Galette des Rois – a French celebration of Epiphany

Adoration of the Magi by Monaco Lorenzo c. 1422. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Adoration of the Magi by Monaco Lorenzo c. 1422. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

It’s January 6th and the boulangeries and patisseries here in Albi are full of large round tarts, the famous Galette des Rois, which are traditionally eaten on the 6th January to celebrate Epiphany, the visit of the Three Wise Men. The tart is made of buttery flaky pastry with a filling of frangipane (almond paste) though you can also buy galettes with a chocolate filling and even Nutella. Hidden in the filling is a fève – traditionally, a dried broad bean. In the 19th century, the bean was replaced by a tiny porcelain figurine  but now, they are inevitably plastic! Whoever finds the fève is king or queen for the day and they get to wear a cardboard crown (usually sold with the galette). Continue reading “Galette des Rois – a French celebration of Epiphany”

Christmas Eve Oysters – the time has come….

Fines Claire No. 2
Fines Claire No. 2

My first memory of oysters comes from a day spent on the beach near Auckland in New Zealand. I was nine years old and happily crouched over a rock pool tickling the fronds of anemones when I noticed my father prise a knobbly shell off a rock. He then split it open with his penknife, tipped his head back, and swallowed the contents. I was amazed. “What was that?” I asked. “It’s an oyster,” he replied. I was none the wiser. “But you ate it just like that… raw?” I was horrified at the idea. “Yes, even better raw,” he replied. “I love it when they wriggle going down my throat.” My response was to scream. Continue reading “Christmas Eve Oysters – the time has come….”

Wood Hedgehogs and Meadow Mushrooms

Sherry and Mushrooms - a classic combination
Sherry and Mushrooms – a classic combination

Sometimes, the best meals start without a recipe but with a question – what is in season? Four weeks ago this Saturday, the weekly outdoor market in Albi was an autumnal cornucopia: butternut squash, pumpkins, gourds, and plastic ‘barquettes’ filled with pieds de moutons, girolles and ceps. Girolles are two a penny at this time of year, ceps cost a small fortune, but pieds de mouton rarely make an appearance – I was tempted but saw the price. €5 euros for a small barquette. Far too expensive! Continue reading “Wood Hedgehogs and Meadow Mushrooms”

“Un peu d’ail, un peu de persil” – keep it simple

Going to the market in France – especially here in the South West – involves taking a large basket and an equally large amount of patience. Things move slowly, people stop mid-order to ‘faire le bise’ to passing friends, stallholders exchange gossip, and quite often, both stallholder and buyer get involved in a serious discussion on how best to cook ‘les aiguillettes de canard’ or the ‘filet de bar’ or ‘ceps’. In which case, patience is essential! Continue reading ““Un peu d’ail, un peu de persil” – keep it simple”

Petits Pots de Creme au Chocolat – memories of summers on the Normandy coast

Les petits pot de creme au chocolat
Les petits pot de creme au chocolat

Nearly half a century ago, I ate the most simple of chocolate puddings. The pudding itself was delicious but what really captured my imagination was what it was served in – a tiny white pot with its own lid, decorated with gold trim. It was 19th century porcelain and part of a set of eight little pots with a matching porcelain tray. Nicole, my French friend who had cooked the pudding, told me they were called “petit pots de crème au chocolat” and were made specifically for ‘crème au chocolat’. Continue reading “Petits Pots de Creme au Chocolat – memories of summers on the Normandy coast”

Foraging In Occitanie – wild green weeds

Respounchous in Albi market
Respounchous in Albi market

Spring time is the season for ‘respounchous’ here in the south west of France. There were a few bunches of them for sale in the market last Saturday but it only takes an hour or two of foraging in the wooded lanes to gather enough respounchous for a light lunch. So, in need of a break from my computer, I decided to go hunting for respounchous… Continue reading “Foraging In Occitanie – wild green weeds”

Asparagus and Hollandaise Sauce – a perfect Proustian combination

Spring asparagus in the market
Spring asparagus in the market

After nearly twenty years of travelling that took my parents from post-war Germany via colonial East Africa to New Zealand, my family finally put down roots in a large ramshackle farmhouse in Buckinghamshire, surrounded by barns, old pigsties, and a huge overgrown  garden. When we moved in – it was the summer of ’68 – the flower beds were rampant with nettles and bindweed except for one, which was filled with the long feathery fronds of summer asparagus plants gone to seed.

I had never seen an asparagus plant, let alone tasted asparagus, but it became one of our favourite spring vegetables. My younger sister and I were fascinated by the curious smell asparagus gave to our pee after eating it, but that didn’t put us off – it was just too delicious! My mother would cook the freshly-picked asparagus in the wire baskets of her pressure cooker (without the lid!) and we’d eat them with a simple mix of  butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Perfection! Or so I thought – until, in my late teens, I ate asparagus served with Hollandaise sauce in France. To this day, it remains one of my favourite ways to serve asparagus.

Continue reading “Asparagus and Hollandaise Sauce – a perfect Proustian combination”

Why Is French Food So Brown?

Undercover

It was an early April morning, light cloud sitting over the Seine masked the attempt of the sun to break through. A winter’s chill still lingered in the depths of the side streets as we headed towards the light of the river. We were in need of caffeine. Continue reading “Why Is French Food So Brown?”

The Simplest of Salads – my favourite weekday lunch

Ingredients for simple saladI am an addict of sheep cheese. My passion for it began years ago in southern Spain with the discovery of manchego, a hard cheese produced from the milk of Manchega sheep, from La Mancha. Continue reading “The Simplest of Salads – my favourite weekday lunch”

A Tale Of Two Restaurants – Sunday in Paris.

It’s not every day that you get invited out to a high profile restaurant in Paris – let alone two! Lunch was at Le Minipalais, a restaurant concealed within the Petit Palais, a stone’s throw from the Pont Alexandre with its stunning gold statues and views of the Seine. Dinner was at Allard, tucked away in the narrow back streets between the Boulevard St Germain and the Quai de Conti. Continue reading “A Tale Of Two Restaurants – Sunday in Paris.”