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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.

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I know that I promised you quail. Stuffed quail to be exact. But due to a glitch with our butcher’s bird supplier, the quail won’t be coming until Sunday. Apparently, when he ordered caille (French for quail) that some how translated to canard (duck) and the delivery last Saturday included two ducks instead of two quail. I love duck, but I didn’t need two of them. This weekend, he promised us, he’d go pick up the quail personally. We’ll see. I think he knew I was so disappointed.

In the meantime, I give you a Français-Sud Américain blend for lunch. Red Bean Plantain Empanadas with Tomato Mozzarella Salad.

I’d been thinking about empanadas for some time. They just sounded fun. Simple – only a few ingredients are in the filling. Hot – baked in the oven. With a crust. I love crunchy crusts. I’m a pie-without-the-pie-filling kind of girl. It’s weird.

Why red beans you ask? Well, I have looked EVERYWHERE – in fact in every market and grocery I go to, I still look – and I cannot find black beans anywhere. If you live in Provence and know of a place that sells black beans let me know. Or, if you’re feeling generous and live in the States, I haven’t lost anything in the mail yet.

There are many different recipes out there for empanada dough. But I was feeling lazy and simply bought two pâte brisée, which are close enough. That’s the French twist to these I guess.

Red Bean Plantain Empanadas

(Makes 8 LARGE Empanadas)

  • 1 can red beans – drained
  • 1 plantain
  • 1/3 red onion finely chopped
  • 1 – 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ tsp of chili powder or to taste (I have super hot chili powder so I have to scale it back a lot)
  • ½ tomato finely chopped.

Slice up your plantain. In a heated frying pan with a little bit of oil, sautée your onion, garlic, and plantain until softish – about 8 minutes. Lower heat. Add beans, tomato, and chili powder. Cook until heated, then remove from heat immediately. Mix and mash up the plantains a bit. This is really just a texture thing and to get a good blend of plantain-bean in your filling. It’s entirely unnecessary.

Roll out your dough.

Here’s where I decided to forget the half-moon shape and just go for ease in presentation. I scooped a generous portion of the bean-plantain mixture onto one of the dough circles in about 7 portions.

Then I laid the other dough on top of it. Used a big coffee mug to mark out my empanadas. Cut the excess away and used it to make one final empanada.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 180°C or until golden brown.

You might want to add a little more oil to your filling before making your empanadas for some extra moisture. Or add cream or cheese if you’re like the husband and can’t imagine having something that doesn’t have meat and cheese in it:

“Mexican food has cheese!” He cried. Apparently, he’s the authority despite never having eaten Mexican food until he met me.

“They’re not Mexican,” I told him. “They’re from South America. Some say Peru, some say Argentina.” Actually, I looked it up and they’re originally from Moorish Spain and Portugal.

“Oh,” he said. But I could still hear the unspoken cries of “CHEESE!!!” going around in his head.

Serve your Empanads with something light. Because these babies are deceptively heavy. Tomato salad is a good choice. Simple, fresh, and so colorful.

  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1/3 red onion
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 can corn
  • 1/2 ball of mozzarella
  • Salsa verde or dressing of choice (lemon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard)

Chop all ingredients. Put into a bowl. Mix. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little salsa verde. Mix. Serve.

What is so fabulous about this lunch is that it’s so few ingredients and easy to prepare. Other than putting the empanadas together, it takes little time (around 30 minutes) and there was no stress involved, the way stuffing a quail might be stressful.

Definitely Thursday lunch comfort food. The type of thing you eat on a day off and then lie on the couch after with a cup of coffee trying not to fall asleep, so you type up a blog entry about your lunch that includes a myriad of run-on sentences because you’re so excited about how well your empanadas and tomato salad worked out and how the textures and flavors binded so wonderfully together and yet it was so SIMPLE.

I need more simplicity in my life. But that’s something for another day. Sorry about the run-on sentences and the quail. Here’s hoping Sunday won’t disappoint!

What can I tell you about Boston?

