eat in my kitchen

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Tag: France

Meet In Your Kitchen | Médoc’s Wine and Food at Château Larrivaux

Fine gravel crackled and crunched under my feet, I felt a little dizzy, still overwhelmed by the beauty that I had just witnessed as I drove through the Médoc. If this region were a minimalist painting you’d see a block of green at the bottom and bright blue with white brush strokes at the top, divided by a gentle curve, the horizon. The vines grow in hard parallel lines, covering valleys and hills, and in between you see the most beautiful châteaux, majestic and elegant, the sturdy walls built of bright sandstone reflecting the sun. The grapes are plump, their juices seem ready to burst their skins at any moment, protected by large leaves hanging over the fruits like umbrellas. The region is praised for its food and wine, but its landscapes seduces your senses.

The gravel that I walked on was surrounded by oleander and boxwood shrubs, shaped like pregnant cones. It was a narrow path framing green lawns in geometric patterns, the garden of one of the dreamiest places I’ve seen in my life, the park of the mystic Château Larrivaux – home of the inspiring winemaker Bérangère Tesseron and her family. The estate is famous for its outstanding wines, thanks to the women who took care of the land since the château’s cornerstone was laid on the grounds of Cissac-Médoc in 1580. Château Larrivaux was always in the hands of women, strong women, like Bérangère and the generations before her, her mother, aunts, and grandmother. They are passionate women, they love the family and traditions, and they taught Bérangère the sense of these values. They taught her to create something special at Larrivaux to pass it on to her own sons one day. “I’m just a little person, Larrivaux exists for five centuries, I’m here to take Larrivaux and give it to the next generation. You have to be passionate to work at the château, without passion you can’t work here.” There’s just one problem, the winemaker has four sons. Her brother has a daughter, so the future will show if it will be female or male.

Bérangère’s husband, Basile Tesseron, also comes from a wine dynasty, the equally famous Château LafonRochet, just a couple miles further east. Both of them create the same product, the couple exchanges information about the weather, the harvest, but their businesses are separate. The two estates have different terroirs and approaches and therefore create different wines. “Making wine is all about feeling, intuition. I have more merlot, he has more cabernet, our wines are totally different.” Château Larrivaux makes full-bodied wines, round, with a lot of fruit. “When I drink my wine, I want to eat something. It’s a wine you want to share and finish the bottle.”

Bérangère’s life can easily seem perfect, like a picture book ideal, but it’s tough, making wine is hard work. She learned to love the weather forecast, she has five apps on her phone. “We always think about wine, looking at the sky, thinking if it will affect the wine, that is stressful, but that’s a part of the game.” Due to the frost in April 2017, she only produced half the amount of bottles that usually fill the estate’s wine cellar.

The family loves food and finds relaxation in their charming countryside kitchen inside the château’s thick old walls. The worn kitchen table has been there since Bérangère laid her hands on it as a child. When she chops the vegetables from her garden, she has a beautiful view of the peaceful park. Everything in this room has a story to tell, every polished copper pot, every detail seems to have found its place through the twists and turns of life, not through a plan. The château is a labyrinth of long corridors with creaking floors and more rooms than one can count, full of antiques, velvet covered chairs, old paintings and drawings, wooden toys, and a deer head watching the scenes in the green painted living room for centuries. It’s a fairy tale turned into a house.

The Tesserons love the French cuisine for celebrating the simple things, fresh fruits and vegetables, good meat and seafood. “When you have your plate in front of you, you know what you’re going to taste, and when you have it in your mouth, you recognize all the different flavors.” The kitchen plays an important role in their life, the kids who are 9, 7, 4, and 1 year old, love cooking with their maman, cleaning mushrooms or forming meatballs. They also bake chocolate cake on their own, “I never touch anything, but I watch them,” says the trustful mother. And when she makes her famous Sunday classic, the family’s recipe for Quasi de Veau de Larrivaux (tender veal roast with crunchy bacon topping), the family gathers happily under the ancient tree in the garden, enjoying food, wine, and life.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Quasi de Veau de Larrivaux

By Bérangère Tesseron – Château Larrivaux

Serves 4-5

1 boneless quasi de veau (veal rump roast), about 5cm / 2 inch-thick, 1kg / 2 ¼ pounds
6-8 shallots, thinly sliced
1 large lemon
Around 150g / 5 ounces bacon, cut into small cubes,
A handful breadcrumbs
Ground black pepper
Fine sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F.

