Category: Main course

Caramelized beetroot tarte tatin

Beetroot tarte tatin

I just can’t shake off that Christmas spirit. As soon as December 1st arrived, the kids opened their chocolate Advent calendar and I started unpacking the Christmas ornaments stored in the attic. I had been eyeing the packed boxes for weeks, patiently waiting for the right moment. I couldn’t wait to meet our old friends again, the ballerina that Mia refuses to part with after every Christmas, the spaced-out monkey, the dog Hudson sadly broke two years ago, whose spirit remains intact ever since. And those cubes, my all-time favourite… For this special occasion, I wanted a to make a festive meal winning me back to childhood days. I made a caramelized beetroot tarte tatin, flavoured with red onion and balsamic vinegar. The deep-red velvet color is so theatrical, perfect for this magical moment . There I was, a plate on my lap with a slice of this tarte, enjoying each bite as the luscious crème fraîche generously coated the beetroots and croustillant pastry. May the holiday season begin!

Beetroot tarte tatin slice

My Christmas ornaments

Caramelized beetroot tarte tatin


800-900 g beetroots/ up to 2 pounds beetroots (approx. medium-sized 6 beetroots cooked and peeled)
1 large red onion (sliced)
2 tbsp brown sugar
40 g/ 3-4 tbsp butter + butter to line the cake pan
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper (for seasoning)

For the shortcrust pastry:
200 g/ 1 & 1/2 cup plain flour
125 g/ 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and sliced in cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 tbsp cold water

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and mix using your hands until dough is crumbly. Make a well in the center, add egg and water. Mix well until dough is soft and form a ball. Roll dough on a floured surface, adding flour if necessary if dough is too sticky. With a rolling-pin, roll dough large enough to cover the cake pan.

For serving:
Crème fraîche (or sour cream) – 1 tbsp per person
A large handful of chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350°F

Remove the skin from the cooked beetroots and slice in quarters. In a large frying pan, heat the brown sugar. As soon as it’s starting to melt, add the butter and stir. Add the beetroots and red onion, fry (on a medium to high heat) for 10-12 minutes, until they start to caramelize, add balsamic vinegar, reduce for 2 minutes until sauce is thick and glossy. Set aside.

To assemble:
Butter a round cake pan, layer the beetroots so the surface is entirely covered (try to pick out the red onion for the surface layer) – make sure to ‘display’ them nicely as the tart will be inverted. Add the red onions and sauce. Place the pastry sheet on top and tuck in at the edges. Prick the pastry with a fork all over. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning it out gently. Place on a serving plate. (Don’t worry if a few pieces of beetroot fall out-of-place, you can simply re-arrange them like a puzzle).


Brocante in Bordeaux

Brocante Mimi Bordeaux

What a pleasure it was to visit our friends at the autumn brocante fair in Bordeaux. Eric and Virginie Bernard, art curators, also have a store selling lovely vintage furniture. Place des Quinconces is a beautiful square overlooking the Garonne river, where you can enjoy, twice a year, a charming antique and brocante market. There’s so much to see and discover, depending on your mood and passion. I was mainly looking for anything linked to the kitchen, and fell madly in love with an old 1950’s butcher table and a rustic dining table in a grey blue tone. I also found a set of festive plates (the ones pictured in the recipes below – twelve euros for twelve plates in perfect condition. Now that’s a steal).




We decided to have lunch together at Eric and Virginie’s stand, after all, it looks like an apartment from the 70’s. I enjoyed seeing all the brocanteurs and antique dealers taking a break, eating alone or with their families and friends. It was such an original sight, seeing each merchant in their ‘lost in time’ environment, from 17th century château style to 70’s groove. One thing everyone had in common was the food. The renowned Dieu sisters, all seven of them, are responsible for most of the meals. This family restaurant ‘on wheels’ has been around for sixty years, serving good old traditional French food. I had a delicious duck confit and a glass of red, my husband Oddur had andouillette sausage with Savoyarde potatoes. The kids had roast chicken, French fries and crème brûlée for dessert.

The 'Dieu' family has been catering for more than 60 years on Place des Quinconces.

The ‘Dieu’ family has been catering for more than 60 years on Place des Quinconces.

Virginie with Paloma and Paul

Virginie with Paloma and Paul


Lunch ambiance Brocante

Serving Basque ham for lunch

Serving Basque ham for lunch

Virginie introduced us to her neighbour and friend, Bernard Vandevoorde, antiquaire specializing in 17-18th century art and furniture. He is also a fine gourmet, jazz lover and ex-restaurateur for thirty years in the Pyrénées region and Bordeaux. He swept me off my feet with his food stories, especially his technique for roasting lamb in his fireplace. It was only a matter of time until I asked him to share more recipes, especially some of his favourites for the cold days to come. One of them was the garbure des Pyrénées, a rustic vegetable and meat soup. The other dish was the eggs in cocotte à la Bordelaise, a recipe Bernard loves to make when he comes home late hungry for comfort food.

