You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘traditional’ tag.

Today was the first day of the year that it was warm enough to eat on the balcony. I didn’t make anything special for it as it was “leftover day,” trying to get rid of all the random stuff in our fridge to make way for more leftovers. I wish that I could portion things properly – like pasta. I know that I can make food and freeze it, but I have this thing about microwaves…

But I digress.

I had my lunch, which was roasted vegetables, tomato, homemade hummus, a slice of Itchebai cheese, and a hunk of crusty bread. Tomato soup. Crystal Light, courtesy of la famille who toted 6 packs of the stuff across the Atlantic at my request. Definitely a leftover day.

What is Itchebai cheese you ask? Well, it is French. Think cheddar with a Swiss twist.

This Christmas someone gave us a box set of small cookbooks on classic French cuisine by Larousse. What is Larousse? Obviously you’ve never had to buy a French dictionary. I was interested in making some sort of fruity pastry for dessert today and turned to the dessert volume for inspiration.

I’ve seen clafoutis in boulangeries here, in the pastry section, looking rather cake-like and fruity. Normally they are done with prunes or cherries. I had neither in the house, but I do have a package of frozen berries and pineapple. The husband is not a fan of fruits rouges.

While, the ones I saw in the shops looked like cake – clafoutis is rather like a flan that has been thickened with flour. Deceptively cake looking, but not cake like. Though I had seen it, I had never tasted, nor baked it, but there’s a first time for everything and if I’m going to live in France and study French cuisine, I better start cooking.

Clafoutis aux (Fruits Rouges ou Ananas)

Adapted from A l’heure du dessert, Larousse:

  • 150 grams berries*
  • 150 grams pineapple chunks*
  • 3 eggs
  • 70 grams powdered sugar
  • 200 ml milk
  • 30 grams flour

*as I mentioned above, cherries or prunes are the most common fruits added to clafoutis, but use any fruit you like. It’s all good.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. If you want to serve this in individual portions break out the ramkins, otherwise find a small size cake tin for four.

If you’re using frozen fruit; which is what I did, you might want to defrost them now. In the meantime, whisk your eggs together in a good size mixing bowl. Add the flour and sugar and whisk again until incorporated. Add the milk and mix until you have a nice, smooth, and fluid batter.

Put your fruit in the bottom of your cake tin or ramkin. There’s no need to grease them.

Pour the batter on top of the fruit.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool and serve.

The original recipe supposedly serves 4. I halved it, but used three eggs instead of two, and it still served four. I guess I like smaller desserts than the editors of Larousse.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, when the egg batter pushed its way down to the bottom of the pot and forced the fruit to the surface, which created a layered effect I wasn’t expecting.

While I don’t love flan, and clafoutis is not your typical rich, buttery, creamy, French pastry, this was something I could eat again. Not too sweet, comforting, mixed with the tart berry.

Next time I see one in the local bakery I’ll buy it to see how I compare to the professionals, but for now this French classic has won me over with it’s ease and adaptability if nothing else. I sound like an advertisement. Dinner’s just about ready so it must be the hunger talking…

It’s fall. That means pumpkin and apple recipes abound. Last night I tried my own pumpkin recipe – pumpkin gnocchi. It totally failed.

Ok so, it didn’t TOTALLY fail, but I didn’t measure right, had to use two different flours and there’s just something wrong with them that I can’t quite figure out. They’re edible, but they aren’t serve-able. If you know what I mean. And I don’t like to fail.

Nobody likes to fail. Failure is such a personal thing. There’s no one else to blame. It’s my fault. Rejection I can handle. There are two people involved. It’s an opinion. Someone else’s technique is better, someone else’s sound or story preferable. It happens. But I don’t tolerate failure in art.

Cooking is an art.

So today, I had to prove my dominance in the kitchen to make up for last night’s mistakes.

I decided on two types of breads. One savory, one sweet.

The first, the savory, the ficelle.

A ficelle is basically a small baguette stuffed with something savory: cheeses, sausages, and olives are the most common. I love buying them for lunch at my local boulangerie because they are a perfect compliment to a soup or a salad. So the husband recommended that if I was going to make bread, why not try a few ficelles for the week. Good idea, husband.

