Thursday, September 3, 2015

A 6th Generation French Butcher’s Recipe for Blanquette de Veau

Allow me to introduce you to our friend Christopher, who you will remember from my last post about his stuffed tomatoes, or in French tomates farcies. This picture was taken one day when he and Meakin were having a little fun. Christopher and his wife Colette own the Utile, a small local grocery store with a butcher shop in the village of Maillane, about 7 kilometers north of Saint-Remy-de-Provence.

Maillane is the home of the French Nobel Prize winner and poet Frédéric Mistral. His home is right down the street from Christopher and Colette's shop.

Mistral was born in 1830 in Maillane and died in March of 1914. His father was a well-to-do farmer and Mistral himself was wealthy enough to live without following a profession. In 1854, along with several friends, Mistral dedicated himself to the rehabilitation of the Provencal life and language.  His attempts to restore the Provençal language to its ancient position did not succeed, but his poetic genius gave it some enduring masterpieces, and he is considered one of the greatest poets of France. Many of the people of Provence, including Christopher and Colette, spoke in the charming old Provencal dialect. It was quite lovely.

Here is a peek inside Mistral’s home in Maillane. Photographing inside his home wasn’t allowed, so these pictures were taken from the beautiful book Living in  Provence. His home was filled with awards and lovely reminders of his achievements. As you can see, Mistral and his wife lived quite well.

We became very fond of Colette and Christopher during our stay in Maillane. The week before we left we gave Collette an orchid as a gift for their kindness.

 They were both very charming and took us under their wing and were so nice to us. Even considering the language barrier, we managed to visit about what everyone  around the world visits with their friends about – the weather, politics, what vegetables are in season that day – those kinds of things. Hardly a day went by that we didn’t stop in their shop for our fresh vegetables, some meats and cheese, and of course a bottle of rosé wine. Many a night we dined on dishes prepare by Christopher. Here's a photo of Ris de veau that he made especially at our request. It was magnificent.

Here’s a peek inside his meat case. Sorry for the poor pictures. Overhead fluorescent lighting isn’t the best for taking photos, but you’ll get the idea.

Christopher is a 6th generation butcher and he’s shared his recipe for a blanquette de veau with us today. We brought this dish home many times during our stay, especially if we were having guests.

A blanquette de veau is a French veal stew in which neither the veal nor the butter is browned in the cooking process. When the meat and fat is cooked this way, it is called en blanquette. Blanquette has an important place in historical French cuisine and became a classic of bourgeois cooking. Because this is a classic “white stew,” it should not be served with any items that would add color.

I’m ashamed to say that the only picture that I have of Christopher’s blanquette de veau was taken when we had some left-over and I added a couple of more carrots to stretch it and garnished it with chopped parsley. Do not, and I repeat, do not do thisBlanquette de veau is supposed to be a white veal stew. By adding them, it took away the authenticity of the dish. It was a big mistake on my part. I apologize to Christopher as well and also thank him for sharing his recipe. Translating from French to English, even with help from translating programs, can be problematic. I’ve interpreted the translation to the best of my knowledge and abilities. If you prefer, here is a link to a metric conversion chart.

There is a step near the end of the recipe where you add a raw egg to some of the hot liquid from the veal that requires “tempering”. Tempering is a cooking term for what you do when you add a small amount of hot liquid to a cool liquid to prevent the cool liquid from cooking or setting. According to Linda’s Culinary Dictionary, the word temper means “to slowly bring up the temperature of a cold or room temperature ingredient by adding small amounts of a hot or boiling liquid. Adding the hot liquid gradually prevents the cool ingredient from cooking or setting.” Tempering is often called for in sauce making when you incorporate raw eggs into a hot dish.

Christopher’s Blanquette de Veau (Veal Blanquette)
Serves 6
Printable Recipe

1.2 kilos (approximately 2 ½ pounds) of calf (veal), cut into 1” chunks
1 glass of dry white wine (about 1 cup)
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and cut into ½” slices
Salt and pepper
50 grams of butter, about 3 tablespoons
50 grams of all-purpose flour, about 3 tablespoons
1 bouquet garni, see cook’s notes
1 raw egg yolk

Place the pieces of meat in a cocotte (a fireproof casserole or a cast-iron Dutch oven) and cover with cold water. Add the onion, carrot and to the veal along with the bouquet garni and salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, the lower the heat, cover and let it bubble gently for about an hour. Remove the meat, vegetables and the bouquet garni to a strainer. Discard the bouquet garni, but cover the strained meat and vegetables and set aside. Separately, set aside the strained stock.