Chatting with Bernard Vandevoorde

Chatting with Bernard Vandevoorde



Let me elaborate more on the ‘garbure‘ des Pyrénées. The beauty of this soup is in its simplicity. Coarsely chopped vegetables, white lingots beans, a large chunk of pork knuckle (perhaps also a pig’s tail) and water is all you need to make this traditional soup filled with so many deep rich flavours. The longer you cook it, the better it is, and you can look forward to an even tastier soup the next day. There are so many versions, with duck or sausages. I remember, as a child, the souvenir of eating a similar soup in a little auberge off the roads in Gascony. How intrigued I was when the men poured wine and soak bread into their soup. It’s called ‘faire Chabrol‘ or how to really enjoy your meal. Why don’t you try it!

Place des Quinconces, Bordeaux

Place des Quinconces, Bordeaux




The eggs en cocotte is a delightful dish, again, so easy to make, you’d wonder why you ever thought cooking French food was so complicated. It takes such little time to make this basic Bordelaise sauce, and let me assure you the smell is captivating. Cooking with wine is not only delicious, but the evaporation of the alcohol is purely enjoyable. The special touch I loved was Bernard’s recommendation to serve both meals with mouilletes (grilled bread) rubbed with garlic.

Merci Bernard pour ces délicieuses recettes! Je me suis régalée!


La garbure des Pyrénées

La garbure des Pyrénées

Bernard’s garbure des Pyrénées (serves 6-8)
4 onions (cut in 4)
5 garlic cloves (cut in half)
6 carrots (cut into sticks)
5 leeks (coarsely chopped)
1 medium-sized Savoy cabbage (chopped in 8 parts)
6 small to medium potatoes (whole)
300 g/ 2/3 pounds white beans (haricots blancs lingots – soaked in water overnight)
1 kg/ 2 pounds pork knuckle/jarret de porc (soaked in water overnight)
1 pig’s tail (optional)
4 tbsp duck fat (you can use butter or olive oil as an alternative)

In a very large pot, melt the duck fat (or olive oil/butter), add all the vegetables (except the potatoes and drained beans) and fry for 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the meat (knuckle and pig’s tail), cover with water until all the ingredients are covered. Bring to a soft boil, cover and lower heat. Cook for 3-4 hours. After 3 hours, add the potatoes (whole) and beans. Cook for another hour, or until the beans and potatoes are cooked and tender. Serve as a generous soup, filled with vegetables and meat. Serve immediately with grilled bread. To add extra flavor, rub a garlic clove on the bread.


Eggs in cocotte à la Bordelaise

4 eggs
1 garlic clove (minced finely)
3 small shallots (chopped very finely)
250 ml/ 1 cup red Bordeaux wine
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 garlic glove (for rubbing)

Preheat oven to 210°C/ 400 F
For the sauce:
In a saucepan, melt the butter, add minced garlic and shallots, fry for 3-4 minutes, until slightly golden and soft. Add the wine, 1/2 tsp sugar and leave to reduce by half on a medium to low heat (this should take approx. 6-8 minutes).
To make:
Rub the inside of the ramekin/ cocotte/ oven-proof pot with the garlic clove and crack the eggs into the recipient. Pour piping hot Bordelaise sauce onto the eggs and place in oven for 5-7 minutes, until the eggs are poached (you want your eggs slightly runny).

Serve immediately with grilled bread. To add extra flavor, rub the remaining garlic clove on the bread.


Autumn vegetable tarte tatin

There are meals that leave a mark, forever engraved in your mind. Years ago, I had lunch at Le Dôme in Paris, a seafood restaurant in the 14th arrondissement. I had coquilles Saint-Jacques (scallops), pan-fried in a lemon butter sauce. But the main attraction was the side-dish, the endives (chicory). They were so delicious, the semi-bitter taste of the vegetable melted in my mouth, catching up with the caramelized butter sweetness. That and a glass of crisp white wine was an ‘inoubliable‘ food moment in my life. Ever since that day, I associate endives with butter. Last Sunday, I was in the mood for a rich savoury tart, so I started with my cherished caramelized endives, and went from there. It was such a pleasure to make this dish, layering slices of chestnuts, topinambours and potatoes with goat’s cheese. It’s very simple to make, and you can improvise with any vegetable and cheese you wish. Nothing beats the excitement of turning the pan upside down. It always makes me feel like a magician in the kitchen. The result is a beautiful autumn bouquet, in the form of a tart.