Place the veal in a casserole or baking dish, just large enough to fit the meat. Spread the shallots on top of the roast and cover with the bacon. Squeeze the lemon over the meat, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Season with pepper to taste and roast for 50 minutes. Add a splash of water and continue roasting for about 10 minutes or until the meat is tender. Let the meat sit, covered, for about 10 minutes before serving. Cut the meat into thick slices, depending on the bacon’s saltiness season with a little salt, and enjoy with a glass of red wine.

 

Can you tell us a little more about the story behind Chateau Larrivaux? 

We found out that we have produced wine since 1850, so it’s one of the oldest properties in the Médoc. And it is unusual that it is run only by women. And I have four boys!

So you have a problem!

I have a problem! But I have a brother who has a little girl, so maybe it will be the little girl.

Was there always active wine production here at the estate?

Yes, it never stopped but a long time ago there was not only wine. We had a lot of cows and it is a really big property, so we had different activities. But wine has been produced since the beginning. For us it is a family tradition. When I was young, on Sundays for lunch, we kids would have a brugnon (nectarine) – peaches with some wine and some sugar, and a little bit of water.

White wine?

Red wine!

To introduce the children to the tradition of wine drinking!

Yes, maybe!

Did you like it?

Yes! (Laughing)

Your husband also comes from a family that produces wine…

It’s totally separate. I have my property, he has his property. But it’s a family story. We work together because my husband and I, we have the same problems when we make wine, so we exchange a lot, but it’s totally separate.

Do you ever keep secrets, if you have a really, really good wine, do you keep it from him? 

(Laughing) We don’t have the same terroir so we don’t have the same wine. Making wine is really a feeling, and we don’t have the same feeling. I have more Merlot at Larrivaux, and he has more Cabernet at Lafon Rochet. So the wine is totally different – you can’t do the same thing at Larrivaux and Lafon Rochet.

Do you see each other as competitors?

No, no, no.

Do you talk a lot about the weather, about the harvest? 

Yes, every day. I love the weather forecast! It’s awful for me now because I have three or five apps on the iPhone for the weather forecast: “Oh my god, tomorrow it’s going to rain 2mm! Oh no, it’s going to rain 5mm!” We are always thinking about wine and everywhere we are, we are looking at the sky to see if maybe it will influence the vines.

Does it stress you?

Yes, but it’s normal when you work in agriculture. You’re always stressed by the weather. It’s a part of the game.

Have you ever considered producing organic wine?

For me, it’s really important to produce wine without or with little pesticides. Because I have four sons, and we live and spend a lot of time at Larrivaux I think it’s important for my kids to be able to come and run in the vineyard and not to be sick after. But for me, organic wine is not the real issue. It’s a step, it’s a good step but it’s not the final issue. The final issue is not to put any pesticides. When you make organic wine, you add cuivre (copper) or bouillie bordelaise (Bordeaux mixture) which is a product you can use in organic wine but it’s not good for the earth. So for me, producing organically is a good step but it’s not the final issue.

So it’s not important for you to get the certificate, the organic certificate, but you also use methods that are used in organic wine production.

Yes, at Larrivaux we prefer not to use a lot of added substances. Sometimes, if you have to use 1 liter of a certain product, we decide to only use half a liter. We accept that we’re going to have some disease in the vine but it’s not a problem. We’re not going to have lovely vines but it doesn’t matter. We want to make a good product but without a lot of bad substances to protect it.

How old were you when you knew you wanted to continue the tradition, when you also wanted to become a winemaker yourself?

When I was young I wanted to be a doctor. So not wine! I studied law at university for four years. In my fifth year, I decided to go into wine law. My aunt was working at Larrivaux but only on the weekends – it was not her principal job. Basile and I got married at Larrivaux in 2005. We went on honeymoon and when I came back, my aunt had a problem and she couldn’t work anymore. I said ok, I’m studying wine, and I want to work in the wine industry but maybe not at Larrivaux. But Larrivaux needed someone, so I decided to stay for a few months… and I never left!

You love it!

Yes. It’s really a passion. When you work on this kind of property, a small property and everything is old, you can’t sell your wine very expensively. It’s not an expensive wine, so it’s very difficult. So you have to be passionate!

How many bottles do you produce a year?

60,000. It depends on the year. This past harvest, we only produced half of what our production normally is because of the frost in April.

Where can people buy your wine? Do you sell it online on your website?

Not on our website, but I work together with some websites, so you can find it online without any problem.