These are pretty easy and I found a recipe here: Ficelles aux lard

Sadly, for those of you who don’t speak French, it’s in French. Don’t be turned off by the lard – it’s just ham chunks, not chunks of fat.

Anyway this is what you need:

  • 500 grams of flour

  • 320 ml of warm water

  • Salt

  • Yeast 1 package

  • 1 pat of melted butter (optional)

  • FIXIN’S – whatever you like, we’ll get to my choices in a bit.

First prepare your yeast in a small bowl with about 4 tablespoons of warm water and let it sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile put your flour and salt in a mixer with the dough hook attachment. If you’re using butter, add now. Add your yeast and water and mix on a low speed until it stops sticking to the sides. Add a handful of flour and mix some more. The dough should be sticky but also satiny. I spent about 10 minutes mixing it on low speed.

Take it out, put it in a bowl and let it rise for 1 hour until it doubles in size. I went for an 8 mile run and let the husband clean up.

Next separate the dough into 8 small balls, flatten out into small rectangles and let it sit for 45 minutes to rise again.


Now it’s time to prepare your fixings. I used an organic smoked sausage – at the husband’s request, vegetarian mushroom paté for me, and Camembert cheese for both of us.

Fold one end of your dough, then add your filling. Roll the dough up into a – well a roll – and then starting with your hands in the center of the dough, roll it out into a long strip. Place on a baking sheet and do it with the rest of the seven rectangles.

Let rise for another 30 minutes. Then bake at 230°C for 20 minutes.

They are lovely and puffed up quite bigger than I expected. The husband has already eaten half of one, even after the huge cabbage stew we had for lunch. I used white wheat flour because it’s traditional for the ficelle but you could easily use any flour you wanted. Also, if you want a nice gold color, brush the dough with oil or melted butter before baking.

And now the sweet, the chocolaty, the sugar, the sacristain. These are SUPER easy if you buy pre-made dough. Why did I use pre-made dough?

For this treat you need pâte feuilletée which when baked is a leafy, flakey dough. It’s kind of difficult to make and takes a while because it requires a lot of folding, rolling out, folding, rolling out and quite frankly, I didn’t feel like doing that. So I bought some organic dough instead.

Taken from this recipe Sacristain, also in French. So you need:

  • pâte feuilletée
  • 1 egg
  • powdered sugar
  • fixings – I used cinnamon, sugar and this:

organic dark chocolate nutella. Yeah. It’s fabulous.

Anyway, crack open and mix your egg. Roll out your dough. Here I deviate from the recipe above. First, I didn’t want the massive sacristain you see in the bakeries. I wanted little treats to have after dinner or with coffee. So I cut my dough into four quarters.

Brush your dough with the egg.

Add your topping. Use a thin layer of chocolate or nutella, because if you don’t it will explode – as mine did.

Fold your dough and brush the top with egg again. If you’re using cinnamon or sugar, add some more on top here.

Then cut into 2 cm wide strips. Twist to make little curls, like my hair, if you’ve ever seen it.

Brush with egg again.

Add some more sugar or cinnamon.

Bake in the oven at 180°C. The cooking time depends on how brown you want your sacristain to be. The minimum is 15 minutes, but I think mine were in there for about 18.

Take out of the oven and add a little powdered sugar to the cinnamon and sugar ones. Voila! They are light and flaky and very fun and you can potentially add any type of sweet treat that can be baked in the oven.

Other finds at the organic market – AKA Botanic – was this:

Purple cauliflower.

Isn’t it gorgeous? When I do something with it I’ll let you know.

Tonight, I’m making baked falafel with pan-seared veggies for dinner. And thus, with this frantic day of cooking and baking, I will be able to reclaim my success in the kitchen.

I had a long week. It commenced with teaching 4 teenagers to speak English. It was tiring and they were completely fish-eyed. I don’t remember being fish-eyed as a teen. But I do want to apologize to all the adults in my life then and now for once having been a teenager.

I’m so sorry. Really.

I’m sorry.

I made you cookies.

But we’ll get to that.

Friday night ended with me coming home at 8pm to a very exciting treat. Earlier in the day I had seen fleurs de courgette being sold in the market place and I immediately texted the husband with an excited note that if they weren’t too expensive, would he pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease buy some. He did.

