe suzette which is set on fire and lots of fun. But we wanted to keep it simple. Crêpes with powdered sugar are the easiest, simplest option, but even better is Nutella.

The husband made a smiley with his.

What else is there to say? Crêpes are wonderful, adaptable, easy, and fun. And I get to use the ^ hat accent on my keyboard over and over and over.

Enjoy your February 2nd and all of your coming weekend with some crêpes and cider. On Sunday enjoy them with Nutella because the 5th is World Nutella Day. I’m still not sure what I’m doing… maybe I’ll go with what a friend suggested and just break out a big spoon.

First of all, have you found me through the keyword search “je mange french meaning teeth?” or have you come here from “french mange?” If so, let me know because I’m dying to know why you are putting these particular words together into Google. Especially the first.

I’ve been over doing it lately. Food wise, work wise, writing wise. Pushing, always pushing. We all get into that mode, the one where you think you’re behind on life and have to race to catch up. When I get like that, I tend to explode. I drink too much, go overboard on the sweets and feel sick the next day.

Also, I’ve been over doing it on the food. Not eating too much mind you, not unhealthy, but with the recipes. I’ve been thinking about food, dreaming about food, obsessing about food, making more and more elaborate recipes.

I need to slow it down. I need to slow it down and remember the simple things. Simple flavors and tastes. A simple dish can have it’s own grace and warmth and make me remember it’s ok to take a break.

Brioche, anyone?


I used this recipe: Panini al Latte and found that the dough came together wonderfully. It was tacky, smooth, soft, I loved the feel of it when I was done kneading.


Brioche. It’s just bread with milk instead of water. A little extra sugar, a little butter. And so comforting. The husband has been asking me to make it for weeks. I couldn’t resist this weekend, just wanting something soft and warm and easy to adapt. Eat it with honey, Nutella, jam, peanut butter, paté, foie gras, olive spreads, tapenades, make it into pain perdu (French toast) when it starts to get old.


It’s a French breakfast staple, found in every bakery, everywhere. And it’s just nice.


But that was dessert and we’ll get to the final result in a moment.

I needed dinner first. And I’ve been craving salmon.


It’s not often I have a fish craving. Usually such things can be satisfied by a tuna sandwich or tuna salad with pasta or rice or something. But canned tuna wouldn’t do here. I wanted salmon, plain and simple.


Baking salmon in parchment paper is a wonderful way to keep the fish flesh juicy and flavorful and quick too. Bake for 15 minutes (NO MORE!) at 220°C with a bit of garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon, and basil. Easy and quick.

Fresh basil is impossible to find in France outside of summer. Believe me, I’ve looked EVERYWHERE. Either by it frozen or wait. I used frozen.


Serve with some pasta tossed with spinach and freshly shredded cheese. Or not freshly shredded. Whatever works for you. Top with olive oil and lemon. Garlic and more basil. So simple and so comforting. The perfect dinner for a Saturday night watching Man vs Wild with the husband.

Seriously. I have to turn away when he eats bugs or pees into his container. Oddly, I’m perfectly fine with the skinning of rabbits.

Anyway, then it was time for dessert.


I have so many brioche and they smell so delightful. That’s only half the batch. See the husband’s hand at the bottom right? He couldn’t wait. They smelled that good.

Just a teaspoon of Nutella on a warm brioche makes the perfect end or beginning of the day. When the brioche is warm, the Nutella melts so sweetly.

We all know there is nothing better than fresh, warm bread. There’s nothing better, nothing simpler, than a sweet, warm brioche.

Toulon is not an international city. It’s French. Very French. And in poor condition. About fifteen years ago the mayor was ineffective, the police corrupt, the red light district booming and you did NOT walk around the city at night. Period. Unless you wanted drugs. Which you might. That’s alright.

Today, Toulon is under the leadership of Falco, a man born and raised in Toulon, a man who is admittedly running the city like a minor king, but also doing a good job of it. So who am I to complain?

I’m not.

Toulon is an up and coming city, but it’s still highly traditional. The shops and cafés close at 7pm, the restaurants don’t open until 8pm, and in between you have a small collection of strange bars and the American influence – you know what I mean – fast food joints, which I avoid at all costs. The food is French and sometimes Italian. There are a few Indian places, only two of them good. One Thai place WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY up in le Farons and some random sushi joints. However, I cannot eat sushi, being allergic (or at least believing I’m allergic) to shellfish and in the mean time strange bars are not my thing.

So what do I do on a Wednesday night, when the new movies come out and the husband and I plan a little date?

First there are drinks at Gaetano Café. When I first came to Toulon 7 years ago, the Gaetano was simply a family run pizza joint that sold relatively good pizza and had a huge open area seating near Galarie Lafayette and Place d’Arms. Since then the family has expanded a bit, buying the small place next to them and opening up not so much a café but a nice bar with a fresh, youthful look and the best of all COCKTAILS.