6 endives (chicory)
2 small shallots (finely sliced)
1 clove garlic (ground)
6-8 small potatoes (cooked and sliced)
250 g/ 1/2 pound chestnuts (peeled, cooked & sliced in half)
5 topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes (peeled and sliced in ‘rondelles’)
125 g/ 2/3 cup Sainte Maure de Touraine goat’s cheese (or any of your favourite cheese – one that will melt beautifully!)
2 tbsp brown sugar
40 g butter
Salt & pepper (for seasoning)

For the shortcrust pastry:
200 g/ 1 & 1/2 cup plain flour
125 g/ 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and sliced in cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 tbsp cold water

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and mix using your hands until dough is crumbly. Make a well in the center, add egg and water. Mix well until dough is soft and form a ball. Roll dough on a floured surface, adding flour if necessary if dough is too sticky. With a rolling-pin, roll dough large enough to cover the cake pan.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350 F

For the filling:
Cook the potatoes (peeling the potato is optional – if you are using new potatoes I would suggest to keep the skin) in a pot of salted boiling water until tender. Set aside to cool and slice them. Rinse the endives and pat them dry. Slice them in two and peel off a few leaves. In a large frying pan, heat the brown sugar. As soon as it’s starting to melt, add 30 g butter and stir. Place the endives and fry (on a medium to high heat) for 10-12 minutes, until they start to caramelize, season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Add the rest of the butter, fry the shallots for 3-4 minutes, add the topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes, garlic and chestnuts. Cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes start to be tender, season with salt and pepper. Don’t worry if they are slightly undercooked as they will be baked. Add the sliced potatoes, sprinkle with cheese and mix gently.

To assemble:
Butter a round cake pan, layer the endives all over so the surface is entirely covered – make sure to ‘display’ them nicely as the tart will be inverted. Add the rest of the endives, proceed with the rest of the vegetables. Place the pastry sheet on top and tuck in at the edges. Prick the pastry with a fork all over. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning it out gently. Place on a serving plate. I served this tart with sausages (from Queyrac, a nearby village). It was a perfect combination.

A French Thanksgiving in Médoc

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives. Oscar Wilde

My family and I are from all over. My mother is French, my father Chinese, my husband is Icelandic and a quarter German, my grandfather was Polish… Une famille bien mélangée as one would say. French is the main language at home, but so is English, followed by Icelandic and Chinese (Mandarin). Whatever works.
Culture defines who we are and enables us to express ourselves. When you have so many different ones within your family, you start combining all sets of beliefs and try to be as open-minded as possible. I call it wisdom.
I have been so inspired lately by the Thanksgiving preparations from my friends and fellow bloggers. Having been invited to a few Thanksgiving events in my life mostly through American amis, I have never had a chance to truly celebrate it at home. So last night, I decided to prepare a little French Thanksgiving repas familial.

We are all so busy, so caught up in our daily lives that any reminder to stop and think ‘What am I thankful for’ is wonderful. It’s a beautiful thought, and there aren’t enough of those these days.

I am so thankful for my family, they are my love and inspiration, my raison d’être. It’s been two years since we embarked on an adventurous move to Médoc. It’s been a sensational world of discoveries, stimulation and revelations. I love the nature that surrounds us, the new friends we have met, the freedom we give to our dogs, the joy we share at the table.

Château Lanessan

One of the perks of living in this part of France is being able to drop by a château to buy wine. I recently went to château Lanessan to get a few good bottles and walk through the vineyards. I always make sure to bring my friends there. We enjoy the wine-tasting and visiting the property surrounded by beautiful horse stables. It’s one of my favourite châteaux in Médoc, so enchanting in its neo-Tudoresque style. There’s something terribly romantic about that place. It certainly stirs one’s imagination. My children call it the Scooby-Doo ghost castle, I call it the ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ château.

Right here, right now, the best place to be is in the vineyards. The golden leaves are dancing away from the autumn wind, soon the trees will be bare leaving me chagrined. For now, I am reflecting on the honeyed caramel hues, so pleasurable to the eye and to the soul. Could these gourmand colours be an appetite opener? I would like to think so.