Wipe out the cocotte and return to medium heat to make a roux. Melt the butter in the pan, and then add flour and cook, whisking constantly until smooth and the mixture turns a light brown, about 2 minutes. Return the stock and bring to a boil; cook until thickened and slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Return veal and vegetables to sauce, and cook until thoroughly warmed through, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Place the egg yolk in a heatproof bowl and slowly add a ½ cup of the hot liquid from the cocotte. Whisk them together (this is called “tempering”), then add that mixture back into the hot liquid in the cocotte and simmer, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, or until thickened. Taste for seasonings and correct as necessary. The blanquette is now ready to serve. If desired, serve over white rice or white buttered noodles.

Cook’s notes: A bouquet garni a bundle of herbs usually tied together with string and mainly used to prepare soup, stock, and various stews. The bouquet is cooked with the other ingredients, but is removed prior to consumption. There is no generic recipe for bouquet garni, but most recipes include fresh thyme and a bay leaf. Depending on the recipe, the bouquet garni may also use fresh parsley, basil, burnet, chervil, rosemary, peppercorns and tarragon. For today’s recipe I would suggest sprigs of fresh thyme, fresh parsley and a bay leaf.

The carrot is added for flavor, not for color. If you prefer, you may discard it before serving.

The photo above is one of pretty flower shops in Maillane. The French love their flowers and this shop was quite busy every time we visited.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Stuffed Tomatoes French Style - "Tomates Farcies" and Provençale

Tomates Farcies are very popular in Provence, especially in the spring and summer. Farcies or farci in French means stuffed, most often with finely ground meat. Provence doesn’t just stuff tomatoes. They also stuff all sorts of small vegetables, such as round baby zucchini and petite squashes, small eggplants, and sweet peppers and that dish is called petit farcies. Petit farcies are a Provencal real summer treat and the method is for stuffing them is almost exactly the same as for the tomatoes.

The flesh of the vegetables, in our case tomatoes or tomates as they are called in France, are scooped out and the pulp is minced and put into a bowl with three different kinds of chopped ground meat, finely chopped eggplant, a variety of fresh herbs, a little minced garlic, and a bit of beaten egg, olive oil, milk and flour to hold the mixture together, then the stuffed tomatoes are baked in a hot oven until heated through. They are a perfect warm weather lunch or supper to pair with a crisp green salad and a cool glass of wine.  

We had the pleasure of shopping frequently at a small grocery store where we stayed in Maillane that Chef Christopher, a 6th generation butcher, and his wife Claudette owned. Here’s a photo of Christopher clowning around with Meakin one day. Christopher and Claudette are a delightful couple who opened their hearts to us and became a very special part of our time in Provence this year. I’ll save more about them for a later post, but I wanted to share Christopher’s tomates farcies recipe with you before the summer tomatoes disappear. We brought his tomates farcies home from their store for lunch as well as dinner numerous times during our visit.

In Provence there are probably as many recipes for stuffed tomatoes as there are cooks. However I think one of the secrets to the success of Christopher’s tomates farcies, in addition to his delicious stuffing, is that he lets the scooped out tomatoes sit upside down all night so they rid themselves of excess water. I also like the fact that he preserves the tomato tops for presentation. His were much prettier than mine and their tops had a bit of green ends, so I’ve substituted a couple of basil leaves to give them that touch of green. I’ve paired the tomates farcies with an arugula salad with grated Parmesan “snow,” recipe follows.

Tomates Farcies
As told to us by Christopher, a 6th generation French butcher from Provence, serves 4, easily doubled or tripled
Printable Recipe

4 ripe, but firm red tomatoes
Flesh from the insides of the tomatoes, seeds and juices discarded
Good sea salt, preferably French
1 ½ cups of a combination of ground veal, beef and pork, cooked and finely chopped
Peeled and chopped eggplant, about 1 ½ cups
½ cup cooked and chopped button mushrooms, optional
1 small clove of peeled garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Milk to add moisture
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Olive oil for drizzling