Is there a certain characteristic of the women at Larrivaux? Is there something, when you look at the women before you – and you are a very strong woman – is there something characteristic where you can say, “That’s a Chateau Larrivaux woman?”

Passion! All of my aunts, my mother, my grandmother – the Chateau Larrivaux Woman is a strong woman. They are passionate, they love their family, they love tradition, and they really give me this sense, the family tradition. I really want to make something with Larrivaux to give it to my sons. I think it’s important. I’m a little person and Larrivaux has been here for 5 centuries. So I’m just here to take care of Larrivaux and to…

…give it to the next generation.

Yes!

And what if the next generation is a boy? Is that ok for you if there isn’t a girl?

I only want for my kids to be happy. If I only have one kid, or no kid who loves wine, it doesn’t matter. At Larrivaux, you have to be passionate to work at Larrivaux. If they are not passionate, they can’t work here. So, we’ll see!

What makes the Chateau Larrivaux wine special? 

It’s a wine that’s full-bodied with a lot of fruit. Because we have a lot of Merlot, it’s a round and sweet wine. For me, when I drink wine from Larrivaux, I want to eat something. Which is perfect for me because I love to eat (laughing)! For me, it’s a wine you want to share and to finish the bottle.

What is the essence of French cuisine for you?

For me, it’s simple things: good vegetables, good fruits. You don’t have to add a lot of things. For me, French cuisine is when you have a plate in front of you and you know what you are going to taste. And when you have it in your mouth, you recognize the different tastes of the things you have on your plate.

Do you produce your own fruits and vegetables here at Chateau Larrivaux?

Not all of them, but I do have some vegetables, yes. And it’s not organic – I don’t put anything!

That’s organic!

No, it’s more than organic!

Did food always play an important role in your family? Wine was always there, but the food?

Yes.

Did you always cook with the family?

Yes, yes, yes. I always saw my grandmother cooking, my aunt and my mother too. I always saw people working in the kitchen.

What do you love about the Médoc?

The place itself because there are a lot of places in the Médoc. You have the vineyards, but you also have the seaside. You have the countryside, but it’s only one hour from Bordeaux. There are a lot of things to do in the Médoc, but it’s a secret spot for the moment. So it’s great. It’s good for us. You have a lot of things to do in the Médoc – there’s not only the wine.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who would this person be and what would this person cook for you?

I can only choose one person?

Ok, two! You can choose two.

Two? Ok. Alors… only two?

Ok three! Starter, main, and dessert!

Ok, my grandmother because she makes a huge sort of gougère – it’s a little choux with some cheese. And she makes a big gougère with béchamel and it was delicious! She’s the only person who made this like that. Then, I choose my husband, because for my birthday he sometimes makes paris-brest and I love the paris-brest! I think it’s difficult to have a good paris-brest. So every year I ask him to make one for me.

And one more person for the dessert?

Maybe my mother, to make some profiteroles – some choux with some vanilla cream inside and some caramel on the top. Like a pièce montée. Here at Larrivaux, not every Sunday, but often, we have some choux with caramel.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or with other people?

It depends on the recipe. For family recipes, I prefer to be with my family: my children, my husband, my mother. For recipes I find in a book, I think it’s really important to share them with someone. Everyone has their fashion, they own way of doing things – I think it’s important to learn and to share.

Do you prefer improvised meals or planned meals?

Improvised. I can’t make a recipe and read everything. I always put a little bit, a little more, a little less…

Did you ever cook a meal that was so disastrous that you said I’m never going to cook that again?

Macarons! I’ve never made good macarons! But I want to learn. There is a dessert in Bordeaux – a strawberry macaron – inside you have whipped cream with vanilla and fresh strawberries. It’s very good!

Thank you, Bérangère!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Chez Boulan’s Oysters at Stunning Cap Ferret

Cap Ferret is a dream in pastel blue and pink. The beach seems endless, the sky sinking silently into the waves that hit the shore like a rock, angry thunderous foam vanishing meekly on the golden sand. It’s a place you never want to leave again, just walk forever, barefoot and happy, and the sun in your face.

I came to this headland touching the Atlantic in the Aquitaine region in France to eat oysters. It was a simple mission, I expected good, pure and honest tasting oysters, fresh like a sip of the sea, but I wasn’t prepared for so much beauty! In the summer months, the seaside villages turn into a crazy beehive, we skipped that and were welcomed by tranquil bliss. Two landscapes dominate the cap, the open sea and vast beaches on the west, and the lagoon on the east, the Bassin d’Arcachon changing its face constantly due to the tides. This is the lap where mother nature lets the best oysters in the world grow slowly over 4 to 5 years, nurtured and rinsed by clear French waters.