I grew up outside the city. I went to graduate school there. I’ve spent countless hours wandering the known streets like Newbury, Mass Ave, Boyleston, Huntington. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit at New England Conservatory, despite never having been an official student. North End, Southie, Back Bay, Chinatown, Cambridge. You name it, I’ve been there.

And STILL I got lost. Blame the buses as I’d always taken the subway.


But at least I got to sit in TeaLuxe in Harvard Square on a rainy Wednesday and enjoy some organic tea while musing over my recent spree at Origins.

Thursday, I left the city with the sister and headed to Salem. We went to the Witch museum.

We saw a statue dedicated to Samantha from Bewitched.

We took advantage of the Psychic Fair and had psychic readings. The psychic told me I needed to write. In fact she said “Go home right now and start writing.” Talk about pressure.

We had sandwiches at Coven.

While there are many great things about French food, there are many things I missed about American cuisine and the artisanal sandwich was high on the list. You just can’t find creative sandwiches in France and as soon as I saw Coven listed as one of the best places in Salem, MA, we had to go.

Though the name “Coven” might make you think about witches and cauldrons and pentacles or pentagrams, the restaurant/café is more of a kitsch-niche than anything else. It was filled with old games – such as battleship –

This was an epic battle to the death. I won, but only by the skin of my teeth.

And showed movies like Labrynth on flat screen TVs. David Bowie in tights is always a fascinating watch when you’re eating a sandwich called “Fraggle Rock.”

All the sandwiches had names that took me back.

But they were fabulous. The sister and I shared as sisters do.

The sandwiches were excellent. Incredibly filling, on crunchy, chewie baguettes. The fraggle rock – the chicken salad one was a bit on the mayonaise-y side, but not enough to make me complain. The valley girl sandwich (with the sweet potato) was a wonderful change. The cheddar a surprising compliment to the cumin dressing. With high tables, low couches the casual atmosphere of Coven suits any mood.

We also split a cookie dough brownie, but I was less impressed, though their pastries are supposed to be famous. I found it rather tasteless and too rich at the same time. As if it was composed of a lot of unflavored sugar. Their sandwiches are definitely a better find. And the coffee was good too.

Salem, despite being marketed to the witch-obsessed is also a quaint town. Pretty and quiet and fun to poke in all the shops and with fairly friendly people. It’s also home to the Peabody-Essex museum where the sister’s friend works but we did not go.

You can also attend the local school of witchcraft and wizardry. If I didn’t already have three degrees and three wonderful student loans to pay, I’d be there.

Strangely, today as I was typing this entry, I received some possible good news about a short story submitted months ago and I completely forgot about. That psychic might have been onto something.

Coming soon: Mexican, family dinners, ice cream joints and more.

This weekend I went to Andernos on the western coast of France, where I got to see the other side of the Atlantic ocean. That may not seem like a big deal, but it was to me, after spending my entire childhood in New England.

No road trip would be complete without enough food to feed six people. Even though there were only two of us.

The rest stops, like the rest of France, have vineyards behind them.

Ironically, the region of Bordeaux and especially the quaint towns of the coast look very much like the French-version of New England. Or the New England version of France. I can’t decide which.

Andernos is located in a part of the west coast known as Le Basin d’Arcachon. Because of the enclosed bay, when the tide goes out of the basin, it really goes out. Boats are left resting lopsided in the sand for the water to come back in.

We found a coffee shop that served real, good coffee, and blueberry muffins. It was clearly based on an American café, but as I often miss my coffee shop hang outs, it was a welcome sight. After my run in the morning, the husband and I spent time reading and writing there.

There was a zoo not far away, where the husband and I visited to get a look at the lions. He said as we were getting into the car “Get a photo for Pistou, so he can see what a real lion is like.” I did.

One also roared for us, which was very impressive. If you’ve never heard a lion roar up close, it is as thunderous as the descriptions say. I’d have run if there wasn’t a cage separating us.

We also sampled the local pastry. Cannelé. Don’t get this confused with canoli as I do every 15 seconds. A firm pastry, consisting of cream, egg, flour, sugar and surprisingly, rum. When cooked properly – which is hard to find outside the Bordeaux region – they are moist and spongy, almost like a flan. I’d had them in a pastry shop in Toulon over a year ago and was disappointed. I am now, after having fresh made ones, a convert. There’s something satisfying about the bounce to the cooked dough and the pure, but not over powering sweetness.