These are zucchini flowers. They aren’t rare, they aren’t too expensive, but they are a bit hard to find. I love them. I had them first at La Colombe in Hyères (coincidentally, I’m going to that restaurant tonight), and thought they were so spectacular that I’d waited impatiently all year for summer and zucchini to come again.

These flowers are often stuffed. Usually with cheese or the zucchini itself and then fried or baked.

We stuffed ours with very fresh goat cheese mixed with garlic, onion and yellow pepper. Then drizzled them in olive oil and baked them in the oven for 15 minutes.

Fleurs de courgette are tangy, almost citrus-like with such a wonderful and satisfying crunch at the end. You know you’re eating a flower, it feels like eating a flower should. Like sunshine.

 

And now, your cookies.

The Dame Blanche is most often known as a sundae. Vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, strawberries or strawberry coulis and whipped cream. However, there is something much more exciting that can be found in almost every bakery in France: the Dame Blanche Cookie.

Dame Blanche or white lady is my favorite cookie. I’d never made them before, so bear with me:

  • 1 ¼ cup flour
  • 115g of butter, softened
  • ¾ of powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of vanilla extract
  • jam or confiture of your choice – I used strawberry, which is the most common.

Mix your softened butter, sugar and egg until every thing is smooth and homogenous. Add your flour, vanilla and salt and mix until everything comes together. Then mix a bit more to firm up your dough – not too firm – stop when you start to feel a bit of resistance – about 3 or 4 minutes on a low setting.

Set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C.

When the 30 minutes are up, flour your work surface and your rolling pin and your hands. Really coat it in the flour. Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Take your dough out of the bowl and set it on your work surface. Flour it too.

Carefully roll the dough out to about 1/8 of an inch thick. This dough is incredibly sticky – something I unhappily discovered, which is why I recommend LOTS of flour everywhere to keep it from sticking.

Using a cookie cutter, cut yourself as many cookies as the dough allows but make sure you have an even number of cookies. I cut one cookie at a time, put it on the cookie pan and then cut the next. It was just easier given how delicate the dough was.

For every other cookie you will cut a small hole in the center. I recommend doing this while the cutter is still supporting the shape of the cookie. My holes didn’t come out so great, but maybe next time.

Bake your cookies for 10 minutes or until they are fully cooked through. You want them to be firm and crispy and browned.

Take them out and let them cool fully. Try to clean up in the mean time before your significant other sees the mess you’ve made with the kitchen.

When the cookies are cool, take your jam and spread a nice amount all over the cookie bottoms – the ones without the hole. Put the cookie tops on – the ones with the hole in the center. Et voila!

Normally, the Dame Blanche has white powdered sugar on top of it. I couldn’t find any in the store today and ran out of sugar when I was making the recipe. But no matter – they still taste great. They’re just not as white as they should be. Keep them in the fridge for about 3 days.

So please forgive me, for every having been a teenager. And have a cookie. It makes everyone feel better.

The husband has had a brilliant idea. Or what he thinks is a brilliant idea. He wants to film me cooking and put the videos on YouTube. He even bought a small camera and created a YouTube channel.

I tried to stop him. I told him I’m not that good of a cook. I told him that all the recipes I make, I find on the internet or in cookbooks. I told him I’m not really original and I always mess something up and that I’m not very photogenic.

No matter. He went ahead with his project anyway.

And today he decided that he would film me making tiramisu.

Wait. “What?” I said. “I don’t make tiramisu. I don’t know how to make tiramisu. YOU make the tiramisu in our house.”

“It’s easy,” said the husband. “I’ll tell you how to do it and then you’ll do it.”

“But I’m going to get fat. I wanted a nice peach for dessert tonight.”

“You’ll have tiramisu instead!”

I returned home from work, and there he was with all his ingredients. “It’s easy!” he said again.

And it is.

For tiramisu you need the following:

  • 3 eggs (or rather 3 egg yolks)

  • ¼ cup of sugar

  • rhum, whiskey, or cognac

  • strong coffee or espresso

  • marscapone

  • heavy cream

  • lady fingers

  • elbow grease

Prepare your coffee. Set aside.

Put your sugar into a large bowl. Separate your egg yolks from the whites. You only need the yolks, which you add to the sugar and whisk away (with a whisk) until it’s blended.

Add your marscapone. All of it. Whisk away again. Keep whisking until the marscapone is fully blended and smooth.