Alison and her husband Alex run Damien Boulan’s wonderful Chez Boulan restaurant. It’s a bit like a beach hut, built out of wood, the wind blowing the salty air through the open kitchen, the garden looks almost tropical. There’s a wooden pier above the fading water that seems like the perfect place to sit and enjoy a plate full of fleshy oysters and a glass of white wine – if only I could sit there every day. Damian took over the family business from his father, he’s passionate when it comes to oysters and spends most of his time taking care of them at the banks. They are like babies, you have to look after them. It’s a lot of work that the whole cap seems to be dedicated to, with deep love for their work and the sea.

When Alison told me to pick oysters from the baskets at the entrance of the restaurant for my lunch, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Various shapes and colors, small and large shells, and they all smelled and looked so beautiful. I had an oyster tasting, which I highly recommend to get a feeling for the fine differences – there are no rules, you just follow your taste. The same counts for serving, some prefer this treat from the sea pure or with a squeeze of tangy lemon, or with sour mignonette, French shallot vinaigrette, just a few drops are enough. Alison added a new inspiration to the palate, freshly chopped mint leaves. Whatever you go for, just make sure that the oysters come straight from the sea, freshly cracked open in front of your eyes, like at Chez Boulan.

If you plan a trip to Cap Ferret, stay at the stunning La Maison du Bassin hotel. Each room looks like an old captain’s cabin, the wood is dark and the view is breathtaking. And don’t forget to book a table for dinner, the food and wine are divine. You might order too much wine and champagne from their fantastic menu, but don’t worry, the hearty breakfast with eggs and croissant will make up for it.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

 

Cap Ferret Oysters à la Chez Boulan

Serves 1

For the mignonette

60ml / ¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon shallot, very finely chopped
Ground black pepper

6-12 fresh French oysters (preferably from Cap Ferret)
1 lemon
A few fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

For the mignonette, in a small bowl, mix together the vinegar and shallot and season to taste with a little pepper.

Arrange the oysters on a large plate and enjoy them pure, with a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of mint, or a drizzle of the mignonette – and a glass of chilled white wine!

 

How long has Damian Boulan been in charge of the family business?

For 10 years. He grew up here but after university, he went to Paris to be a journalist. He and his father used to speak about the idea to create a degustation – like this garden. This is the garden where we welcome our guests, but it used to be the garden of the Boulan family.

So, the family lives here?

Yes, the mother still lives on the other side of the cabin. They used to talk about the idea to create something like this. Unfortunately, Damian’s father died and Damian was told to come back to take over the business, to work with oysters, and to continue the family history. When he was told about this project of his father, he created it.

But first he didn’t want to become an oyster farmer?

No, but when you see him working with the oysters, you can see this is a real passion now. It’s his history.

Where are the oysters?

Most of our oysters are behind the Mimbeau – the Mimbeau is the sandbank that you can see – and they are just behind there. You cannot imagine it but behind there are a lot of banks and most of our oysters are there.

Is there a season for oysters? 

We have a saying in France, that you eat oysters during the months with an “R”. So, September, October, November, and so on. The idea that it’s “bad” to eat them in the summertime is because this is the period of the “milk”. That’s why. But you can eat oysters all year long.

What is the milk?

The milk is the way for the oysters to reproduce. During that period, you can see a bag of milk , but not like milk that you can drink. We call it milk because it’s creamy.

(Oysters are protandric and spawn in summer, they look swollen and milky. During their first year, they spawn as males by releasing sperm into the water. As they grow over the next two to three years, they spawn as females by releasing eggs.)

Someone told me that some people specifically like them during this time of the year.

Yes, yes. In summer, we tell people if the oysters are milky or not, because they are very surprised when they realise that this is the period, although it’s totally normal.

How do environmental changes affect the oysters?

I’m not a specialist but as we work very closely with the production, we know that the oysters need more time to grow because of climate change. They used to need 3 years to grow, but now it’s 3 to 4 years. It depends.

Because the water is warmer?

Yes, because of the water, and there is less food for the oysters.

Do you have a kitchen hack that you can share with us?