The whole purpose of this trip was a wedding. Which involved lots of food, lots of wine and lots more food and wine.

Here I am at the vin d’honor, an aperitif that took place after the ceremony. Oysters (which are famous in the western border of France and which I can’t eat) and little petits-fours were served, but the wine and champagne were the main attraction. And the bride and groom of course.

This is my second glass of wine. A pinot-something that was old enough to have an aroma and taste of a white port. Fabulous. As a side note: I have to thank my wonderful student AB who lent me the dress.

After another glass of champagne we made our way to the reception, where dinner was awaiting us:

 

Pig roasted on a spit. No wait, not one pig – three pigs.

 

Here is my reaction captured on film. It is a cross between “What the —?” and “Oh my god, I get to try pig roasted over a spit.” I kind of wanted to change into my medieval garb, but then remembered I didn’t bring it with me.

Pig roasted over a spit, cooked by two men in berets.

This required another glass of champagne.

Here is what my pig on a spit looked like when it was served. Pretty harmless until I saw the heads sitting in the cold storage the next day. (Photo not included) In the end it was very moist, very flavorful, very tender, almost as if it had been soaked in milk before hand. (not a kosher evening). The men in berets knew what they were doing, despite sipping red wine throughout the preparation.

We tried to make the next day more moderate, but on our first night in Andernos, the husband’s family had found an amazing ice cream place by the port. So we had an ice cream dinner – which is not at all moderate. My flavors were peanut and straticella which is a simple cream flavor with chocolate bits inside. Topped with whipped cream and salted caramel. I don’t know who invented salted caramel, but they deserve a medal.

No beach-front vacation ends without a beautiful sunset. So here’s your portion. Notice the tide is back.

Do you like Gordon Ramsay? I do. I like that he’s a jerk who likes to cook, because I consider myself a jerk who likes to cook. I like watching his show Kitchen Nightmares – or Cauchemar en Cuisine as it’s called here in France – and listening to the translated French swear words. Merde comes up a lot.

Thursday the husband and I are going to Bordeaux, a lovely 7 hour road trip that will consist of him driving and me sitting shotgun trying not to fall asleep. Since the husband will be driving, I decided I would take charge of the picnic that will divide our long drive. The menu consists of some boring things like sandwiches and shredded carrots, but as we have to pack enough food for a few days, and I like things that are more interesting than sandwiches and shredded carrots, I’ve decided to spice things up a bit and made pastry roll-ups.

That’s where Mr. Ramsay comes in. I used his tips on making a savory pastry crust, which I had never made before.

  • 1 1/3 cups of flour
  • 125 grams of butter
  • 5 tablespoons of water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Cube your butter in a large bowl and add the flour and salt. Mix together by hand, and don’t worry about the butter mixing homogenously with the flour. Add the water little by little until you have a nice firm ball of dough. Chill for 20 minutes in the fridge.

You can put anything you want in your roll-ups. Dips, veggies, meats, cheeses. As long as it’s thin and can be baked in the oven. I made:

  • tomato, basil, garlic
  • goat cheese and chive
  • peppery ham and pesto

When your dough is ready, lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough, always in one direction to make sure that it’s flaky and that the butter doesn’t get worked in too much. You want a slightly marbled effect. The dough should be rectangular in shape (mine was sort-of) and about 1/8 inch thick.

Spread your fillings evenly onto the dough.

Roll.

Chill again for about 10 minutes. You want the dough to firm up again so that it’s easier to cut.

Slice the dough in even thickness and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes at 200°C.

You can spread a little bit of olive oil on the exterior of the rolls before you slice it and bake, if you don’t want the outer edges of your roll to be too dry, but I didn’t bother because of the butter.

These came out sooooooo yummy. Nice and crispy, and tender in the center from the softness of the tomato, cheese or pesto. We can’t wait to eat them on Thursday.

