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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.