There are two ways to open an oyster. You have to choose the one you like, but the idea is to keep the oyster “safe” and whole. We (at Chez Boulan) open it from the base of the oyster. We put the knife in here just like this and then, we lift the knife up, and then we cut. The idea is that when you have the second part of the oyster, there is nothing on the second part.

Thank you, Alison!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet In Your Kitchen | Cécile Molinié’s Life and Cooking in Paris

Cécile Monilié

You only need to walk along the Boulevard Saint-Germain on a sunny afternoon to understand Paris. You’ll promise yourself that you’ll come back – for the rest of your life. Once you’ve seen this city, a piece of you will stay there forever. Just walk and gaze up at the facades of the elegant sandstone buildings of the 19th century Haussmann era, dotted with white wooden shutters. Or sit in a café, get comfy on a colorful French wicker chair at a marbled bistro table, a glass of crisp white wine in front of you, order a Galette, crêpe, or escargot, and look at the chic people around you scurrying on the cobblestones. The trottoir is a stage in Paris, and the bistro is the place to watch it from.

We could have just stayed in Paris, visited renowned restaurants and celebrated chefs in their praised kitchens and we would have never had to leave this inspiring city, but when we decided to include France in our culinary trips around the world together with Zwilling, I had to think of the whole picture that the country paints. France, to me, is the trinity of Paris, the countryside, and the sea. It’s the capital’s seductive charm, its haute cuisine, food temples that attract gourmets from all over the world to enjoy the pleasures of French tradition, to create the best food with the most refined techniques and ingredients. It’s a city that rouses and satisfies your appetite, you’ll never get enough of it.

Then there’s the countryside and its more rural cooking, frugal, hearty, and meaty, all those wonderful delicacies coming from the soil and the woods, and also the home of French wine. And which region would be better to learn about the country’s famous wines and winemakers than the picturesque Médoc. There are so many fantastic French reds and whites and there’s a compelling mystique about the vineyards covering the slopes around the city of Bordeaux.

To make the trilogy complete, we have to look at the sea. All those oysters and clams, fresh fish and lobster, these treats that are often served raw or so pure that you can still taste their salty freshness. It’s always better to go to the fruits from the sea than letting them come to you, so we packed our bags and went to Cap Ferret. It’s a long peninsula stretching into the rough and cold Bay of Biscay, where the beaches are long and lonely, the people are kind and welcoming, and you can eat the best oysters of your life straight from the banks, all day long.

So we started our trip in Paris and Cécile Molinié’s kitchen was the first place we visited for a new series of Meet In Your Kitchen features in France.

Cécile Monilié

Four children and a cat called Cookie are enviably lucky to call Cécile Molinié their maman. Her Paris kitchen is the cozy heart of the big family’s beautiful home close to the Jardin du Luxembourg, in the capital’s vivid Quartier Latin. The room is bigger than normal city kitchens and opens onto a spacious, green terrace. It’s filled with lots of light, life, and laughter, while delicious food spread out on the large island and table is a tempting invitation to come together and indulge in maman‘s creations. It’s a family kitchen where the six Parisians, Cécile, her husband, and their kids, meet to share their day, to cook together, and turn their daily meals into little feasts.

Cécile is an excellent cook, her grandmothers passed their passion on to her and this heritage found fruitful ground in the young woman, she’s been fascinated by the excitements of the culinary world since she was a little girl. At the age of 16, Cécile already prepared the meals for dinner parties of 20 guests at her parents’ home. The house was always open to friends, her mother loved to entertain, but didn’t feel inspired by the kitchen herself. So Cécile gladly took over those duties and became more and more skilled as a cook, she refined her taste and became impressively precise through experience and practice. Tender Boeuf Bourguignon, Blanquette de Veau, or petite Madeleines are staples in her repertoire, she loves the famous French classics and curiously dives into the country’s different regional cuisines.

Cécile Monilié

Southern France inspired her to create a recipe for sea bass bedded on sugary-sweet roasted tomatoes. She finishes off the summery composition with lemon slices grilled in the oven until the edges are crisp and golden, it’s a colorful firework of flavors and textures. How could I disagree when she offered to cook this dish together with me in her kitchen? I’ve been waiting impatiently for the day to come to finally meet her, in the kitchen that I knew from her famous Instagram account where she shares visual bites from her life. The pictures are stunning, she’s just as talented behind the camera as she is at the cooker. You can feel her love for her city, so much so that you want to stroll along the Seine, the bistros and boulevards together with her. When she visits her second home just outside Paris and posts episodes from her country life, you seriously wish you could move in with the whole family.