I’ll let you know how the rest of the picnic goes on Tuesday. For now, I’m looking forward to a brief respite from the craziness that is work. Instead, I’ll be at a wedding, looking pretty in the 40°C Bordeaux heat.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love vegetables? I love vegetables. I love them more than any other food. Cheese is a close second. Then bread. I could eat nothing but vegetables forever. They’re so versatile, so satisfying.

And cheese. I’m blessed to live in a country where cheese is a national treasure.

I also love days off from work. I have no idea why today is a holiday in France, they’re even wishing people a bon quinze août but I’ll take it and use it to make something yummy.

Pizza Primavera. It’s almost the end of summer and primavera means springtime – or so I’m told – but hey, it’s good, it’s cheesy and it’s full of veggies.

I used an aged Pecorino, which with all due respect for France, is Italian. Made from sheep’s milk, laced with salt and huge chunks of pepper. You don’t need a sauce for this pizza or any extra spices. This pizza is just that good.

Roasted red peppers, broccoli, peas, onion, garlic, tomato and zucchini.

I made my own pizza dough, which wasn’t difficult. Easier than bread.

But rolling it out was. I got an oblong rectangle rather than a circle. It was my first attempt. I have another pizza dough sitting in my freezer for next time. I wanted to toss it in the air and spin it around, but given my hand-eye coordination I could see that being a disaster.

Bake your pizza dough at 250°C for about 5-7 minutes before you put the toppings on it. I think this is necessary, because with the oil of the cheese, the water of the veggies – especially the tomato – will keep the dough from cooking fully other wise.

Put your toppings on. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake for another 12-15 minutes until the cheese is melted, the vegetables are cooked and the crust is golden brown.

Doesn’t it look amazing?

I sat on the balcony with a glass of rosé and enjoyed myself while reading The Dispossessed by Ursula K LeGuin.

A note on salt: if you use aged pecorino or aged Parmesan DO NOT salt your pizza when you put the toppings on it. Seriously. The cheese is already incredibly salty and will infuse into the vegetables and the dough.

I’m going to write for the rest of the day. I’m going to read. I’m going to have a dame blanche cookie and Earl Grey tea. The husband is sick. Wish him well so that he can enjoy my pizza for dinner tonight.

This week I have to go to the town hall to renew my titre de séjour. Wish me luck. It’s always a drama.

I like vodka. I love cosmos. I like the occasional martini. And I love vodka sauce.

Sadly, martini means something drastically different here in France. It’s the name of a brand of aperitif – before dinner drink – that tastes nothing like a real vodka martini. It’s not a bad drink, it’s a dark caramel color sometimes, yellow-white like pastis other times, it’s a little sweet mixed with bitter herbs I think, but it’s not vodka.

Vodka sauce also does not exist here in France. This was horrifying to me, as I had discovered this wonderful pasta sauce only about 1 ½ years before I moved to France and was crushed when I couldn’t find it here.

So, I learned to make my own.

It’s actually not so hard, nor does it take a long time. It’s just a matter of having enough vodka on hand to create the recipe:

  • 1 cup of vodka
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1 can of tomato paste, or concentrated tomatoes
  • 1 can of whole, peeled, stewed tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • fresh basil
  • parsley
  • heavy cream
  • salt and pepper

 

When I make my vodka sauce I like to add something to it besides pasta. I asked the husband what he would like in his sauce and he said “Sausage” so off to the butcher we went. There was some consultation with the butcher when we walked in. I wanted something a bit spicy, but not the spiciness that comes with sausages like merguez or chorizo. In French, they are called piquant. I wanted something épicée, which is different – less burning your tongue off and more of an “ooo spice!” feeling.

Anyway, our butcher, who I like to call our butcher because he recognizes us, recommended these. Porc sausages laced with 3 types of pepper and some fresh herbs. They were 3 euros and the best part is that they are handmade and fresh, as in made that morning. As usual, I made one of my famous language faux-pas and forgot which language I was supposed to be speaking to who and said “OK, we’ll take two” to the butcher in English, right after I had said tu veux l’essayer? to the husband. (Do you want to try it?)

Back to the sauce:

Put the vodka and red pepper flakes into a bowl. Let them sit for 1 hour or more.

