Tag: chasselas grapes

From quail to quince

The vineyards around Médoc are looking very handsome these days. The grapes have ripened to a velvety dark colour, looking robust and just about ready to be picked. I found out this week harvest dates will be postponed till October. It has been a dry year and the grapes need to mature for a few more weeks. Rumour has it that 2012 will be a good year.

Once in a while, we love going on a little family escapade. We drive through tiny villages, stop by a château and chat with winemakers. By chance, we met M. Gilles Hue, proprietor of Château Haut Garin, located in Prignac-en-Médoc. It’s exactly the kind of small château you want to find, where you can chat with the owner on wine, on the art of enjoying baguette, on the practicality of his old Citroen car and his general remembrance of things past. We bought a bottle of his cru bourgeois 2000 (the bottle cost 8 euros). Since I had previously bought a few quails, I had the idea to cook them wrapped in vine leaves. So I picked a few leaves from the vineyards and hurried home to make another little feast.

M. Hue was not pleased with his baguette delivery this morning – it was too soft. So he left it standing by the kitchen window for a crustier effect.

M. Gilles Hue, proprietor of Château Haut Garin.

On our way home, we saw a beautiful line of trees leading to what it seemed to be another château. And there it was, a hidden gem, a treasure left to its own devices, in the middle of the Médocan nature. A fairy-tale castle built for princes and princesses, tucked away in the bushes, fallen into ruins and reminding us of an elegant past. We were transported on a journey through the history of this abandoned castle where a lot is left to our imagination. The overgrown garden looks like the land time forgot. Could the story behind the castle’s abandonment be of lost fortunes? My daughter Mia suddenly looked like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, grabbing Harry (our little furry Jack Russell) in her arms – he was scared of the big white bull in the garden, she was frightened by the ghostliness of the castle. I am always the hopeful romantic, thinking it was fate that we found this castle and one day it shall be ours.

Back home I cleaned the vine leaves and the quails. I enjoyed wrapping the birds in the leaves and securing each one of them with butcher’s twine. I felt like a determined Babette (from Babette’s feast – a must-see food-lover movie) in the kitchen. My table was glowing thanks to the golden Chasselas grapes from Moissac. They always warm my heart as Moissac is my grandmother’s hometown. It’s a beautiful village, home to the impressive Saint-Pierre Abbey dating back from the 7th century. When you adventure about you will find ancient medieval monasteries, famous for their quince jams and honey. The remote lives of the monks chanting in the hills remain a mystery. It certainly provides a lot of inspiration for a novel.

Talking about quince, we bought several big ones last week. My youngest baby daughter Gaïa loves my home-made quince compote with honey and cinnamon. I try not to buy ready-made baby food anymore (unless I am travelling). I enjoy preparing little meals which I store in old labelled jam jars. To end the quail dinner, I made a quince tarte tatin. Quince have a delightful tangy taste, a mixture between pears and apples. This simple quince tarte tatin recipe is perfect for autumn evenings (and winter too!). The golden caramel melts through the quince, need I say more? I always serve this gourmand dessert warm with a obligatoire dollop of crème fraîche.

Ingredients:(serves 4)
Roast quails with vine leaves
8-10 quails (2 to 3 per person)
8-10 slices bacon
A sprig of fresh thyme
Chasselas grapes, or good-quality smaller grape variety
40 ml cognac
25 g butter (at room temperature)
5 cloves garlic (halved)
Vine leaves (smaller ones are better, 2 leaves per quail)
Butcher’s twine
Salt and pepper

Peel and deseed grapes (you can save a lot of time if you buy seedless grapes!), place in a bowl and soak in cognac for 2 hours. Clean vine leaves and pat dry.
Preheat over to 200 °C.
Wash and dry the quails. Add half a clove of garlic, thyme, 2-3 peeled and deseeded grapes, sprinkle with salt and pepper inside the quail. Rub the quail all over with butter, wrap with bacon. With butcher’s twine, tie the quail around the circumference, turn the quail over and tie the twine around the circumference again. Place a vine leaf on top, and one on the bottom, and secure with a small piece of twine. Sprinkle quails with salt and pepper.
Roast quails, and after 15 minutes, pour the grape mixture with cognac all over. Roast for a further 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how golden the quails look. Turn quails halfway. Make sure to check if the grapes and cognac don’t dry up or burn.

Serve with pan-fried potatoes with garlic and thyme.

Potatoes with garlic and thyme:
10 small potatoes (slice)
3 garlic cloves (sliced)
Olive oil
A sprig of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Slice potatoes, leave the skin on (6-7mm thick). In a large frying pan, heat olive oil on medium heat, add potatoes, making sure they are all coated in oil. Stir frequently so they don’t stick to the pan. After 10 minutes, add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Lower heat slightly and continue frying. The potatoes should be cooked after 25-30 minutes.