So we finally met in Paris, but before we pulled the pots and pans out of the cupboards in her kitchen to cook, we went to the beautiful market on Rue Mouffetard in the 5ème arrondissement. The shops and stalls of the daily farmers’ market gathered on this street make you want to pack your bags and make Paris your home. We filled our shopping baskets with wonderfully milky Sainte-Maure de Touraine, ripe Saint-Nectaire from Auvergne, and the creamiest SaintMarcellin from Fromagerie Véron. The beauty of the presentation at the fishmonger took my breath away. Quality and freshness are unbeatable, wherever you look. Gills and eyes clear and shiny, crabs are still alive, bulots (sea snails) freshly cooked, and the oysters in the wooden baskets taste salty-cold like the sea. Cécile’s butcher is right next door, you can smell the golden poulet rôti rotating on metal skewers all along the cobblestone street, their hot juices dripping onto the potato wedges perfectly placed at the bottom of the grill. Packed with warm baguettes from the boulangerie under our arms, the baskets overflowing with all these delicacies, we went back to Cécile’s kitchen and started cooking.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Cécile Monilié

Sea Bass with Candied Tomatoes and Roasted Artichokes and Potatoes

By Cécile Molinié

 Serves 4-6

For the sea bass

1kg / 2 ¼ pounds cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
2 organic lemons, very thinly sliced
2 large sea bass fillets
A few young sprigs fresh thyme

For the side dish

4-6 baby artichokes, trimmed
1 lemon
1kg / 2 ¼ pounds little potatoes (preferably a sweet variety), rinsed and scrubbed
Olive oil
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper

Preheat the oven 170°C / 350°F.

Spread the cherry tomatoes in a large baking dish, add a splash of olive oil, salt, and pepper, mix, and roast for 1 hour or until soft and candied.

While the tomatoes are in the oven, spread the lemon slices in a large baking dish, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and bake them, with the tomatoes, for 30 minutes or until they soften.

For the side dish, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the juice of 1 lemon and the artichokes, and cook for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse quickly with cold water, and set aside.

Cook the potatoes in a medium pot of salted water for about 15-20 minutes or until almost soft; drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F.

When the tomatoes are done, arrange the sea bass on top of them, season with salt and pepper, and cover with the roasted lemon slices. Roast for about 10-15 minutes or until the fish fillets are done, you should be able to flake the fish with a fork. Mind that you don’t overcook it. Sprinkle with the thyme.

While the fish is in the oven, heat a splash of olive oil in a large heavy pan and sauté the potatoes and artichokes over medium heat, stirring once in a while, for about 15 minutes or until golden and crispy. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately when the fish is done.

Cécile Monilié

What brought you to Paris? 

I came here because of university. My younger sister was admitted to a very good post-baccalaureate school, Henri IV, here in this neighbourhood. As I was the eldest one and I was good with managing a home and cooking, my mother wanted us to go together. So I was admitted to the prestigious law school here, and then…I never left!

Did you fall in love with the city immediately?

Paris? No, because I was the country girl, and there was all this noise….The year we arrived, there was a big strike during the winter and all the cars were stuck and it was a big mess…

So, you didn’t have an easy start?

No, but we could go back to the country every weekend. At the university, I didn’t know anyone – there were 1000 students! And I was the little girl from the country inside the big city…

Were you always interested in photography?

Yes, yes. I remember that when I was a child, I won a little camera because I did a drawing contest, and then when I was 16, my dad gave my sister and I a nice Canon camera – I remember! An old one, you know an analogique (analog).

How did you get into cooking? 

I love to cook. My mother is more an intellectual woman than a….

…a kitchen woman?

Yes! So, I had an interest in cooking – I don’t know why – and I took over the kitchen at a very young age. She let me do whatever I wanted so I tried new recipes, I made notebooks, and as my parents had lots of friends coming from all over the world – they were very welcoming – I used to cook a lot!

So you cooked for the family and for friends! For how many people?

I don’t know! But when I was 16, I could cook big meals and it was great because you have some meals where you need to be in the kitchen and do things at the last moment, so my mother was with the friends and I was cooking!

What’s your favourite dish cooked by your grandmother or one of your grandmothers?

My father’s mother used to make a very good blanquette de veau, a very good one. My mother’s mother, she’s from the southwest of France, so it’s more about zucchini, eggplants, and tomatoes, more Mediterranean – and she cooks very well, too. In my husband’s family, it’s not as we call in France plats en sauce, you know all these stews. It’s more about very good produce, cooked well.