Honey Bee

So here was the menu for my improvised Thanksgiving. We started with a potage de topinambours (Jerusalem artichokes) with parsnip chips. Just the word topinambour sounds so festive, like a soup with drum beats! We then enjoyed a cocotte de daube de boeuf (beef stew) with autumn vegetables. For dessert, I chose my all-time favourite, a Mont-blanc. It’s my version of a Mont-blanc (classic dessert that looks like snow-capped mountain), a meringue with whipped cream, the all mighty god of all goodies crème de marron, and marrons glacés (chestnuts candied in sugar and glazed). It’s about time I share my love and passion for chestnut vanilla cream from Clément Faugier. I am a huge fan since I was a kid, eating it straight from the pot or mixed with fromage blanc. It’s a cream made of chestnuts, vanilla and sugar. I hope you can all get it, one way or another, for it is my most treasured péché mignon (sweet weakness)!

As if our family tree was not complicated enough, it recently grew a few more branches. Our dog family is as diverse as the human one. We have two new additions, an American and a Hungarian. Miss Honey Bee, (a smooth fox terrier from American lines) and Luc (another smooth born to our two wonderful Hungarian imports Yul and Sky). Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Black pig sausage & Luc

Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

Topinambours potage
500 g/ 1 pound topinambours-Jerusalem artichokes (peeled and sliced coarsely)
500 ml/ 2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 shallot (sliced)
20 ml/ 2 tbsp olive oil
100 ml/ 1/2 cup crème fraîche
A pinch of fresh parsley
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)

Parsnip chips:
4-5 parsnips
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt (for seasoning)
In a large heavy saucepan, fill oil no more than halfway and heat to 180°C/ 350 F. You can test one slice of parsnip, drop it in the oil – if it starts sizzling, the oil is ready. Fry parsnip slices by batches, 2-3 minutes each, or until golden. Set aside to drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

Peel the Jerusalem artichokes, slice coarsely and set aside. In a large pot, heat olive oil and fry the shallots for 3 minutes. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and continue frying for 3 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add chicken stock. Lower heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Mix in food processor until you get a smooth and velvety soup. Return to pot, season more if necessary and add crème fraîche. Serve immediately with sprinkled parsnip chips and parsley.

Daube de boeuf (beef stew – to be prepared the night before)
1 kg/ 2 pounds paleron de boeuf (beef shoulder, or preferred stewing-type beef)
150 g chunk of bacon/ 1/3 pounds (cut in sticks, lardons or sliced)
250 ml/ 1 cup red wine
250 ml/ 1 cup beef stock
2 small parsnips (cut in chunks)
1 carrot (cut in chunks)
5 small topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes (sliced in semi-thick rondelles)
1 leek (sliced in two pieces)
2 cloves garlic (sliced)
1 large onion (sliced)
1 shallot (sliced)
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp flour
1 bay leaf
A small handful of chopped chives
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)
50 g/ 1/4 cup unsalted butter (for frying)

Place beef with sliced onions, 3 cloves, bay leaf and thyme in a bowl. Pour wine, cover with cling film and marinate overnight in the fridge. You can add a bit of water so the beef is covered. The next day, drain beef and pat dry, reserve wine and herbs, discard cloves. In a large cocotte/ pot, melt the butter, brown beef on all sides and set aside on a plate. In the same pot, add a bit more butter, fry the onions, bacon and shallot for 3 minutes, add the garlic, carrot and beef. Take off the heat, add flour, mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Return to heat, add reserved wine and leave to reduce for a few minutes. Add the stock. Mix all the ingredients with a wooden spoon, add the thyme, bay leaf, parsnips, leek and sliced topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 2-3 hours, or until beef is tender.

6 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1 + 1/2 tsp cornflour
A pinch of fine salt
320 g/ 1 1/2 cups sugar
350 ml/ 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
300-400 g/1 1/2 cup crème de marrons/ chestnut cream
6 marrons glacés/glazed candied chestnuts (cut in small chunks)
Icing sugar (for garnishing)

Preheat the oven to 140° C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Meringues:(makes about 5-6 meringues)

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites (I use a pair of electric whisks) and salt on a high-speed until frothy – try to keep the whisk position as horizontal as possible. Add the cornflour and sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually and continue whisking. You should add the sugar in small quantities until the end of the process. The egg whites should form stiff peaks (this usually takes about 10-15 minutes). With the help of two large slotted spoons, spoon the egg whites onto the parchment-lined baking tray. ‘Twirl’ your spoon around and finish off with a spiky peak.
Bake for about 1 hour. Switch off the oven, and leave them to cool inside the oven with the door slightly open for 15 minutes.

To assemble:
Whip the cream, place 2 tbsp on each meringue. Pipe the chestnut cream (pastry bag with a small round tip), add small chunks of marrons glacés on top and sprinkle with icing sugar.