Slice off the top of each tomato and set the tops aside for later. If necessary, cut a thin slice from the bottom so the tomato will stand upright. Scoop out most of the flesh of the tomatoes, remove the seeds discard extra juice and set aside to use in the filling. Salt the insides of the tomatoes with good sea salt and set on a rack, upside down to drain overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day remove the tomatoes from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the bread in a bowl with a little splash of milk and let it soak for a few minutes. Meanwhile, in a hot skillet, brown the meat in a little olive oil, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon as it browns. When the meat is almost done, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until done, then set aside in a large bowl. Add the chopped eggplant, chopped mushrooms (optional) and finely chopped garlic to the meat mixture, then remove to a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until coarsely ground. Return to the bowl and season with chopped fresh thyme, chopped parsley and a beaten egg. Stir well to combine and add a splash of milk and a tablespoon of all-purpose flour to bind the mixture, and then with a spoon carefully stuff the tomatoes with the meat and vegetable mixture. Place the stuffed tomatoes in an ovenproof pan (it’s okay that they touch), replace the reserved tomato tops and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the filling is heated through (registers 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer) and the tomatoes have softened. Carefully remove the tomatoes from the pan and serve either hot or warm.

Cook’s note: Christopher used equal parts veal, beef and pork, but some lamb, which is very popular in Provence, would be wonderful either added to or substituted for one of the other meats in the mixture.  

Arugula Salad with Parmesan “Snow”
From My Carolina Kitchen, serves 4, easily doubled
Printable Recipe

4 cups fresh arugula
Good Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon vinegar of your choice, balsamic, red wine
Maldon sea salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper

Place a wedge of Parmesan cheese briefly in the freezer for about 20 minutes. In the meantime make the vinaigrette by placing the vinegar, oil, salt and Dijon mustard in a jar with a tight fitting lid, then shake well to mix. Add arugula to a large salad bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Season with some freshly ground black pepper. Divide the tossed arugula among 4 plates and, using a rasp grater, grate the Parmesan “snow” directly on top of the each individual salad and serve right away.

Today I also have another tomates farcie, which is an old Hoffer family favorite – Tomates Provençal that is paired with chicken breasts with pancetta cream and peas, post and printable recipe link here. Tomates Provençal uses seasoned bread crumbs as a stuffing rather than a meat and vegetable mixture. These tomatoes appear as a side dish on our table almost year-around. Did I hear you say you serve tomatoes in the winter? Well, yes. I find that when you bake tomatoes, the process of baking softens the tomatoes and lets their own flavors shine. If it’s winter when tomatoes aren’t their best, I’ll sprinkle just a tad of sugar in their centers before salting and stuffing them. That little touch of sugar brings out the tomatoes own natural sugars and makes a big difference. But be careful, you don’t want to be able to taste the sugar, so use a light hand.

Tomates Provençale
An old Hoffer family favorite, serves 4, easily doubled or tripled
Printable Recipe

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the stem end off of each tomato and remove about a third to half of the core and discard. If necessary, cut a thin slice from the bottom so the tomato will stand upright. Sprinkle the insides of the tomatoes liberally with good sea salt and turn the tomato over and let drain on a rack or paper towels. In a bowl mix together equal parts seasoned dried bread crumbs and Panko bread crumbs with your choice of chopped fresh herbs (I like flat-leaf parsley, thyme and rosemary, or if fresh basil is in season, use in place of the rosemary). Drizzle a little good extra-virgin olive oil in the crumb mixture and mix until it comes together, then stuff the crumb mixture into the tomatoes, mounding on top with a spoon.

Place the tomatoes, crumb side up, in an ovenproof pan and drizzle a little more extra-virgin olive oil over the tops, letting some fall into the pan. It’s fine if the tomatoes touch. It helps them hold themselves upright. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes until the tops are golden and the tomatoes have started to soften. Check the tomatoes at 15 minutes to make sure the crumbs aren’t burning. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature as a side dish.

Variations: Add a small piece of raw bacon on top of the crumbs before placing in the oven. Include some finely chopped garlic in the crumb stuffing. Vary the fresh herbs according to your taste.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dark Chocolate Molten Cake & Le St André Café in Bonnieux

One of the desserts we saw all over Provence was beautifully presented individual servings of dark chocolate molten cakes. The one above is from Le St André Café in the gorgeous perched village of Bonnieux.

Bonnieux is one of the beautiful villages of Provence. As early as 972 AD, it was a fortified village and has an interesting history. According to the website Luberon.comBonnieux started off lower down the hill, but inched its way up the slope as events got harrier in the 13th century and barricaded itself against invaders and attackers with ramparts, which sometimes kept them out and sometimes did not.” Hmm, just when I thought those perched villages were safe from the invaders during the Middle Ages.