Here you add 1 shot of your liquor of choice. The husband and I used 30-year old cognac, because what else are you supposed to do with it when it’s been sitting around your house for 2 years?

Whisk whisk whisk.

Add 4 tablespoons of heavy cream. Whisk whisk whisk until all is smooth and homogeneous.

Pour your coffee into a bowl and prepare your lady fingers. Take a square or rectangular pan and quickly dipping the lady fingers one by one into the coffee, lay them side by side in the pan. Make sure they only get a quick dip, because if they soak they’ll fall apart and you’ll have nothing but mush.

Once you’ve filled the bottom of the pan, layer the cream mixture on top of it about ¼ inch thick.

Then do it all again.

When you’re done, add a bit of unsweetened coca powder on the top for decoration and because it’s tradition.

Stick it in the fridge for about 8 hours to let the cream firm up.

 

There you have it – traditional and easy tiramisu.

As a side note: the traditional liquor used in this dish is marsala, which is some type of Italian wine. We didn’t have any. But as the husband is part Italian, he’d be crushed if I didn’t metion it.

Also, I’m not linking to the video. I’m wearing a horrible dress, my makeup is running down my face because of the heat and unless you stick an oboe in front of me, I will never have any stage presence.

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!

Last weekend we went to Toulouse in the Haut-Garonne region. It is located in the southwest of France and formerly the capital of the Languedoc province. It’s known as the Ville Rosé or “Pink City” because of its brick buildings.

Absolutely beautiful, the city had a calm to it that I hadn’t found in Provence. Maybe it was because the southwest was on vacation. The city is home to many historical landmarks and beautiful architecture but the highlight of the trip for me was seeing Les Jacobins and the tomb of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

As a big medieval history and theology/philosophy buff, I had no idea that Aquinas’s tomb was in the city. I was taking photographs of the walls totally ignoring the shrine in the center of the cathedral when my husband turned me around and pointed to the tomb. At which point I almost peed myself. It was an exciting moment.

Of course, no trip to anywhere would be complete without a tasting of the regional cuisine. In the southwest, duck, meats and foie gras reign supreme. The husband and I consulted the Gault-Millau and found Chez Emile which was described as the restaurant one must go to for a taste of traditional southwestern cooking.

Located in the center of the city, it has a rustic setting. Cream stone walls, wooden rafters and a home-cooking smell. While the menu had it’s fair share of fish dishes, we were there for the regional meats and the regional wines.

I wish I had been able to take a photograph of the wine list which was a book of about 15 pages boasting wines from 2009 to 1929. The prices were also impressive. We chose a 1996 Saint Estephe, one of the famous Bordeaux domains. Our wallet didn’t allow us to order a grand cru so we went with Les Pagodes des Cos, which was a heavy, woody wine that had the taste of the forest-y region that is Bordeaux (or it was before it was turned into vineyards).

For entrées, the husband went with a traditional foie gras, homemade with a chutney of mango and pineapple. I decided for something heavier – if you can believe there is anything heavier than foie gras. Homemade foie gras ravioli with a sauce made from cream and wild cèpe mushrooms. The foie gras inside the ravioli was poêlé. This means it’s raw, cooked quickly in a frying pan just before being served rather than being baked in a terrine and left to sit for 24 hours. This cause a much richer flavor and a very melted texture. And these raviolis were fondant, melting in my mouth almost instantly. The sauce was light and rich at the same time, tasting heavily of the cèpes, something that you don’t often find because cèpes are expensive and it takes a lot of mushrooms to make a good sauce.

For the main plate, the husband made up for his restraint by ordering the heaviest dish on the menu – and something he had been dreaming of for years – cassoulet. White beans, tomato, 3 different sausages, duck confit, garlic, carrots and onion cooked in duck fat.

Yeah.

Knowing I’d be having duck for the rest of the weekend, I chose lamb. It was cooked in a casserole with potato, onion, and mushrooms. This was not a vegetarian evening.

The waiter came out before the plate was served to place a cutting board and two serving utensils in front of me. When I asked what they were for, he told me the dish was served in the casserole at the table and that he’d be serving me. I didn’t see this happen for anyone else and the husband said they must have been warned in advance of the mess I make when I eat.