Heat up olive oil in a pan and cook the sausage. I recommend cooking the sausage through or almost completely through, so that you don’t have to wait for the sausage to finish cooking in the sauce which can take a long time.

Chop the garlic, basil and parsley (if fresh) and add to the the pan for about 30 seconds. Lower heat to low or medium-low.

Add the vodka, pepper mixture and simmer for about 5 minutes

 

Crush and add the peeled, stewed tomatoes, then add the tomato concentrate. Mix and let simmer.

Here I like to take out the cooked sausage and roughly chop it, and then put it back in the pan.

 

Add heavy cream or light cream (I’ve used both and they both come out fine) slowly, mixing as you go, until the sauce becomes a nice red-orange color. Let it cook over low heat for another 2-3 minutes and serve with pasta.

Some notes: this recipe does not dilute the vodka, and the taste of the vodka is VERY strong. I like it that way. However, if you do not, and just want the tang of the vodka, I recommend making sure you use a lot of heavy cream and diluting the vodka with some water.

This would be a must if you’re going to serve this to children, because honestly, I think the husband and I both got a little tipsy on this sauce, even though he loaded his down with cheese.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a weekend in France without a protest. The husband and I went to see a movie in Toulon on Saturday afternoon and when we walked out of the theater and stepped onto Boulevard de Strasbourg we saw hundreds of bikers.

Hundreds of bikers. Maybe even thousands. I didn’t know this many people owned motorcycles in France, but it shouldn’t surprise me as this part of the country that gets very little rain and rarely drops below 5°C in the winter.

They were protesting the government’s new decision to take down the warnings for the speed radars on the highways. Seriously. That’s all. The government isn’t lowering the speed limit or raising the fine. But they’re taking down the huge warning signs that proceed these radars about 1km before the actual radar, and people are mad.

They claim that the government is doing this for the money and not for safety reasons – which in all honesty is probably true – but wouldn’t it just be easier and safer to drive the speed limit instead of 150km/hr without a helmet?

Apparently not, and so the bikers of the Var took to the streets of Toulon, blocking traffic for miles – I mean kilometers.

The husband was happy we had taken the boat to the city instead of driving.

So.

Let me tell you about La Table du Vingeron and Domaine de Terrebrune.

That is, if I can figure out where to begin.

 

Long have I wanted to write about this restaurant. And the wine of Terrebrune. Oh lord, the wine. I had been there twice before, and each time I was too involved in my food, in the ambiance, in the wine to take photos and pay any attention to what I should be thinking about, be remembering for this blog.

Today I promised myself, and Christophe de Bretygny, the maître D and owner, that I would take photos and write about this restaurant. But I don’t know where to begin. Seriously. Because the restaurant is completely summed up in one word:

AMAZING.

I’ve sung the praises of this restaurant to everyone I meet. And today I’m going to sing it to you, the best that I can.

 

Imagine that you’re driving down a windy one way road in the hills of Sanary-sur-mer. You’re a ways away from the beach, a ways away from the traffic and the bustle of the pink concrete houses, surrounded by nothing but vineyard. You follow some weathered signs that read “Domaine de Terrebrune” and find yourself pulling up to a secluded vineyard and in the middle is a small mas, or Provencal stone house.

You park and walk to the entrance.

 

There you are greeted by the maître D (see him on facebook). Who has a smile on his face and if you have been there more than once and caused a bit of a mess more than once, remembers you.

My mess? Well, it was literal. Never use a white tablecloth when I’m eating at your house. Just don’t.

You’re seated and an aperitif is served. The cocktail de maison is champagne, crème cassis and peach liquor. Fruity, refreshing with a good zest, and it will knock you over so drink it SLOWLY.

A mis en bouche is served. Fromage blanc with a hint of ham, olive oil and tomatoes. Light but mouthwatering.

Entrées are next. Homemade foie gras with rosemary jelly, a fresh brioche, and sesame sauce. The foie gras is the best I’ve ever had. Fondant (melty), lightly cooked, well seasoned. The rosemary jelly sounds a little strange but it has an excellent texture and taste. The brioche is warm with a tender crust on the outside and a thick, soft, warm inside. It is so tasty with the foie gras that you never want it to end.