Does your husband love to cook too?

He cooks rarely, but when he does it’s a very elaborate meal. We are great fans of Alain Passard, the chef of the Arpège. I used to be invited to his restaurant when I was a student by a friend. We go there for very special occasions, so my husband has his book and sometimes he cooks from this book. He cooks very creatively and elaborately, but not that often.

So, he’s more the weekend chef?

I would say, once a year!

So, once a year he’s the weekend chef but then he’s fantastic!

Yes, exactly! I think it’s what men do: amazing things, but not that often for food…

Where do you find your inspiration for your recipes?

At the market first because you see the food and you think “ah, I want to do that or this” and then cookbooks. I think I love cookbooks! I love to read them, I like to see the pictures, but I’m not good at following the recipes exactly.

But that’s not important! I think cookbooks are…

…a great inspiration. I still have one from when I was a very young woman and I still look at it, because the recipes are all good. Really, the inspiration comes from the market or from other people. At the market this morning, I spoke to a guy who was telling me what he was going to cook for his parents for lunch – you take ideas from everywhere! And some blogs too, but you need to have time to read them – sometimes it’s easier to have a book.

Do you prefer to cook when you’re here in Paris or in the countryside?

In the countryside, it’s usually the weekend so we have more time. And maybe you think I’m picky but I prefer to cook with gas rather than with induction.

What does healthy food mean for you?

Healthy means first of all cooked with good produce. I want my kids to have veggies and fruits every day. They are picky eaters, I must confess! I try to have them eat fresh fruit and veggies – it can be compote, it can be soups, it can be raw – healthy, for me, is when you have all the nutrients that you need in the food.And homemade, mostly homemade. I rarely buy frozen food. Some frozen pizzas just for when I have no other plan, but I prefer to cook eggs and potatoes instead.

What is your greatest kitchen hack?

When I bake cakes, I use the baking paper. In France, it’s not that automatic to do that.

So, you can’t live without baking paper?

No! And then I always have some veggies to roast. You know, I am very organized, so sometimes I start to cook in the morning – even at 7am, when the kids are just waking up. I always roast some cherry tomatoes, zucchini… And when it’s winter, pumpkin – that kind of thing. I always like to have something roasted.

So being organized in the kitchen is one of your greatest tips?

Yes, when you work and you have a lot of kids, who often come for lunch and dinner. And bread. I’m sorry, but we eat a lot of bread! I always have some bread! And butter! And cheese!

You’re going to have 10 friends for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

It’s going to be pasta – I’m sorry! – because we always have pasta and fresh Parmesan. We often have ham. In French we call that – you know the proscuittto crudo? The big ones that you can slice yourself – so I often have that. I could do pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil – I always have basil – so all good produce but very simple. And a good bottle of wine! That’s something that I would do if I had an impromptu meal with lots of people. Everybody is happy with that kind of food. And then fresh fruits or cooked fruit that’s easy to do.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

I love Alain Passard’s food. So if he could come cook for me, a delicious vegetable dish, I would like it! I like light food.

If you could choose between improvised and planned dinners, what would you prefer?

I like to plan because I know I’m happy to plan something. It makes me happy to anticipate the people’s happiness. But sometimes, it’s stressful to plan something. You want to have a good result. I am a perfectionist, so sometimes when you plan ahead and you want people to be happy, I’m often disappointed by the result. When it’s impromptu, you don’t have much time to think about it and it’s more about the pleasure to be together. You know, I think as much as I like to plan a meal and to share it with friends, when I do something that’s not planned it is super good, too. So I don’t know what I prefer!

You like both! 

I prefer everybody to be happy around the table and laughing. If the food matters too much then sometimes you lose something in the pleasure of being together.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

I like when my kids give me a hand, and I like to cook with friends, because it’s something to share, but I am faster by myself!

Thank you very much, Cécile!

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

Crêpes au Citron

Crêpes au Citron

Rough seas, endless beaches, and food that kept me happy from the morning till the night. I went to France and it was a feast.

I got spoiled with a spontaneous trip to Normandy, to the picturesque seaside village of Le Touquet. Five nights, five days and luckily, I didn’t have much time to make plans beforehand or to build up expectations. This kept me relaxed and the activities very basic: I went from my bed to the opulent breakfast table, then straight to the beach for long walks, a quick snack on the ‘high street’ before teatime or an aperitif at our hotel’s beautiful old bar; at 7pm I was dressed pretty and ready for the French way of dining – luscious feasting that makes you forget about everything around you and lets you sleep like a baby. Those were my days in Normandy.