Cosmopolitans and margaritas! The French outside of the big cities are new to cocktails, so finding a place in Toulon that make a proper margarita or cosmo is huge. It’s not in the right glass, but the taste was there. We were pleased. The music is good, the bartender is friendly and the price is pretty correct – 7Euro50. They also serve little appetizers, which is unusual for a bar in France. Nothing great, but if you’re looking for some baked Camembert with fresh bread, nice sliced ham, an olive plate, small pizza, you can find it here and it makes a nice snack or shared starter before dinner.

We headed to Teppanyaki Roll just a few blocks away from Place Liberté and cinema for dinner. If you want Japanese in American-sized portions this place is for you. It’s a small place with black and red decor, a slightly more relaxed décor than Sushi Roll, it’s sister restaurant located right next door.

Inside there’s a lot of red light. It was a very nice for ambiance, but made for bad photography. The restaurant is tiny and it’s possible to see everything from where I was sitting.  There was an electric fire appliance to keep us warm. The husband tried to get out of the way of my shot, but he didn’t try too hard.

I was a little worried about sitting in that type of indoor/outdoor greenhouse style seating during the night. While the days have been warm here in Toulon, the nights are very cold and I didn’t want to be freezing. But it was well heated and very comfortable, no drafts at all. Maybe it was the wine and saki we order.

Remember when I said I don’t eat sushi? That’s not entirely true. If the restaurant chef is willing to prepare me a vegetarian option, I’ll go for it. Remember when I said Toulon is a traditional city? That means anything vegetarian is viewed with suspicion. But not here. They were happy to make me nori, rice rolls with only avocado. It was even on their menu.

The husband and I split them. I wouldn’t have been able to eat all eight and then my main dish. They were very simple, very tasty. What more can be said?

While we munched we watched our chef prepare our meals. This is what teppanyaki is all about, of course. Or at least that’s how they interpret it in Toulon.

In a small restaurant such as this one, it was impossible to put the chef anywhere other than where he was. But he is visible no matter where you are in the restaurant and entertaining to watch. I had been here before Wednesday, and he was more playful the first time, but we all have our days.

I ordered chicken with mushrooms and leeks in a sweet sauce.

Along with a side of sautéed vegetables

It was a MASSIVE plate. I’m not sure how I finished it all, but the bathroom scale is confirming that I did. The chicken, mushroom, and leeks were very tasty and though the sauce was sweet it had a savory flavor behind it. The vegetables were well prepared, not too oily and still had a bit of crunch to them – the way I like to eat my cooked veggies. I did however, find the dish too salty. I grew up in a household that abhorred salt and consequently I don’t like foods that have a lot of salt in them – pretzels, fries, chips, popcorn – if there’s a little salt that’s one thing, if they are covered in it, it’s inedible for me. There was enough flavor here to make the dish enjoyable – otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it – but I do think the chef could have cut back on the salt a bit and created something just as flavorful.

The husband had beef teriyaki and egg fried rice.

He claims to have never had teriyaki before. I’m not sure if that’s true, I must have taken him somewhere in the States where we had a teriyaki dish, but whatever. He really wanted to try this sweet dish and enjoyed it, saying that the beef was perfectly cooked, very tender and moist. For the record, he did not find the food too salty at all.

Even though I was stuffed we had to order something for dessert. Mostly because we had plenty of time to kill before our movie at ten. And there’s one thing that Teppanyaki Roll serves that I’d been talking about since the first time I went there. Maybe it’s not authentic Japanese, but if you’re looking for the most wonderful, most unhealthful dessert, most amazing creation in the world and can’t find it in France- you’ve found it now.

Do you know what it is? Ten points if you guess correctly!

Fried Ice Cream. Oh baby.

It’s not something for everyday – it can’t be. But on those rare occasions when I’m feeling naughty, I can’t resist it. Deep frying combined with ice cream. Amazing. Served with just a touch of caramel and I was in heaven. Despite being totally bad for you, there is something so pleasing about the contrast of warm, fried dough and the cool, soft texture of the ice cream. I love it.

There are much better cities in France to visit. There are more authentic Japanese restaurants out there. But I’m in Toulon and I like to eat out. When I don’t want classic French cuisine, Teppanyaki Roll is a fine option. A friendly ambiance, good food, huge portions and plenty of variety on the menu from sushi to tempura to stir-fry to kobe beef, all for a fair price. I’d like them to go easier on the salt, but otherwise Teppanyaki Roll is a fine choice for a Wednesday out on a dinner and movie date.

Wednesday, I purchased the ultimate tool in smart cooking. Something the husband had been complaining about the price of, something he kept telling me we didn’t have the counter space for, something that we really, really needed. It’s the thing EVERY chef has, amateur or professional.

The scale. Sorry about the blurriness, I think I’m drinking too much coffee.

What made me break down and finally buy such a thing when I’d apparently getting along without it?

Cat food.