The husband has a tomato, cheese pie with green salad on top and a scoop of lovely olive oil and basil ice cream. The crust was flaky and buttered, the tomatoes seasoned with basil and a salty, soft cheese.

Then the main course. Turkey stuffed with summer herbs and forest mushrooms in a sauce of cream and forest mushrooms. These wild mushrooms are spectacular. Soft and full of incredible forest flavor. The turkey is boneless, tender and also flavorful. I’m not sure of all the herbs that there are as I chew slowly, savoring each bite, but I catch hints of rosemary and I swear there’s sage.

The French have excellent adjectives when it comes to describing food and I can describe this dish in one word – onctueuse. Maybe that’s not the word people would put to turkey and mushrooms, but that is what it says to me.

Let’s stop a moment and discuss the wine. La Table du Vingeron, being set in the Domaine de Terrebrune, obviously serves Terrebrune. We had a 2003. Acidic with berry and wood, a heavy smell and a slightly lighter taste that sat in my mouth mixing with the meal.

And let’s take a moment to discuss the service. The servers are all wonderful people. Friendly, smiling, professional and they thought it was fantastic that I was taking photos, drunk and taking photos while drunk.

After lunch, before dessert. You’re digesting, you’re enjoying your last drops of wine. You’ve lost track of the time. Out comes the pre-dessert. Little cakes – but the wine is gone! What will you drink. Of course, it being Sunday at a fabulous restaurant with fabulous service there must be champagne! And there was.

Here are your choice of desserts:

 

The last is fresh raspberries with vervaine ice cream, a funky cookie and wait – what is that red liquid? Cold red pepper soup. You’re hearing me right. An amazing contrast is created when red peppers mix with a sweet, tart (is there such a thing?) berry. It’s refreshing, interesting and a taste that you want to keep trying because it seems more and more fascinating each time.

Ok. So I’m showing you photographs of what other people at my table were served. I didn’t try them, but I can assure you by the smiles and happy moans, and the husband’s assurances, all the other plates were fantastic.

But wait! It doesn’t end there. Coffee must be served in dainty cups alongside chocolates, which the maître D knew I’d love.

 

And I did. I loved the whole thing. La Table du Vingeron is truly a gem. In service, ambiance, in wine and in food, it is my favorite restaurant of all time and to be perfectly honest, I know that this blog entry did not do the restaurant justice.

I guess that means I’ll have to go back to re-taste their fabulous food and try it all over again!

Thursday is the husband’s 30th birthday. You could ask why I wanted to make him a huge lunch almost one week before his day of birth – but do you want to?

No.

Actually, it was a good day to cook. Not to hot. Windy. Cloudy. A mild spring day, which would be a mild summer day if you live anywhere outside of Provence.

Lunch was much debated by moi. I considered beef, I considered pork, I considered buying a whole rabbit and taking it apart (because I love rabbit, but they are sold whole – head, organs, feet, claws etc). In the end I decided on lamb. Souris d’agneau to be precise which is lamb shank in English, but souris sounds so much nicer so we’ll stick to that.

I’ve never cooked lamb, it’s normally the husband who cooks the red meat, and I had to make an occasion out of it. And out of the husband’s birthday, but food first. The menu was as follows:

Radish, Zucchini, Carrots with an artichoke, cream and herb dip, served with jambon de parme (ham from Parme, Italy).

Souris d’agneau with a pesto crust and tomate provençal

Cheese: St. Felicine and Tomme de montagne

Dessert: Pastries.

Wine: Chateauneuf Domain de Rampart 2000, red of course!

The sauces/dips:

 Creamy artichoke dip:

  • artichoke hearts
  • crème legère or sour cream
  • 1 basil leaf
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • a bit of thyme
  • a bit of rosemary
  • a bit of sage
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon juice

Put it in a food processor and blender. Chill. Voila! Granted it wasn’t your typical creamy vegetable dip, but it was great with the vegetables and bread.

