Two Fun Events Perpetrated by One Happy Author

The dinner on Saturday November 3rd was spectacular! Even if I say so myself! The duck confit practically melted in our mouths. Every single course was fabulous – right down to the Tarte Tatin as the final offering of the night. The wines were great, especially the Carignan Vielles Vignes Terre d’Ardoise 2009.

There are no photos of anything, though. I couldn’t cook and serve AND take photos even with 2 volunteers helping me. It took all of my concentration to get 7 courses out and 10 people served each course efficiently.

The cookbooks I used were Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and the quintessential technique manual titled Le Cordon Bleu: Complete Cooking Techniques. These are both great volumes to own, though there’s an assumption in the Thomas Keller book that when you attempt these recipes you do so with previously existing skills as a chef. Not really a beginner’s book.

Forgive me for taking so long to get back to you about the dinner. I have been busy rehearsing for a dramatic reading/sneak preview of the second book in my Blue Truth trilogy titled White Lies. The reading was held last night at Manresa Castle here in Port Townsend, Washington. The room was full and it went well. Now to get back to work on the final chapters of White Lies.

France Inspired Me!

I frequently donate meals to charity auctions. I go all out to make these feasts a memorable experience for the lucky bidders. This time, though, I have just returned from wining and dining my way through Southern France. What that means is the bar has been raised significantly.

Here is my menu for Saturday’s dinner for 10 people:

Baguette w/ Brebis Florets, Goat Cheese Medallions & Fresh Berries

Dungeness Crab Bisque (1 guest is allergic to shellfish so I’m making a squash bisque for him.)

Green Salad w/ Pears & Gorgonzola in Pear Vinaigrette

Duck Confit w/ Brussels Sprouts in Dijon Mustard Sauce served with Chanterelle Risotto (Three guests don’t eat duck so I’ll create a salmon version of the duck Plate.)

Raspberry Sorbet

Classic Tarte Tatin w/ Crème Anglaîs (1 guest has a wheat allergy so I’m simply caramelizing an apple and serving it in a puddle of Crème Anglaîs.)

The wines that accompany this meal are:

White: Picpoul de Pinet 2011

Rosé: Domaine Sorin Terra Amata 2011

Red: Carignan Vielles Vignes Terre d’Ardoise 2009 & Chateau Blouin Bordeaux 2009

We had the Picpoul a number of times throughout Languedoc. It’s local and very good with a bright, dry fruitiness against the palate.

The rosé is from Provence and is typical of the French style – nothing sweet about it. Instead, we get a taste of fruit that is light and refreshing and sets up the taste buds for food.

2009 was a VERY good year for red wine in Southern France. I don’t think I’ve tasted any bad 2009s yet, so I stuck with that year for the dinner. Carignan is the name of the grape from which the Carignan Vielles Vignes is made. This is a very commonly used grape in Southern French wines. It is usually blended with other grapes but this bottle is pure Carignan, which makes it unique and interesting. It’s a gutsy red with much more complexity than our other red for this meal. That’s not to say that it’s rough to the taste. It’s got a nice forward flavor with black raspberry and plum, which sets up nicely on the palate and allows for secondary flavors that give it some nice complexity.

The Chateau Blouin is a classic Bordeaux style cabernet/merlot blend. It’s soft and plummy and will go down well when served after the Carignan toward the end of the meal.

Wish me luck! This is the first time I’ve done duck confit from scratch. It looked and smelled great as I pulled it out of the oven after 10 hours of slow roasting. (My dog, Gabrielle, will attest to that fact. We couldn’t get her out of the kitchen until I got the duck stored away.) It’s now under fat in the refrigerator awaiting its final preparation before the meal.

Just in case any of you are curious about the Brebis cheese florets mentioned in my menu above, I’ve included a photo of the cheese girolle that I will use to make them. I bought my girolle while we were in Toulouse so that I, too, could make cheese look this pretty.

Oh La La! Grand Hotel de l’Opéra!

We’re back in Toulouse. This time we’re staying at the Grand Hotel de l’Opéra facing onto the Place du Capitole. We got a deal through Hotels.com so we decided to splurge and stay in luxury. As it turns out, we can only assume the reason for the deal was that the road in front of the hotel is under repair and cabs can’t get anywhere near it.  We had to schlep our bags from the car rental return place to the hotel. We arrived in this clearly expensive hotel looking like gypsies entering the palace. But who cares! Our room has yellow velour cloth walls over dark mahogany wainscoting. AND we’re actually sleeping on a king size bed – AND our floor-to-ceiling windows are draped in sunshine-colored taffeta! Oh la la!

Room 472 at Grand Hotel de l’Opéra.

Minerve and Relais Chantovent

Entering the city of Minerve.

Minervois red.

White fish with cheese sauce.

Burnt sugar mousse.

Cheese plate with rosemary jelly.

Girolle de fromage.

We visited Minerve today, another site where Cathars were murdered by the Roman Catholic Church under the orders of Pope Innocent III. (Yes, I know – ironic for a pope named innocent to be such a blood-thirsty despot. But such is the history of the most powerful church in western history.) The city is very well restored and enchanting to walk through now that so many centuries have passed since the bloody assaults of the Albigensian Crusade.

We had lunch at Relais Chantovent in Minerve. It was very haute cuisine and extremely good. The waiters were young and friendly. One spoke English somewhat, which made for easier back and forth between our group’s various levels of comfort with the French language. It all worked in the end. The presentations at this restaurant were elegant. The food was mouth-wateringly good and the atmosphere was inviting. It lacked the warmth of Auberge de St. Martin in Beaufort but the setting was stunning as it overlooked the gorge surrounding the city on this beautiful sunny day in October. One warning, this is an expensive restaurant. The cost matched what you might expect of Haute cuisine in Paris.