Quince tart tatin with crème fraîche

Quince tatin

Quick & easy shortcrust pastry:
300 g plain flour (sifted)
150 g butter (diced and at room temperature)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
80 ml lukewarm milk

In a large bowl, mix butter, salt sugar and butter. Mix well with your hands, pour milk gradually and form a soft dough. Shape into a ball. On parchment paper, sprinkle a generous amount of plain flour, roll dough with a rolling-pin. Form a circle slightly larger than the diameter of the cake/tart tin.

3 large quince (or 5-6 small ones. Peeled, cored and cut into 2 cm thick wedges)
200 g caster sugar
100 g butter (diced and at room temperature)
1 tsp cinnamon
20 g sugar (for sprinkling)

Tip: I would advise to make the caramel in a sturdy pan and pour into the cake tin. Cake tins are usually very thin and somehow my caramel never seems to ‘work’ well.
In a 20 cm large pan, add sugar and melt on a low heat. Do not stir until the sugar has melted and starts to turn ‘golden blond’. At this point, take away from heat and add butter. Stir until butter has melted, and immediately pour into cake tin. It should cover the entire base. Set aside.
Peel, core and cut quince into 2 cm wedges. Carefully arrange the quince in the cake tin, round-side down. You may need to cut some of the quince into smaller pieces to fill in the gaps. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon frequently. Seal the tatin with the rolled shortcrust pastry. Tuck in the edges, gently spike the dough with a fork all over. Bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden, then remove from the oven. Cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm with crème fraîche.

Dinner for friends

What to cook for homesick French friends? Well, les grands classiques, bien sûr! My friends Jean-Pierre and Alexia came over for a visit last week-end. They left Paris three long years ago and came back to France for a little holiday. They absolutely love their new life, but had turned into homesick Parisians, or, should I say homesick for good old French food. Nothing can really replace the authentic taste of baguette, country bread, Normandy butter and fresh foie gras from the Gers region. I can understand exactly how they feel as I have been in a similar situation when I lived abroad. Sentimentally speaking, I had to cook food that meant the world to me. Good times, good friends and good food have a precious link.

Pastis before…

And Pastis after (diluted with water).

So here was the menu: A little glass of Pastis for an apéritif. The hot summer nights call for a little anis seed infused cooling drink. For starters, a hearty old-fashioned onion soup that is so good you will want to keep this recipe forever. Served with Comté cheese tartines. The main course had to be special. In France, we have the Eiffel tower, we have couture, we have wine, and we have foie gras. Foie gras is the national festive food, often served for Christmas, new year’s eve or any special occasion. And there are so many special occasions. I got a glistening piece of foie gras from a producer in the Gers (he has a reputation for being ethical and working with proper methods).

Roasted foie gras with Chasselas grapes and cognac

Pan-fried foie gras with golden rosé apples (flambés with cognac) on toast

Pan-fried foie gras with poached egg and Périgueux sauce

As they are good old friends dashing with humour, I couldnt’ help making a little ‘Portrait Chinois‘ (if you were a dish, what would you be?) of them through my cooking. For Jean-Pierre, it had to be the poached egg version with Périgueux sauce as his family is originally from there. For Alexia, the golden rosé apples match her beautiful mane, for my husband, a baked version with Chasselas grapes macerated in Cognac, very masculine and deep. And for me, a simple pan-fried version with figs and Chasselas grapes, since they come from my grandmother’s hometown Moissac. September rhymes with Chasselas grapes.

And what a better way to finish this sumptuous meal than with a Paris-Brest? A decadent choux pastry filled with praline and coffee cream reminding us all of good times spent at Chez Michel (10 Rue de Belzunce, 75010 Paris), one of our favourite bistrots in Paris, where they make the best Paris-Brest in the world.

May good times last forever.

Main ingredients:
1 good-quality duck or goose foie gras (approx 500 g), veins and impurities removed, cut into 1-1.5 cm/ 1/2-inch thick slices
300 g Chasselas grapes (or good quality small green grapes)
8 small figs
1 golden rosé apple
Country bread

Fig heaven

1) Pan-fried foie gras with golden rosé apples and cognac.
Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. Slice apples horizontally.
In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras and apples. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side or less. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras and apples. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Leave the apples to cook for 3-5 mores minutes turning them on each sides. Drain the pan, keeping a little bit of duck fat and fry slice of bread in pan for 10 seconds on each sides. Serve apples and bread with foie gras.