Pesto. It’s so easy to make, there’s no reason not to make it fresh when basil is in season. I forgot the pine nuts and it still came out fine.

  • Basil leaves
  • Parmesan
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • Pine nuts or walnuts – when you remember to buy them.

Blend the dry ingredients. When they make a coarse paste slowly add the olive oil and blend some more adding salt and pepper. Chill.

This was my first time making lamb. I found a recipe online that said if you cover the lamb with something there’s no need to brown it first in a pan. The husband was skeptical, but said to try it anyway.

We went to our favorite butcher the evening before and ordered our souris. Originally, we ordered two, but when we arrived at 9:30 this morning the butcher said “Well, today they were kind of small, so do you want three?” Like the husband was going to say no. We bought 3.

I took them out and put them in the pan feeling nervous:

I covered them in the pesto. Green meat!

 And cooked them at 400 °C or 200 °F for 1 hour.

 Along side the lamb, I made provincial tomatoes: tomates provençals. This is basically tomato covered with bread crumbs, herbs like rosemary, parsley, thyme, garlic and olive oil and baked in the oven for 20-30 minutes.

 Bread crumbs bought in the store are high in calories and full of stuff, like salt and disgusting chemicals, that are completely unnecessary. I make my own bread crumbs – or chapelure – whenever I need them. It’s simple:

  • Take some bread, slice it thin
  • Put it in the oven to toast for 15 – 20 minutes – low temperature.
  • Once it’s pretty dry and toasted, put it in a blender with the herbs of your choice.

 I used coeur de boeuf tomatoes. They have some other name in English but I don’t know what it is, but these are huge tomatoes that are not perfectly round, and have ridges. They’re great for stuffing or in salads. I wanted two round tomatoes for our tomates provençal but I couldn’t find any big enough so I went with the coeur de boeuf from my favorite produce vendor at the market.

Cut the tomatoes in half. Cover with a bit of parmesan, then the bread crumbs. A bit of olive oil. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes at 200 °C.

The beauty of the lamb and the tomatoes was that they cooked at the same temperature, so I started the lamb and then put in the tomatoes about 30 minutes after and let them cook together.

Upon tasting the lamb my husband said he was proud of me. I used to be a vegetarian and had to give it up upon moving to France – there’s just no way to go out to eat here – unless you live in Paris. But I always shied away from actually cooking read meat.

These souris d’agneau came out perfect.

First, don’t worry about the pesto burning. It might seem worry-some but it’s not. It creates a nice crust around the lamb and holds the moisture inside the meat, so that when you cut into it, it’s tender, moist and yummy. The pesto, even though it was crisp, was actually still tasty and a bit sweet – probably because of the garlic.

Fabulous.

The tomatoes were soft and melty and made me happy. I love vegetables.

Cheese:

St. Felicien and Tomme de montagne are two of my husband’s favorite cheeses. The St. Felicine is known as a creamy cheese with a very sharp bite to it. With the red Chateauneuf it was amazing.

Tomme is a much firmer cheese. The kind you see in the really thick brown or black rinds. It had a milder taste, and is a perfect end to the meal.

Wine:

Oh Chateauneuf. I’ll die drinking this wine. Really.

No, really. I love it. The grenache grapes – I don’t know what it is – they’re amazing. This 2000 had a lovely acidic, berry taste to it. Different from many older wines. It wasn’t the best thing to have with all the garlic, but with the cheese – OMG. And at 14.5% 11 years ago, it was pushing 15.5 – 16% alcohol, which meant that by the time the cheese course was done, the husband and I were sous-table – or very drunk.

A friend of mine stopped by for wine and chat – which was a nice interlude because I could walk down to the port and walk off some of the wine. When we had returned the sun was out and the afternoon was getting warm. We sat on the balcony, had a glass of reisling and then it was time for dessert to be served.

Chosen from our favorite patisserie: A little marzapan pig with chocolate inside, coffee and meringue pastry and a millefeuille. They were sweet and rich and full of cream and butter and other things that make me want to run another 10 kilometers.

At that has been my day. Filled with food and wine and some social activity. Now you can do the dishes while I take a nap.