Friday, February 26, 2010

My best salmon, French style recipe

Raw salmon

If you have a piece of fresh salmon is this the absolutely best way to cook it. Impossible to make it simpler and so good! I put the oven to 180 degrees and add some sugar and salt to the salmon - no, it won't make it taste sweet. Sprinkle some olive oil on top and leave to marinate for about 15 minutes or until the oven is warm. Put it in the oven for about 15-20 minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon and if you want it a bit raw in the middle or not.

We have it with aioli and rice, warm or cold. Even better cold the day after if you ask me. And - important - the children love it!

This is a typical French recipe. Take a good quality fresh ingredient,  mess with it as little as possible. Eat and enjoy.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Picnic at the Léon lake

Yellow spring flowers

I hang up the phone. My mom just told me she's going out again to shovel away some snow. The heaps of snow go all the way up to the roof of their neighbour.

Bjorn contemplating the blue water at Léon lake

Clara playing in the sand at Léon lake

I check the temperature outside. Eighteen degrees. Plus. Let's go for a picnic! Flowers are blooming, sun is shining. Life is good.

By the road we find a dead nutria. It comes from South America and is sensitive to the cold here, but this one has a bullet hole in its back. I check on the internet and it says that they get nuisible because they don't have any natural predators.

Back at home I see our first daffodil blooming...

Dead nutria

Blooming daffodil in our garden

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I love stripes!

Artiga deck chair
I love the tissues from the basque traditional manufacturer Artiga. Actually, in my house all my curtains are made out of Artiga tissues! They also have some ready made products like bags, espadrilles, bread baskets and oven gloves for example. Their summer collection came up the other day and  it really makes me long for lazy summer days in those striped deck chairs!

Jean Vier table cloth

Another well known basque brand is Jean Vier. They make absolutely stunning tissues in both vivid colours and more restrained colour schemes.

True for both brands is that they use traditional techniques and only sell high quality products - at a price.  The stripes were originally seven and represented the seven regions in the Pays Basque.
Photos from their web sites.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Summer kitchen - part of the bare necessities? (2)

Rhune view from their house

Nathalie and Henri in Urrugne are not much for making things halfway. Can't have a pool without a summer kitchen beside it. Can't have a summer kitchen without the bare necessities. Like a heater, a barbecue and a plancha. And a draft beer dispenser and a wall set wine bottle opener and a coffee machine and a bottle dispenser and .... a dishwasher. That's what I call a good summer kitchen. All that, about 50 meters from their house....

But it isn't as crazy as it seems. In summertime we live outside, by the pool, and different ways to prepare meat always come handy.
They invited us to celebrate the kitchen with some friends and food... a selection of what we had in the photos.

Oysters of course

Mussel and shell stew

Traditional basque cake with black cherry jam




The pool house but before the sliding doors where there

Saturday, February 20, 2010

When I get homesick - semlor

I'm almost never homesick, but one thing always make me long to Sweden. It's about now, when the windows to all the bakeries are full of semlor, a local speciality that you eat in January and February. Semla is not for the faint of heart. It's an explosion of whipped cream, almond paste and a cardamom flavoured airy bun...

So today I made some with the children. The example on the photo is okay, but maybe I could have topped it off with a bit more of that whipped cream?

I give you a link to a recipe in English if you want to make your own semlor....

Friday, February 19, 2010

Listen to French radio on the Internet

Internet is fantastic. If you have a connection you can now listen to the same radios I listen to in my car here in France... and get a feeling for what Frenchmen listen to every day. Because even today, when artists like Lady Gaga and Madonna are to be heard in most countries, the local radio still reflects the local culture.

Among my personal preferences you'll find the radio RTL2, with classic pop music and NRJ, with a rockier sound. You can also try Zoneradio where you find no less than 19 different French radios to listen to online!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Armagnac IV - duck farmer Mounet

Yep, I carry on investigating the treasures of the Armagnac region. Today I visited the Mounet duck farm in Eauze - which is actually just outside Aquitaine because it is in the Gers region. But let’s not be picky: this farm has won many medals for the quality of their foie gras.