Rigatoni à la Bordelaise with cèpes

Ever since I made the ‘escargots à la Bordelaise’, an improvised recipe given to me by my lovely snail farmer friends, I have been longing to make it again, with or without snails. The rich succulent sauce, filled with bits of sausage meat, red wine and fragrant shallots filled my mind with so many ideas. Last week-end, it was a perfect occasion to start using my frozen cèpes mushrooms, the ones I proudly picked last month in the Médocan forest. So there it was, my wishful thinking coming to life. Rigatoni pasta, cèpes and Bordelaise sauce. All those earthy flavours mixed together form the perfect plat du jour. As I did not have any sausages, I used pancetta, which was equally délicieux.

I get such a kick from making this meal. The smell of the evaporating wine is so inviting, different shades of reds and browns glistening in my cast-iron cocotte. The aromas get really interesting when I add the cèpes, bringing me straight back to the forest. It’s amazing how cooking can transport you to such adventurous places.

Ingredients: (serves 4-6)

500 g rigatoni pasta
200 g pancetta (diced)
5 large cèpes (sliced, you can also use fresh or dried porcini)
2 small shallots (finely sliced)
2 garlic cloves (finely sliced, one for the sauce, one for the cèpes)
400 ml tomato passata
200 ml red wine (I used a very modest Bordeaux)
80 ml beef or chicken broth
1 tbsp plain flour
Olive oil (for frying)
1 tbsp butter (for cèpes)
1 tbsp butter (for pasta)
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)
1 pinch chilli powder
Grated parmesan cheese (for topping)
A bunch of parsley

In a large pan, heat olive oil and add minced garlic and shallots . Cook until soft and slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add the pancetta and continue to cook until browned. Take the pan off the heat, add 1 tbsp of flour and mix well. Return to heat, add tomato passata, mix well, cover and cook on a low heat for 15 minutes. Add chicken broth, red wine, salt, pepper and chilli. Cover and cook for a further 15 minutes.

Heat the frying pan till sizzling hot, place the cèpes mushrooms to ‘dry them out’ for a few minutes on each sides, season with salt and pepper. Add butter and garlic and continue frying on a high heat until golden.

Mix pasta with sauce, add a tbsp of butter, add cèpes mushrooms. Sprinkle with parsley and parmesan. Serve immediately.

The Roast & the Pudding

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.English proverb

There are different souvenirs in one’s life, some are linked to childhood, others to love, passion, and travels. For my active imagination, food memories act as an introduction to each chapter in my life. They are the backdrop to my world, flavouring it with taste, colour and texture. If you are what you eat, then I am certainly a mix between French, Chinese and British food. My love for a confit de canard with a glass of red St-Estèphe, xiao long bao (Shanghainese steamed pork dumplings) with pu-erh tea, a good pork pie, scotch eggs and a half a pint of Guinness (I’m a lightweight) are equal and unconditional.

As I grew up in Hong Kong during the colonial days, I was heavily influenced by British food and culture. I cherish those years, filled with iconic images of queen Elizabeth’s portraits at the post office, the old police uniforms, the Gurkha army playing the Scottish pipes on the Queen’s pier and the occasional visit of the Prince of Wales. We had tea at the Mandarin Hotel, scones with clotted cream and rose petal jam, or at the old Repulse Bay hotel (not the one they re-built), just like in Ang Lee’s Lust and Caution. I loved the mixture of old-school British traditions mixed with Chinese flair – it was the story of my life. Some of my favourite moments where spent at the Shanghainese tailors, waiting for hours for my French maman, having her traditional chong sam dresses made for future banquets. I’d browse through the beautiful silk embroidered fabrics, snack on egg tarts and sip soya milk out of a bottle. It can be strange at times to feel part of a vanished era, but it’s all there, vivid in my mind, set in a vintage filter. Not that Hong Kong is that different today, but it will certainly never be the same.

Conversations at home were dominated by food, as my family is certainly a food-obssessed one. My life was and is meals. Later on I lived in London, studying and enjoying life as a Londoner. My fondness for British food grew bigger and bigger, as I discovered more delicacies throughout the years. Steak and kidney pies, Cornish pasties, minced pies, toast and marmite, Cadbury Flake chocolate, treacle pudding, just don’t get me started. Last Saturday, I just had to have roast beef, juicy gravy and Yorkshire pudding. It’s the inner ‘Brit-girl’ in me. That and a bread and butter pudding to finish it off. Could a Saturday lunch get any better?