We couldn’t have organized our arrival at the majestic Le Westminster any better. We were hungry and stepped out of the car just in time for lunch. The hotel’s bistro offered a French classic, Steak Tartare, and a fantastic dish of potatoes, cut thinly and cooked like risotto, with smoked eel and truffles. A glass of Sancerre and our French immediately came out more fluently. It was the beginning of a culinary trip that couldn’t have satisfied my taste buds any better: the freshest oysters, lobster, large rock crab, prawns, and sea snails, Breton Cotriade (fish soup with potatoes) topped with half a lobster (preferable enjoyed at Perard on Rue de Metz), Moules Frites, oeufs a la neige (floating island), and wonderful salads, all very simple combinations with only a few ingredients, but the results were superb.

During our first walk through the village I spotted a fantastic pâtisserie. My instinct is very reliable when it comes to sweets, I can ‘smell’ where I can find the best éclair au café, croissants, little tartes Tropéziennes, brioche and baguette. The bakery’s staff saw me daily. The farmers’ market on Saturday is a weekly celebration in the village, fruits and vegetables, salamis and patés, the most fragrant (and pungent) cheeses, the fishermen’s catch from the night, honey and jam, all laid out in front of us. We were like kids in a candy store and bought bags full of delicacies, which we then stored in the car for a couple days. It was quite cold outside so it didn’t harm the food. However, the cheese infused the car with such a distinct aroma that I’m sure we’ll enjoy it for a few months.

As much as I love a glass of Champagne and a plate full of Atlantic oysters sprinkled with mignonette (chopped shallots in vinegar), the simple pleasures are sometimes the best in life. Le Touquet has an excellent Crêperie, Aux Mignardises Saint Jean, where you can watch the masters of crêpe cook such delicious creations as crêpe au caramel or au citron (both tested and approved). The simple yet so genius addition of a good squeeze of lemon juice really hit me. It was totally new to me, how could I miss it? You just have to cook a thin crêpe, sprinkle it with a little sugar, and drizzle it with the sour juices of the citrus fruit. First I started with a few drops, but then I learned that you can be generous, the more lemon aroma, the better! Back home, I already made it twice and here’s the recipe for you. If you feel like a quick, but scrumptious breakfast, or if you’d like to impress your guests at your next dinner party, flip some crêpes in the pan and buy a bunch of lemons.

Another treat, a savoury buckwheat galette, was just as good and included ham, cheese, and an egg. It was actually so good that I might also share this recipe with you in the near future.

And if you’re not into citrus, try one of these recipes:

Crêpes Caramel au Beurre Salé

Crêpes Suzette

Crêpes with Sweet Sour Cream

Crêpes au Citron

 

Crêpes au Citron

Crêpes au Citron

Makes about 15-20 crêpes

plain flour, sifted, 260g / 2 cups
granulated sugar 50g / 1/4 cup, plus more to sprinkle the crêpes
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
organic eggs 4
milk 1/2l / 2 cups and 2 tablespoons
butter, to cook the crêpes
fresh lemons, cut in half, about 2-3
fresh mint leaves, a small handful (optional)

In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, mix the flour, sugar, salt, eggs, and milk until smooth; let the batter sit for about 10 minutes (at room temperature) to 1 hour (in the fridge).

In a large, heavy or non-stick pan, melt half a teaspoon of butter on medium-high heat. Pour in a ladle of the dough, holding the pan in your hand and turning it so that the dough spreads evenly and very thinly. The crêpes won’t need more than 30-60 seconds on each side once the heat is set right. When the crêpe is slightly golden on both sides, sprinkle with a little (!) sugar, fold twice so that it forms a triangle, and transfer to a large plate. Cover with a large plate or lid. Continue with the remaining batter until you have about 15-20 crêpes. You should always melt 1/2 -1 teaspoon of butter in the pan before you cook the next crêpe.

Serve the crêpes warm, sprinkled with additional sugar to taste, drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste), and decorate with a few mint leaves. Bon appétit!

Crêpes au Citron

 

Crêpes au Citron

 

Crêpes au Citron

 

Crêpes au Citron

 

Crêpes au Citron

 

Crêpes au Citron

 

Crêpes au Citron

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