Today Bonnieux is one of the most impressive villages in the Luberon. Here are a few of the pictures we took while we strolled around before lunch.

The French adore their dogs and take them everywhere, including restaurants. This man kindly allowed us to take his picture with his cute little pooch.

On the day we visited Bonnieux we decided to have lunch, or dejeuner as it is called in France, at Le St André Café.

Before we ordered our lunch, Meakin went inside the restaurant and found some of the staff, including our server and the hostess, both pictured below, enjoying their own lunch before the noontime rush.

As it turns out, they were eating an omelet and a chef’s salad. He thought it looked so good and, as yet, we hadn’t eaten an omelet on this trip, so he asked them if we could order the same meal as they were having. The hostess looked over to a gentleman (we presume to have been the chef or owner) of the restaurant and he nodded in the affirmative, so you’ll see below our chef’s salad and omelet, customized to our request.

For dessert we both chose the dark chocolate molten cake sitting atop a crème anglaise sauce, served with a scoop of pistachio glacée and a dollop of whipped cream sprinkled with a few miniature chocolate chips.

I could not wait to get home and try a version of their dessert myself.

I chose this particular molten chocolate cake recipe (there are a lot of recipes out there) because cookbook author Peggy Knickbocker had adapted her recipe from the Russian Tea Room, an iconic restaurant in New York City. One evening in the late seventies Meakin and I stopped into the Russian Tea Room (next door to Carnegie Hall) prior to attending a Frank Sinatra concert at Carnegie Hall and ran into to Gene Shalit, famed New York movie and television critic. It's just another reason this recipe is special to us. Funny, you never know when old memories related to recipes can crop up. Below is how dark chocolate molten cake turned out.

Try as we might to find a similar pistachio glacée or gelato, which to us seems very similar to a French glacée, we were unsuccessful. I found pistachio gelato, but unfortunately it wasn’t very green, so we settled on quality mint chocolate chip ice cream. We skipped the crème anglaise sauce, but it was a very nice addition. If you don’t want to bother with making your own crème anglaise sauce (we didn’t) and want to cheat a bit, you can melt some vanilla ice cream and swirl a little underneath the cake to take its place. We’ve done that in the past and it works great. All in all, the molten chocolate cake was easy to make and we were pleased with how it turned out. If you want it a little runnier, remove it from the oven a minute or two before the recipe calls for. I really like the fact that you can make the majority of the recipe in advance and cook it right before you plan to serve it.

The mint chocolate ice cream is very pretty with the dark chocolate, but a bright raspberry gelato would be equally stunning.

Here's our version of Le St André Café's molten chocolate cake.

Dark Chocolate Molten Cakes
Adapted from Simple Soirees by Peggy Knickerbocker, serves 6
Printable Recipe

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, plus additional for buttering the ramekins
10 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus additional for flouring the ramekins
¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
Powdered sugar

Optional toppings:
French glacée, ice cream or gelato
Whipped cream

In a double boiler (or set a bowl tightly over a pot of simmering water), melt the butter, then add the chopped chocolate to the hot butter, stirring constantly until all of the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. If desired you can place the bowl in the refrigerator briefly, but do not let the chocolate harden.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Butter and lightly flour six 6 ounce ramekins, making sure not to miss any spots or the cakes will stick. Place them on a sheet pan (lined with Silplat if available to keep the ramekins from sliding.)

Combine the flour and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk in the eggs until well blended and there are no visible lumps. Whisk in the cooled chocolate mixture until combined completely. Divide the batter evenly among the ramekins. They should be two thirds full.

At this point the recipe can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 6 hours. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake in the middle rack of the oven until the cakes have puffed up a bit and the cakes still jiggle slightly when shaken, about 10 to 12 minutes. (I advise checking them at 9 minutes.) The cakes will be slightly fluid at 10 minutes and a little more cakelike if baked for the 12 minutes. If you like the centers very solf, taken them out at 9 minutes. Let sit for 1 minute.

Carefully remove the ramekins for the sheet pan. Place a plate on top of each ramekin and, with a potholder to protect your hands, carefully invert the cake onto individual plates. Let it sit for 10 seconds, then lift up each ramekin off of the cake. Alternately you may serve the cakes in the ramekins if you wish. Sprinkle the cakes with powdered sugar and if desired, a scoop of French glacée ice cream, gelato, or sorbet and/or whipped cream.