First of all, Monique and Bernard Molas, the owners, are friendly and smiling. Secondly, you very soon feel how much they care about their animals. Third, the place is beautiful, set on a height with fields and forest all around. Fourth, the foie gras we tried was absolutely fantastic. And I tell you, I have been eating some good foie gras around here! Needless to say, we did not leave this place without buying some of their merchandise... whole goose foie gras, duck confit, pure duck rillettes, duck scratchings, wine duck stew... They never go to any markets because they sell all their products just like that, on the farm!

They have set up a walk around the farm to show their different animals and teach you some about goose, ducks and the Gers region in general. In case you wonder, no photos of any ducks or goose, because they pond during winter and the first batch of ducklings arrive in a month. The peak of production is at the end of the year - right in time for Christmas and New Years Eve.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Couscous, typical French food

Maybe some of you will be surprised to see couscous, a traditional dish from North Africa, be called typical French food... but really, it is! France has a strong connection to the former French colonies in North Africa and some of their cuisine has made it for good in France. Making a real homemade couscous takes a lot of time so it is a good restaurant meal choice. It is also one of my very favourite meals during winter time. True comfort food!

Today we had lunch at the Couscousserie in Dax, a restaurant with Tunisian specialties. We both ordered a Royal Couscous, which is the evident choice if you have troubles making your mind up. Instead of taking chicken OR merguez OR lamb OR meatballs OR beef ... you just have it all. (The only problem is that we will now skip dinner, but it was SO worth it).

The couscous is served with a spicy aromatic vegetable stew and one or more pieces of meat. Usually harissa, a very hot red chilli paste, is served on the side. Use with caution if you want a hotter meal! I absolutely love couscous, so that is usually what I order, but another traditional dish to try out is the tajine. It is cooked and served in a heavy clay dish made of two parts, a plate and a cone on top. The meat stew is steamed and comes out so tender it falls apart. Hundreds of versions exist.

Moroccan tajine

Otherwise try the harira soup, a Moroccan dish which is just to die for! Tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas and some meat, but it is all in the spices and herbs.. coriander, parsley, ginger, saffron... The photo does not do justice to the goodness of this soup!

The traditional drink after a meal is mint tea. It is served from a tea pot with a long curving serving spout, to pour the tea from a height. Try the desserts if you have an extremely sweet tooth... too much sugar to me!

The restaurants are usually colourful with a cloth covering the ceiling and decorations with cosy lights and mosaics. Not always very tasteful, but it sure makes you feel like you made a journey just stepping into the restaurant. Sometimes you sit by very low tables with crossed legs. The pictures are from the Couscousserie. Maybe not the cosiest one, but the food is excellent.

40 years, time to start surfing?

My cousin

Just to lay flat on the surf board and paddle through the waves to get out to the right spot has left me panting for air. But Christophe doesn't give me much time to recover. He turns the board to face the shore and quickly gives me some instructions. When I tell you, start paddling as fast as you can and then stand up on the board when I tell you!

Erretegia beach

This happened last summer. I am so incredibly happy that I finally did try to surf! Can't live so close to these waves without at least trying, can you? But the truth is that I haven't tried earlier because I was afraid. The Atlantic waves are huge. Impressive. Beautiful. Scary. I had visions of a surf board that would hit the back of my head and send me unconscious turning in the bubbly water... But here they have soft beginners boards. And, as Johanna says, everybody can surf.

We start at the Erretegia beach in Bidart. I’m here with some friends and family. The sea is shimmering, the sky is high and blue and the air is warm. A perfect summer day. We start by trying on the wet suits and let them hang from the waist until we jump into the water. I and another girl carry two boards between us. When my feet touch the sand, I feel this warm feeling of intense happiness as I gaze out over the sea.

The waves are pretty small, about a meter. Perfect for beginners, says Christophe. We start with some theory that of course focuses on all the dangerous things that can happen. The force of a big wave behind a board can crush both a nose and whack out teeth. I feel butterflies start flying around in my stomach. We check to see if we are left footed or right footed, to decide which foot you put in front of you on the board, and learn how to attach the safety rope. Our instructor shows us how to lie on the board when you paddle out to stay in balance. He also shows how to stand up. Preferably in one swift jump. Ha! Try yourself to lie flat on you stomach with your palms facing the ground and try to jump up to standing in one move! I listen more carefully when he tells us about the other option, which is to stand up in steps. Place your hands first, then one foot after the other and then you let go of your hands.