2) Roasted foie gras with Chasselas grapes and cognac
Preheat oven 200°C. Peel and remove pips from grapes. Place in a bowl and soak in cognac for at least 2 hours. Place foie gras in a heat-proof small oven dish (I use a small Staub cocotte) and bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, drain the fat and add macerated grapes in dish. Bake for 8 more minutes and serve.

3) Pan-fried foie gras with Chasselas grapes and figs
Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. Slice figs in quarters. Rinse and dry Chasselas grapes. In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras, figs and grapes. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side or less. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras, figs and grapes. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Leave the figs and grapes to cook for 3 more minutes. Serve immediately.

4) Pan-fried foie gras with sauce Périgueux and poached egg.
Sauce Périgueux:
50 g butter
200 ml stock
1 small glass white wine
1 shallots (finely sliced)
2 g salt
10 g flour
1 bay leaf
1 chopped black truffle
2 g pepper

Chop the truffle and set aside. In a small pan, melt butter and fry shallots until soft. Add flour, stir well, add wine and reduce for 2 minutes. Stir well. Gradually add stock and stir constantly. Add bay leaf, stir well. Cook for 10 minutes on a low heat. The sauce should be slightly thick and creamy. Strain the sauce and add the chopped truffle last.

Egg: In a shallow pan of boiling water, add 1 tsp of white wine vinegar. Prepare your egg by breaking it into a little cup so it’s easier to pour into the boiling water. When the water is boiling, pour in the egg in the water. Cover with a lid for 3 minutes, then check if it needs a bit of ‘pushing and shoving’ to make the form rounder. You can use a large slotted spoon for this. Depending on how well you like the egg cooked, 3-5 minutes should complete the task. When ready spoon egg onto a plate. Set aside and drain.

Foie gras: Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Place the egg on top, drizzle generously with sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Old-fashioned French onion soup with Comté tartines
1 kg large yellow onions (sliced finely)
50 g duck fat (alternatively you can use butter instead)
1.5 litre good-quality chicken stock
100 g Comté cheese
Salt & pepper for seasoning

Old-fashioned French onion soup

Peel onions and slice them finely. In a large pot, heat duck fat and cook onions on a low to medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring often. Add chicken stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a soft boil and cook for 15 minutes. Scoop out half of the onions and purée the onions in a food processor. Return the pureed onions to the soup and mix well. The soup should have a nice smooth velvety consistency as well as bits of onions.
In a pre-heated oven 200 °C, grill a few slices of country bread topped with a slice of Comté cheese for a few minutes until cheese has melted and slightly golden. Serve soup in individual bowls, add a melted cheese tartine on top of each bowls and season with salt and pepper.


(serves 8-10)
For the choux pastry ring:
150 g plain flour
140 ml water
90 ml milk
90 g butter
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
3 tbsp flaked/sliced almonds
Icing sugar (for sprinkling)

For the cream filling:
5 egg yolks
80 g sugar
40 g flour
60 g ready-made praline mix (it’s a mixture of sugared ground almonds and hazelnuts – nearly like a paste)
350 ml full-cream milk
2 tsp instant coffee powder (optional)
175 g good-quality butter – at room temperature
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

For the choux pastry:
Beat the eggs in a bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, add milk, water, butter, salt, sugar and bring to a simmer. Take the pan away from the heat and add the flour (in one go) and stir constantly until you get a smooth dough. Put back on a low heat for 2-3 minutes to dry it up slightly. Take away from heat. Off the heat, add the beaten eggs, slowly (reserve 4-5 tbsp for final brushing) and stir gradually to form a smooth dough. Leave to rest at room temperature. Line baking tray with parchment paper and trace a 20 cm circle. Place the choux dough in a piping bag with a large nozzle (2.5 cm) and pipe the 20 cm ring. Pipe a second ring around the inside next to the first ring. Finally, pipe another ring on top of these two rings. Use remaining beaten egg adding a small pinch of salt – brush top ring with egg and sprinkle evenly with sliced almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until pastry is firm and golden. Take out from oven and immediately slice the ring horizontally into two layers so the steam escapes. Set aside and leave to cool.

For the cream filling:
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until fluffy and light. Stir in the flour. In another pan, bring milk to a boil with the salt and coffee, stirring until the coffee dissolves. Whisk the milk into the egg mixture, return it to the pan, and whisk over gentle heat until boiling. Once thickened, cook the cream gently for one minute. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool completely, until cold. Once cooled, gradually ‘smooth’ in butter with a spatula, alternating with the praline. Note: If you are not a praline or coffee flavour fan, you can alternate and create your own filling with rum, vanilla, chocolate. As you wish.

Scoop cream into a pastry bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle. Put the lower half of the pastry ring on a serving plate. Pipe the cream in ‘rosettes’ onto the ring and set the upper ring on top. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Keep in refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.