Recipes: (serves 4 to 6)

Crunchy cabbage, radishes and shallots salad:

1/2 green cabbage
3 shallots (sliced)
2 handfuls of radishes (finely sliced)
A handful of chopped parsley
2 tsp mustard
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar
Olive oil for frying
Crème fraîche (1 tsp or more per serving)
Salt & pepper (for seasoning)

Slice cabbage coarsely, slice shallots and finely slice the radishes. Set aside. Prepare a quick vinaigrette: Mix mustard, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and mix well. Fry the shallots in olive oil until golden and nearly crispy, drain on paper towel and set aside. In the same pan, keep the oil and fry the cabbage for a 3 minutes on a high heat – you want to keep it crunchy. To assemble: Mix cabbage and radishes. Place on a plate, sprinkle shallots, drizzle vinaigrette, add a spoon of crème fraîche, sprinkle a generous amount of parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast beef and red wine gravy:

1-1.2 kg/ 2-2.5 pounds beef filet
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
5 cloves of garlic (3 whole, 2 sliced)
1 coarsely chopped onion
1 chopped carrot
1 branch celery
Olive oil
Coarse sea salt & pepper for seasoning

Preheat oven to 200°C/ 400°F
Rub beef with olive oil, salt and pepper. Make about 10 small incisions with a sharp knife and insert fine slices of garlic. Tuck in the thyme sprig son top of the beef – under the string. Place onion, carrots and celery in a roasting pan along with the beef. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes, lower heat to 180°C/ 350°C and cook for a further 30 minutes (less or more depending on how you like your cuisson/cooking). For me, 45 minutes in total is perfect, brown outside, rosé inside. Place the roast beef on a plate and set aside for 15 minutes.


Keep the roasting pan with all the beef drippings (you can save some for the Yorkshire pudding). Put it directly on the stove on a low heat, add 200 ml red wine and stir. Let the sauce reduce for a few minutes, then add 500 ml beef (or vegetable) stock. Further reduce for 5 more minutes. Add one tsp of flour and mix well until gravy is thick and juicy. Drain sauce and serve immediately.

Roast thyme potatoes:

Preheat oven 180°C/350°F
20 small potatoes, roasting types (I count 5-6 small potatoes per person)
Sprigs of fresh thyme (or dried thyme)
Coarse sea salt
60 ml/ 1/4 cup olive oil
Rinse potatoes, slice them in half or quarters depending on size. Place in roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprigs of thyme and coarse sea salt. Mix well and bake for 35-45 minutes (give the potatoes a good stir halfway).

Yorkshire pudding: (makes approx 12)
250 g/ 2 cups plain white flour
250 ml/ 1 cup whole milk (cold)
2 tbsp cold water
4 eggs
1/2 tsp fine salt
2 tbsp olive oil or beef dripping

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F
In a large bowl, whisk together the sifted flour, cold milk and water. Add the eggs and whisk till blended. Whisk in the flour gradually until batter is smooth. Place a bit of olive oil or beef dripping in each tin and place in oven for 5 minutes or until sizzling hot. Take out from the oven and pour batter in each tin , approx 3/4 high. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until well-risen and golden. Serve immediately

Bread & butter pudding:
6 slices stale bread (any good old bread will do, I used rustic pain de campagne country bread)
80 g/ 1/3 cup butter
65 g/ 1/3 cup granulated sugar
240 ml/ 1 cup milk
60 ml/ 1/4 cup cream
2 eggs
50 g/ 1/3 cup dried dark raisins (to be soaked in rum)
60 ml/ 1/4 cup rum
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp of dark muscovado sugar to sprinkle on top of pudding
To serve: Cream, to be poured on top

Preheat oven 180°C/ 350°F
In a small bowl, soak raisins in rum. Butter slices of bread very generously on each side. Drain raisins and reserve rum. Place a layer of bread, sprinkle with raisins, add another layer, sprinkle with raisins again. Pour the remaining rum all over the bread. In a bowl, mix milk, cream and eggs, add granulated sugar, salt and nutmeg. Pour all over bread, and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Add the remaining butter all over the top. Sprinkle with dark muscovado sugar. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot, with lots of cream poured on top.

November rain

I was so delighted to be featured on Sous Style this week. It’s one of my favourite lifestyle sites, filled with great ideas, recipes and stories on interesting people.

We had a lovely lunch at home, with our friends David and Sheyenne and their kids Balkis and Naturel. Don’t you just love their names? As my guests are vegetarians, I came up with a veggie-friendly menu with a French touch. For starters, we had chestnut soup with tapioca pearls and crème fraîche, followed by crêpes sarrasin (buckwheat pancakes) with squash, green cabbage and Roquefort cheese, served with a typical Provençal dish called Tian de légumes (vegetable tian). It looked like a little masterpiece on the table. Finally, I made a luxurious Calvados apple tart, again, served with crème fraîche (yes, I think you must know by now that I am all about cream). The Calvados (apple brandy) soaked apples bring you all the warmth needed on a cool November day. And that almond crust… is heavenly.