We highly recommend the food and the quality of service at Le St André Café in Bonnieux. For more information on the cafe, visit their website here.

Friday is Market Day in Bonnieux. If you plan to have lunch afterwards, we suggest that you call ahead and reserve a table no matter where you dine. If you are planning to have lunch at Le St André Café and you find yourself parked too far away to comfortably walk, call ahead and they will send the cute French golf cart above to fetch you.

Photo courtesy of Le St André Café website

Le St André Café Bonnieux
1 Freedom Square
84480 Bonnieux
Phone: 04 90 75 11 72

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Market Day in Saint-Remy-de-Provence & a Provencal Tomato Tart

Wednesday is market day in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, an old Roman village just south of Avignon nestled in the hills of Les Alpilles mountains where vineyards and olive groves flourish. The current site of Saint-Remy was probably first built in the 1st century AD and the town was created around its first church, built in the 6th century. It is the birthplace of Nostradamus, a 16th century author of prophecies and was once the home of French Impressionist Vincent van Gogh, who spent the last year of his life in the psychiatric center at the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole. Although its history runs steep, it is one of the most lovely and stylish villages in Provence.  

Markets such as this one have existed for centuries in Provence and have changed very little in modern times. Scenes such as these are repeated throughout Provence day in, day out, year after year, in sun, rain, snow, even on holidays. It is a traveling carnival that goes from village to village, attracting locals and tourists alike.

The main food market is in Place Pellissier where local farmers bring in their fruits and vegetables, fresh from the fields and set up their stands. More of the market, including clothing and fabrics, flows into the Place de la Republique across the street.

There’s a wide variety of other vendors including a huge selection of French cheeses,

freshly baked breads, fish & shellfish right out of the water from Marseille,

a wide variety of Provencal olives, brightly colored spices,

vin de pays wines and regional olive oils,

colorful olive oil soaps,

beautifully carved wooden spoons and bowls,

kitchen implements, prepared foods of all kinds, regional specialities, local goat cheeses, foie gras,

and quite a nice selection of clothes,

table linens

scarves, and brightly colored straw market bags.

As you can see you can buy almost anything at the market. On market day the village is bustling with locals as well as tourists. I recommend that you arrive early as the locals do in order to avoid the crowds of tourists, especially in the summer months.

These gorgeous tomatoes are perfect for a Provencal tomato tart. For today’s tart I chose puff pastry as a base, but in a previous post (photos directly below) I used pastry dough, post and recipe here. That particular tomato tart had a more dense cheesy egg filling than the one with puff pastry that I made for today, as you can see in the photos below. Actually I made that tart two different ways – one resembled more of a quiche

and the other a deep dish tart.

But today’s tomato tart uses puff pastry and I was quite pleased with the results below. It was crunchy and light and perfect for lunch with a simple green salad, dressed with a French vinaigrette, recipe here.

In Provence tomato tarts are often served in small slices with aperitifs during cocktail hour. Every cook has her own unique version. I was surprised at how easy the puff pastry was to work with. If you can find heirloom tomatoes, especially several different colors, by all means use them, but garden tomatoes work just fine as well.

Provencal Tomato Tart (Tarte aux tomatoes)
Adapted from A Pig in Provence by Georgeanne Brennan, with puff pastry instructions from Epicurious, serves 6
Printable Recipe

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F. Defrost 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (preferably all-butter pastry) from a 14–17-oz. box according to package directions. If the package contains 1 sheet, cut the pastry in half; if the package contains 2 sheets, just use 1. Roll out the dough slightly on a floured surface to smooth it out.

Place the pastry sheet on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet and use a paring knife to gently score a 1/4” border around the edge. Using a fork, prick the pastry all over inside the border to release steam while baking.

Spread the bottom of the dough with a thin layer of Dijon mustard, and then cover with a single layer of snugly packed tomato slices, preferably heirloom tomatoes in several colors, that have been sprinkled with sea salt and drained on a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and chopped fresh thyme. Top with grated Gruyere cheese. Bake until the crust is golden and the tomatoes have collapsed. It should take about 20 to 25 minutes. Check at 20 minutes and continue to cook until pastry is golden. Remove the tart to a rack and let it cool for 20 minutes or so before slicing it into wedges.

Variations: Add slivers of kalamata olives over the cheese before baking. Or sprinkle the cooked and cooled tart with torn bits of fresh basil right before serving.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.