Now it is time to hit the waves. The butterflies are getting crazy in there, but they disappear the moment I get into the water. I don't have time to worry about them! I am too busy just to stay on the board, paddle with my arms and try to get past those waves. Again that intense feeling of happiness comes, with the sun in my eyes and the salty water splashing over my head. Silly, but I'm happy just lying here on my board!

I keep fighting to get past those waves. It is incredibly tiring and I am quickly out of breath, so hard I am working with my arms. When I finally reach the right spot, Christophe sends me off at once. The wave is rising up behind me and I paddle like crazy. Stand up! I feel how the board is supported by the wave. The water is hissing at the sides of the board. I put my hands in front of my on the board, like I have been told, put up a foot and then another, feel the force of the water under my board and then I let go of my hands. I'm standing up! It doesn't last for long, but what a kick!

With a huge smile I get back on my board and start paddling again. I want that feeling again! I keep on trying, but now I can't get to stand on the right spot to be in balance and fall before I manage to stand up. But now I'm not tired anymore. I keep trying and trying. Until I paddle out and realize that I'm the only one left in the water. I get out of the water, but one thing is for sure, this was not the last time!

Surf school in Bidart. Here my friend Johanna works with her husband Christophe.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine Surprise - Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Winter on the beach in Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Twenty-four hours. Doesn't sound much, but sometimes that's all you need to do a romantic getaway. My husband had planned this as a surprise, so I was only told to pack a dress and a swimsuit….

I won't give you much details, nor photos, but if I say hammam, massage with hot stones, champagne and strawberries and a sumptuous dinner, I guess you get the picture. And today we enjoyed the cold sun in Saint Jean de Luz, had oysters and bought some Adam macarons, a local specialty based on almonds.

It's only 24 hours later, but I feel like I went away for a week! I wish you a Valentine's Day with the ones you care the most for!

Typical basque dancing. Red and black are the colours of Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Typical basque house

Typical street in Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Typical brasserie. In this case, Brouillarta on the beach in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. They have marvellous oysters.

On thing I love about France is how beautifully they pack cookies....

... like the famous macarons from Adam. Not sure they are the best, but they are Very Very Good.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Armagnac III - the Labouc family

Madame Labouc

Our first Armagnac visit takes place at the Ferme de Labouc. The farm is very simple but in a beautiful setting with the vines all around. Madame Labouc receives us on the 15th of October and her husband is doing the last harvest day. We see him pass in his blue working clothes. His grandfather’s grandfather founded the farm and now his son has taken over. But mum and dad don't seem to have abandoned work completely yet.

Detail from the farm

We have a marvellous time as she shows us around the farm. They have their own alambic in a barn like building and she explains the whole process of making Armagnac. I don't think I got all the details about the distilling process, but the most important part seem to be the second time around. This is the main difference from cognac. Cognac is distilled once, armagnac twice. This makes the alcohol level go down naturally to about 55 percent. The aromas are better conserved and give a fruitier taste than cognac. The low - comparing - alcohol level makes it unnecessary to dilute with water to reach, after storage, a final alcohol level of 40-43 percent. Cognac is often diluted with water and then colour is added artificially to obtain the beautiful dark colour. Most Armagnac are stored for ten or more years in oak barrels. Part of the alcohol evaporates, which is called the angels part....

Madame Labouc says that wine made from folle blanche is really bad. Undrinkable. But perfect to make Armagnac. We mostly use baco 22A and folle blanche, she says, but ugni blanc and colombard are also very common. The earth here was once covered by the sea and it is the remaining level of salty sea sand that makes our Armagnac so excellent.

We end the visit with a tasting session where we try, among others, an Armagnac form 1964! But I think my favourite was the one from 1983. It feels like an honour to drink these old ones, smooth and round, but still strong after all these years. Seeing the old dusty barrels that are kept for tens and tens of years, a palpable and very much alive tradition....

One of the local specialties is the Floc de Gascogne. It is grape juice mixed with young Armagnac. A perfect summer apéritif, served well chilled, on the rocks or like I just tried, mixed with Schweppes. Another favourite is the plums marinated in Armagnac... we serve them as dessert with vanilla ice cream.

Cocktail with Floc de Gascogne
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