It was a lazy rainy afternoon, filled with fun and laughter. The girls were singing and dancing, the boys played with the dogs, the lunch dragged on for hours and hours, just how it should be.

You can view the feature here.

Chestnut soup with tapioca pearls
1/2 pound/ 230 g whole, peeled and cooked chestnuts (for the soup)
1/4 cup/ 60 g cooked peeled chestnuts (chopped, to sprinkle on soup)
3 cups/ 750 ml chicken stock (or vegetable)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 onion (sliced)
3 tbsp of small tapioca pearls
Salt & pepper for seasoning
Crème fraîche for serving (1 tbsp per bowl)
A small handful of finely chopped parsley

In a large pot, melt the butter on a medium heat and fry the onions
for 2 minutes. Add the chestnuts, continue frying for 1 minute, then
add stock, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a soft boil and turn down
the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly,
then transfer to a food processor to smooth all the ingredients into a
velvety soup. Return to pot, add the tapioca and cook for 15 minutes
on a low heat (or until the tapioca becomes translucent). Serve in
individual bowls with a teaspoon of chopped chesnuts, a big spoon of
crème fraîche and parsley.

Squash, green cabbage and Roquefort buckwheat pancakes

For the filling:

1 pound/ 450g butternut squash
1/3 cup/ 80ml vegetable stock
1 cup/ 150 g green cabbage (chopped)
1/4 pound/ 100 g Roquefort cheese
Butter or olive oil for frying

Chop squash into small cubes and fry in olive oil until golden for 4-5
minutes. Add stock, cover and simmer for ten minutes until cooked and
tender. Drain any excess liquid and set aside. In a pan, fry in olive
oil the chopped cabbage for 5 minutes on a high heat. Add salt and
pepper. Cabbage must be slightly al dente. Set aside.

Buckwheat pancake batter (sarrasin)
2 cups/ 250 g buckwheat flour
2 eggs
2 tbsp/ 30 grs melted butter
1 pinch salt
2 cups/ 500 ml milk

In a large bowl, mix the buckwheat flour and make a well in the
middle. Add the eggs in the center, slowly combine and stir the milk,
melted butter and salt. Make sure to stir constantly and firmly so you
won’t get lumps in the batter. Cover with a plate and leave to rest
for at least an hour.
Heat your oven on a low heat so you can place your pancakes to keep
warm. When the batter is ready, melt a teaspoon of butter in a frying
pan. Add one ladle of batter to form a pancake. Fry approx 2-3 minutes
on a medium heat until golden. Flip sides and repeat. In one corner of
the pancake, place a enough squash, cabbage and crumbled Roquefort.
Fold pancakes in half and fold again to form a triangle. Leave on heat
30 seconds to gently melt the Roquefort. Serve immediately.

Vegetable tian

4 tomatoes
3 large zucchini
2 aubergines
2 garlic cloves
A handful of finely chopped parsley
3 bay leaves
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper for seasoning

Preheat the oven to 210°C/400°F. Clean all vegetables and slice them
finely into equal ‘rondelles’ (round slices). Sprinkle the aubergines
with coarse salt for 20 minutes, then rinse them with boiling hot
water. Drain. Rub garlic all over roasting pan, then align the slices
tightly alternating with each vegetable. Sprinkle sliced garlic all
over, place the sprigs of thyme and bay leaves on top, drizzle with
olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Cook in oven for 30 minutes.
When ready, sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve immediately.

Calvados apple tart
5 apples, peeled, cored and sliced into small chunks
1/4 cup/ 60 ml calvados
5 tbsp/ 60 g brown sugar (cassonade)
3 egg yolks
1 cup/ 250 ml crème fraîche or sour cream
3 tbsp ground almonds
Additional crème fraîche to serve on the side.

For the pastry:
2 cups/ 250 g plain flour
2/3 cups/ 150 g butter (softened at room temperature)
1/4 cup/ 30 g caster sugar
1/2 cup/ 60 g icing confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup/ 80 g ground almonds
1 egg
A pinch of salt

Chop apples and soak in the calvados for 1 hour.

For the crust:
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together until the mixture
forms a homogenous dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and
place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Take out 30 minutes before
rolling out. On a floured parchment covered surface, roll out the
dough to fit your tart pan. Line tart pan with the pastry dough, and
cut out excess overhang dough approx. ¼ inch/ 1 cm off the rim. Fold
in the excess dough to make a double thick rim. Pierce dough with a
fork all over and place in the freezer for 30 minutes to one hour.
This will prevent your crust to shrink when blind baked.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 210°C/ 400°F.