Pistou is getting fat. Soon Dumpling will be, if she continues to eat the way she is. They needed to have their food intake monitored (just like I do). And we all know how important a good scale is to proper baking and even a proper diet. Yes, cup are alright, ounces are OK, but grams are precise. I’m a convert to the metric system.

Apparently Chinese New Year is sometime around now? Sorry to my Asian friends but I’ve never paid much attention Chinese New Year. I have enough to keep track of being of Jewish-descent and living in a Roman-influenced world. Honestly, I don’t need another calendar to keep track of.

I could say that I made these spring rolls in honor of the Chinese New Year but that would be a lie. I made them because I wanted to, because for some inexplicable reason I went out on Monday and bought rice paper.

I made three different rolls. Here’s a list of the ingredients for all three in no particular order.

  • Cabbage
  • carrots
  • onion
  • peanuts
  • smoked tofu
  • diced chicken
  • avocado
  • radish
  • bell pepper
  • soy sauce
  • sesame oil
  • ground garlic
  • ground ginger
  • rice paper wrappers
  • chopped basil (I used frozen, but fresh is best)

Don’t be daunted by the list of ingredients, it’s super easy to prepare.

Steam the carrots, cabbage and pepper. You can steam the tofu too if you like. Or marinate it along side the chicken in soy sauce. Dice your onion, slice your avocado, etc.

I’m not going to give you the measurements of what I used, because it would be a little strange as I made two dumplings with veggies and tofu, two with chicken, cabbage, and onion and two with veggies, chicken, and avocado slices. There was far more cabbage than anything else. You can arrange them however you like.

I overstuffed these, as I have a tendency to do, so we had with 6 dumplings (3 each) and 1 left over filled with random veggies. This really doesn’t pose a problem – who doesn’t love overstuffed stuff? – except that the a few of the rolls fell apart in the steamer. Live and learn.

With a blend of sesame oil and soy sauce on the side these were a lovely dinner treat. The husband declared them a success, even enjoying the one with smoked tofu. The lightly steamed vegetables allowed for a soft crunch, heavy on the flavor of carrots and cabbage which I honestly find comforting during these cold winter days. What makes these “spring rolls” for me is the addition of basil. I know it’s common in Asian foods, but I have often found that combining winter vegetables like cabbage and carrots with basil – which is strictly a summer thing here and near impossible to find in winter – fuses the flavors of the two opposing seasons. This way, you’re eating your way to spring, long sunny days, and warm(er) weather.

It was 56 degrees here on Wednesday. Also, spring rolls are really hard to photograph.

This is spelt. It’s a dark, ancient grain that you can boil and eat like rice. It has a lovely wild and nutty flavor and is, I’m sure, rich in something that I’m not aware of. But ancient grains are good for you.

This is merguez. It’s a spicy sausage made with lamb. Yes, these particular merguez come from my butcher in la Seyne.

Last night I combined them to make a nutty, spicy, heady (think a deep red wine) stuffing to go in roasted peppers.  Ideally you could use any meat for this, but the merguez gives it an extra depth.

  • 1/2 cup dry spelt
  • vegetable broth
  • 2 merguez sausages
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 coeur de boeuf tomato (hot house?)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Garam masala
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put spelt in a medium sauce pan with 3X as much vegetable broth (So around 1 1/2 cups). Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and let simmer for 25 minutes.

In the meantime, slice the bottoms off of your peppers and clean out the insides. Set aside. Mince the bottoms of the peppers for use in the stuffing. I sliced about 1 1/2 inches off of my pepper, but they were pretty big. Also, I know normally you slice the tops off, but these peppers in particular, were not able to stand up on their own on their bottoms, but they could stand up by their tops – work with what you have.

Mince your onion and garlic. Dice your tomato. Heat olive oil in a pan and sautée the onion and pepper about 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic and merguez. Let the merguez cook for about 5 minutes and then take out to slice up. When you take the merguez out, add the tomato in its place and let it cook down. Dice up the merguez (which will probably still be uncooked but that’s fine) and throw back in the pan. Add your garam masala, salt, pepper.

When the spelt is done, add everything – liquid included – into the pan. Mix. Let everything simmer for another 5 minutes so the flavors blend. Then stuff your peppers. Add any remaining liquid or filling in the bottom of the pan to give the peppers a broth to baste in. Bake in the oven at 180°C for 40 minutes or until peppers are soft.

They’re a nice twist on simple stuffed vegetables, hearty and easy to make. A delightful, healthful meal that is not too spicy but has a little kick.

In Dumpling-Pistou news: Dumpling has a mouth problem, we think it’s either infected gums or rotten teeth. But the people from the refuge are afraid to take her away because she doesn’t eat when she gets upset and she’s already too, too thin. Who would have thought there’d be someone too thin in this house.

Pistou however, walks up to her when she’s sleeping in order to sniff and inspect. He’s still in shock, but he is also currently crying in the bathroom – a return to his bizarre drama queen ways…