For dessert I had the savarin au rhum, with coconut milk and pineapple sorbet. Apparently it’s fashion to serve the rhum in something that looked like a syringe. It was still fabulous.

The husband had a tower of strawberries and basil sorbet separated into layers by a croustillant of strawberries which I still don’t know how to translate, but you can look at it in the photos.

We left the restaurant VERY full and waddled back to the hotel.

Chez Emile is not inventive, innovative cuisine. It’s traditional cuisine. Heavy, rich and savory. There are no surprises, just the taste of well cooked, tender meats, flavored with its own broth, onions, and a few extra spices (like thyme) thrown in to complete. While flavor twists are always special, it was a treat to eat the traditional dishes of the southwest with recipes that haven’t changed in any major way in hundreds of years. 

A few weeks ago, the husband and I decided to invest in a Gault Millau, one of the best restaurant guide books in France. Granted, these days you can use the internet for your restaurant searches – with reviews written by foodies, gourmets and normal people like me . But when those reviews make El Rancho – the “mexican that isn’t” restaurant chain here in France – one of the top finds in Aix, I lost a lot of respect for anyone posting a review on their iPhone. After all, after a pitcher of margaritas one’s judgment is significantly impaired in women, driving and physical ability – why not taste buds as well?

Anyway, there’s a time and place for El Rancho and I’ll probably review them next time I go there. But last night, we put our Gault Millaud to the test and checked out La Colombe in Hyères. According to the guidebook, the quality of this restaurant has not changed in 20 years and that’s a good thing. They gave it two chefs hats or toqs and for the price of a menu – around 28 Euro – that’s a bargin.

We entered a plain looking house on the side of the road to a very clean, classy looking joint. The waiters were in black uniforms, the chef was greeting his clients at the door and we were glad we had put on our good clothes. They led us to a quiet terrace out back and suggested the aperitif de la maison – champagne with violet syrup.

Aren’t the glasses neat? I don’t often take a picture of wine or beverages, but the setting of these two flutes was just too pretty to pass up. Those are the husband’s hands waiting patiently for me to finish taking the picture so we could try the aperitif.

It was excellent. I didn’t get to ask what kind of champagne they used – but I doubt it was their top shelf which was considerably impressive. Violet flavoring seems to be the “in” thing in Provence this summer. I’m seeing it everywhere – especially in the glace à maison – homemade ice cream – of all the restaurants. This however was a new one and it was light, fresh and complimented the champagne well. Even better was that it went perfectly with the mis en bouche (literally “put in mouth”) – a tiny little dish to get your pallet going.

Purée of green peas with curry and a dash of cream served chilled. Again fresh, delicately spiced, the curry was just barely perceptible – there to tantalize only. The cookies are Parmesan – and the cookie texture, which I was unsure of at first – was actually kind of fun. I never thought a salted cookie would be tasty, but this was.

The first course was fleurs de courgette, caviar d’aubergine and Serrano ham. By fleurs de courgette I mean the flowers of the zucchini plant which is quite a delicacy and one I’d never had. Caviar d’aubergine is slow roasted eggplant with garlic and a dash of onion puréed and served on bread.

The flowers are stuffed with a zucchini purée themselves and served with balsamic vinegar. They were FANTASTIC. I’m not sure of the cooking method but my guess would be a quick trick in the frying pan over high heat. A bit of fresh crunchiness along with the sweet taste of the flowers offset by the vinegar and soft zucchini inside. A real delight.

The ham, which I don’t usually go for was light and well sliced – thin with minimal fat. The salt content was just right, especially for someone like me who hates salty foods. It brought out the flavor without making me need to drink a bottle of water afterwards. As for the caviar d’aubergine, all I have to say is this – mmmmmmmmmmmmm garlic.

To drink we had a heavy Chateauneuf du Pape. Probably not the best choice for 90° heat, but I can’t resist Chateauneuf. The degree was 14.5% and unfortunately by the time the main course was served, I was too – distracted – to remember to take a photo. Very simple, game bird turkey (pintade) with thyme and citron sauce. A nice, light potato purée was served underneath. It was flavorful and warm. The bird was tender, moist and came easily off the bone. That’s always a sign of quality cooking, if you don’t have perform small miracles of surgery with your knife and fork to pull the meat off the bone the chef knew how to cook a bird. Otherwise you just look like a moron trying desperately to not eat with your hands.