Blind bake the tart for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 180°C/ 350°C.
Take the tart crust out. Drain apples and keep the remaining calvados.
Sprinkle tart with 2 tbsp sugar and place the drained apples all over
the tart. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. If the crust starts to
brown too much, cover edges with aluminium paper. Take the tart out of
the oven. Increase oven heat again to 400°F. Beat together the egg
yolks, cream, remaining sugar and reserved calvados and pour mixture
into the tart all over the apples. Sprinkle the ground almonds on top
and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Serve warm with a tbsp of crème
fraîche on the side.

All you need is thyme

Recently, I was given a very original gift. Twelve ‘melons d’Espagne’ (a variety of winter melons) from our farmer neighbours. It was a beautiful jade green sight, as if they were dropped by someone from outer space. These are the last melons of the season, often stored in garages to ripen for use. They are best prepared as jam. So at this time of the year, local Médocains are all preparing the melon d’Espagne jam. I immediately called my aunt for inspiration as she is the confiture (jam) expert. Ever since I was a child, she’s been making the most delicious home-made jams, mixing quince with rosemary and mint, strawberries with roses, rhubarb and raspberries. After our little chat, I hurried to the kitchen and mixed melon with vanilla and sugar in one bowl, and in the other one, ginger, mandarin, melon and sugar leaving them to soak overnight.

I woke up extra-early the next day with only melons on my mind. They had turned into a syrupy fruit mash, ready to be cooked. Just for 45 minutes. It turned out to be so easy, so beautiful to make, and on top of it the house smelt like sugar and spice. I transferred the jam to little glass jars, prepared my scones recipe, which I make for my family several times a week. We had a lovely breakfast, the sun was shining, the jam was delightful with the scones. I’ll be making much more jam this next week, as I think they will be ideal presents for my friends. I am looking forward to finding pretty fabric and ribbons to decorate the jars.

To inaugurate the first holiday week with the children, I planned a good old-fashioned roast lunch, just how my grandmother Séraphine prepared them. My grandmother had a little notebook filled with recipes from her own childhood, along with pretty dried flowers decorating her notes. Mostly violets. Her recipes came from another generation, given to her by family and friends, from Toulouse to Lyon. This recipe is from Augustine, my great-grandmother. The ‘crème de thym’ was her speciality, a Lyonnaise style sauce based on milk, thyme, garlic and egg yolks. It’s a timeless sauce, which can be served with lamb, roast beef or chicken.

Rack of lamb roast with thyme cream sauce (serves 4)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 375°F

1-1.5 kg rack of lamb
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and brown the lamb on all sides until golden. Place in a roasting pan, season with salt and pepper and cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes (depending on rack size and cooking preference). Serve meat on a large plate, add steamed potatoes on all sides. Serve with the thyme cream sauce.

Steamed potatoes:

700-1kg new potatoes (depending on portions)

Wash and scrub potatoes if necessary. Place water in a large pot (5 cm/ 1 inch and a half), place potatoes in a steaming basket, drizzle with salt, cover with a lid and steam for approx 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain and serve.

For the sauce:
1 garlic clove, minced
70 g fresh thyme
350 ml milk
3 egg yolks
150 g butter, cut in cubes
Salt and pepper for seasoning

In a saucepan, bring the milk to a soft boil and take off the heat. Add the fresh thyme, ground garlic and leave to infuse for 15-20 minutes. Strain milk with a sieve, pressing all the thyme to get as much flavour as possible. Discard stalks. Return thyme infused milk to the heat, add 3 egg yolks, one by one, whisking constantly. When the sauce starts to thicken, lower the heat and add butter pieces, stirring away. Add salt and pepper and set aside.

Melon d’Espagne jam

1 kg melon d’Espagne
450 g granulated sugar
Soak overnight

recipe 1: 1 vanilla pod
Recipe 2: Fine slivers of 1 small mandarine
Thumb-size small piece of ginger, finely sliced

Slice melon into chunks (discard skin), remove all seeds and place in a large bowl. If you want to make different flavoured jam, divide melons into two bowls. Pour sugar on melon and mix well. In one bowl mix melon and sugar, in the other mix melon, sugar and add ingredients from recipe 2. Cover with cling film and leave to macerate overnight. For recipe one, in a large pot, pour soaked melon, slit the vanilla pod along its length, scrape off the seeds using the tip of a knife and mix with melon. For recipe 2, cook in another pot. Cook on a low heat, stirring from time to time, for 40-45 minutes, or until consistency is thick and glossy. Pour jam into glass jars and leave to cool.

Tip: Be careful not to overcook as the jam will become to stiff and pasty.

Serve with home-made scones (see recipe).