Auberge de St. Martin

We arrived at the house we rented in Cesseras on Saturday afternoon. IT HAS WIFI! We’re here very little but I will do my best to get some of what’s going on into the blog as we tour through Cathar country up here in the Black Mountains.

Yesterday’s lunch was the best meal I’ve had this trip. We drove to Beaufort and ate at the Auberge de St. Martin. This meal was so much better than anything we’ve had over the past 13 days that I feel we have only JUST gotten a really fabulous French meal. We’ve eaten well for the most part. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the cuisine at Auberge de St. Martin is so good that everything else pales by comparison. The owner/Chef Christophe is a complete locavore who builds his menus around seasonal availabilities from the land in his area. He brought out fistfuls of boletus edulis mushrooms (the French call them cèpes) that he had just picked, and which were featured in several dishes. He said he’d come back with 40 kilos picked in a couple hours of foraging by himself!

When we walked in to the patio I smelled such a divine fragrance that I knew what I was having for lunch. Whatever was creating that aroma wafting past my nose and drifting under the canopy of leaves draped over the tables in the garden. As it turned out, I dined on a marvelous wild boar stew replete with fresh forest mushrooms in a wine reduction.

To eat at Aubergine de St. Martin is to come home to family. You feel immediately welcome. This is lunch with a favorite cousin — IF that cousin happens to be an excellent chef.

Visit their website at www.auberge-st-martin.com.

Christophe & Mylene in the courtyard of their excellent restaurant Auberge de St. Martin.

A chef and his mushrooms.

Wild boar stew.

The courtyard dining area.

A Bad Restaurant & a Great Storm

Well we sat out our first thunder storm and had our first disappointing meal last night in Capestang at La Bateliere on the banks of the canal. It wasn’t that everything was inedible but, without exception, the vegetables were boiled to within an inch of their lives and tasted like nothing but colorful mash. It came as a shock that a Frenchman wouldn’t know how to cook a legume to perfection. The lamb was tough and for the life of me I can’t figure out how they managed to cook lamb to the consistency of moist jerky.  C’est la vie.

If you find yourself in Capestang avoid La Bateliere and try the Grille in the main center of town behind the church. It had some very good reviews. In the afternoon we went there to use the internet for email and had glace du fraise with coffee. The glace tasted like fresh strawberries. Delicious!

Toulouse

Toulouse, the city governed by Raymond VI, was the first to feel the wrath of Rome in the early 1200s. Very little exists of the Ancient city that was at the heart of the region during the time of the Albigensian Religious War. The Capitol building hosts what is left of the ancient don jon or dungeon. It also borders the city’s version of Times Square where everyone gathers to see and be seen. The grounds at the entrance of this building are the site of a major excavation with plans to unearth the entire outer battlements of the old city.

We stayed Friday night only at the Pullman Hotel Toulouse Centre. Ultra modern, ultra clean with a professional staff that made everything so pleasant we want to go back and stay there longer. Toulouse is the perfect base for exploring the Languedoc region. It’s a major university town with great galleries and museums, fabulous restaurants, and the Victor Hugo farmers’ market. If you come to Toulouse don’t miss the opportunity to spend some time tasting your way through this place along with all the locals.

Our room at Hotel Pullman Toulouse Centre.

Victor Hugo Market Olives.

Baguettes ala Victor Hugo Marketplace.

Spices at Victor Hugo Market.

We ate dinner on Capitol Square at a restaurant called Le Florida. We began with a starter plate that featured fresh veggies and a soft local cheese glazed with cherry jam. The cheese was sharp-flavored but buttery and the contrast with the dark cherries was extraordinarily tasty. I love French cheeses anyway, but this one had the near-bitterness of walnuts. The sweet cherry sauce was a perfect pairing to make my taste buds stand at attention. My husband, Ron, ordered bass – the whole fish grilled. We always share tastes and I can tell you this was melt-in-your-mouth spectacular. It was served with a tiny zucchini soufflé that was seasoned with lavender. Yummm!

Our entree at Le Florida in Toulouse.

An entire fish at Le Florida in Toulouse

When my main course arrived I was more than ready. I’d ordered a grilled duck breast served in its own juices. It was perfectly prepared, simply delicious, and served with fresh greens in a balsamic dressing. We drank a local Languedoc blended red.

Duck breast at Le Florida.

We recommend this restaurant highly. It is located for the perfect view onto the square and all the activities there. On the night we sat outdoors having a delightful dinner, the square filled up with inline skaters of every age. They skated around entertaining all the diners seated at tables bordering the square and finally ended by taking off en masse for what seemed to be something like a 5K through the city at night. It looked like a lot of fun and drew at least 2 or 3 hundred participants.

Getting There

We are at Gate C2 in Seattle’s SeaTac airport. Boarding is in 30 minutes for our first leg to Vancouver – a forty-minute flight. At Vancouver International we’ll sit for 4 hours until we board our KLM flight to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam another long layover before we board another KLM flight to Toulouse. What can I say? We’re doing this for free on points earned through Alaska Airlines. This is the best combo we could get. We’re looking into changing to a different airline credit card because we heard from a friend that she had NO TROUBLE booking a flight direct to France and FIRST CLASS through her United Airline points! We want that kind of flexibility and service!

The next time you hear from me, it will be from France! YAY!

Link

Open Suitcase

I’m going to post links to Blogs I really, really like. If you’d like to be part of this list and/or want to post me, just let me know so I can return the favor.

Thanks,

Pam