Then came dessert! Or rather THREE desserts!

This was La Colombe’s assiete des desserts which basically means dessert plate. To the bottom right is violet ice cream (what did I say about it being the flavor of the month?). It was strong in flavor, something you often don’t get with the violet ice cream, and obviously homemade. Not the smoothest, but rich and cooling on a hot summer evening after a hot meal.

The bottom right features a vanilla crème brulée. At any restaurant, this is a staple, and hard to mess. But the texture of this particular creme was really fantastic. So smooth, so simple, so soft. It was a pleasure to eat. I’m not sure exactly what made this creme so perfect – something in the way it was prepared clearly – but what the chef did to make it so smooth is beyond me.

And the last is a lemon mousse with strawberries and again a soft cream on the bottom to finish it off. Served cool, it was a delight to eat this last as the fresh citron flavor off set the taste of the strawberries, and as it wasn’t too sweet and very light it was the type of dessert that leaves you feeling cool, fresh and satisfied without feeling like you sat at the table for two hours (which we did).

By the way, I apologize for the quality of that last photograph – it was the Chateauneuf that made my hand shaky.

La Colombe is worth more than its price: without drinks the menu was 29 Euro each, a bargain considering the quality of food, service and flavor. The next menu up includes 5 courses and is only 34 Euro. The husband and I were both tempted but considering the heat, just couldn’t bring ourself to eat the promised tuna dish, veal dish and then cheese dish which followed. Once the weather gets cooler however, we’ll be there with empty stomachs! For our first Gault Millau find, we were definitely not disappointed.

Within two blocks from my apartment are 3 different bakeries. Even in the 21st century it is still very common in France for people to buy their daily bread from the local bakery. Baguettes are always popular, always fresh. French nutritionists, contrary to American diet fads, recommend the equivalent of 1 baguette per day for women and 1 1/2 baguette (or it’s equivalent) for men. That’s 2 feet of white, crusty, thick bread everyday and everyday, I see men and women leaving the bakeries with 2, 3 or even an arm load of baguettes for a day’s portion. Baguettes usually last no more than two days before they become so rock hard they could be used as a weapon.

The husband and I don’t go much for baguettes, we often get our carbs through pasta, rice, potatoes, pate feuilletée. Instead of baguettes we go for the pain cereal, a wheat bread with oats and grains baked in. It comes in a smaller portions and lasts a tad longer. Anyway, the hygienically wrapped, bleached-white, preservative filled bread is a rarity in France.

But what to eat when it’s in the morning, when you’re on the run, when you want something to fill you up and don’t want to have to carry two feet of bread around with you all day?

My personal favorite is the pain raisin. Traditionally this is like the American cinnamon roll without the frosting. Crusty like a croissant on the outside, in the center of the swirl is a rich, fresh cream, with raisins dotting the bread throughout. The cream isn’t too sweet, it’s not sour, and it has a yellow-off-whitish look to it that is simply inviting.

Nowadays, many bakeries have begun to skip the thick layer of cream and instead have a softer sweet bread dotted with raisins, a strange almost bread-like crust along with the trademark swirl. “Blech!” I say to them. If I wanted a brioche, I’d order a brioche.

However, there is a tiny little bakery right off the northwest corner Place Liberté in Toulon. Across from L’Etoile de l’Inde, this little bakery was once owned by an elderly man and his wife, and they’ve recently re-done the place and now (I believe) it’s being run by their children. (I’ll put up a better photo when there aren’t patrons eating right out front.)

They don’t bake much, but what they do bake is top notch. Their pain raisin are always creamy, crunchy on the outside, soft and light in the middle, with just enough raisins so that you can pretend you’re eating healthy while getting your sugar ration for the morning.

I stopped in there today on the way to work, not usually hungry in the mornings, I couldn’t resist when I saw the two lonesome pastries sitting in their window cases, waiting to be picked up by a girl who can’t help herself when it comes to the smell of baking sweet breads. It was delightful, it was filling and it was gone within the 10 minute walk to work.

I almost debated another indulgence from the bakery next to my office – for comparison purposes of course – but then reminded myself that their pain raisin – while soft and light – just doesn’t have that creaminess that is traditional to the pastry and such a rare find.