I think you can call me an olive oil junkie... possibly an addict... and I'm embarrassed to say, maybe a snob. I love the stuff. I may even use olive oil more than butter. Probably. Next to my kitchen range, I have an old French lemonade bottle filled with a very reasonably priced extra-virgin olive oil that I use primarily for sautéing, the frying of eggs, or the oiling of molds. For that purpose, I've been buying Trader Joe's Extra Virgin California Estate Olive Oil, named by the Wall Street Journal as one of its favorites, and "a workhorse" in the kitchen (read about it HERE). On the opposite side of my range are the oils I use for finishing or whisking into a vinaigrette. I purchased an amazing one last summer at the Carpentras, France outdoor market and paid more for it than I like to spend, but it's heaven! It's truly the best one I've ever had in my kitchen... And, it's almost gone :(
But just because I adore really good extra-virgin olive oils, I will not drop a bundle on them. One EVOO I always try to have on hand in my kitchen is Nicholas Alziari from Nice. I refuse to purchase it here in the U.S. (carried by Williams-Sonoma and Zingerman's) because of the steep price -- it costs half in Paris. If I happen to be there, I will stock up, bringing several home. And, Nicholas Alziari is something I always request if a friend is traveling to France and generously asks, "Is there something you'd like me to pick up for you?" Packaged in a tin instead of glass bottles, it packs easily in a suitcase. But unfortunately, I cannot afford to hop a flight just to restock my pantry. My solution to that is shopping discount retailers. I've scored big time at places like HomeGoods. You won't always find an exceptional oil there, but if you're persistent, you will eventually snag a winner. I recently found Le Château d'Estoublon there for less than you'd pay in France. Always check the expiration date before purchasing, and store any unopened oils in a cool spot away from direct sunlight until needed.
This recipe for gluten-free Blueberry Muffins made with almond flour and olive oil is from a great article in a past WSJ OFF DUTY about olive oil myths (read it HERE).
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease 8 cups of a standard muffin pan with extra-virgin olive oil or use muffin liners. In a large bowl, stir together 2 cups almond flour or very finely ground blanched almonds, ¼ cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon.
2. In a small bowl, combine 2 large eggs, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons plain yogurt, then stir wet mixture into dry ingredients. (It’s OK if there are lumps in the dough.) Use a rubber spatula to fold 1 cup blueberries into batter.
3. Spoon batter into muffin pan, filling each cup to just below the brim. Bake 5 minutes, then decrease heat to 350 degrees and continue to cook until tops of muffins are lightly golden and dry to the touch, 15-20 minutes more. Transfer muffins to a rack to cool.
TAKE a LOOK:
Whenever I visit France, I'm there in search of inspiration. And France never disappoints. Last summer in the south of France, it seems as though every amazing meal I ate incorporated a savory shortbread into the dish.
At Le Château de Mazan (check out the beautiful hotel and restaurant HERE) assorted chilled vegetable purées were piped atop a thin savory cookie.
At Chez Serge in Carpentras, my first course balanced a savory cookie over my smoked salmon.
When I returned home with thoughts of cookies, savory and sweet, I made this dessert of fresh strawberry ice cream topped with strawberry rhubarb compote, and placed it on a pistachio cookie.
... and I continue to dream of ways to include savory pastries (and cookies) in the meals I create.
For this appetizer or first course, I rested a savory jalapeño Havarti custard with honeyed cocktail sauce on top of a delicate cornmeal cookie, then crowned it all with a giant grilled, lemon shrimp. I can't wait to make this part of an al fresco meal on the patio this summer!
I fortunately had some leftover cocktail sauce that a friend made, and which I used in this recipe. * Ina Garten's cocktail sauce (recipe HERE) would be a good substitute. An excellent commercial brand of cocktail sauce would also work as a coating for the custard.
SAVORY CORNMEAL COOKIES
makes 8 cookies
• 1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
• 1/8 cup cornmeal
• 1/2 teaspoon Maldon salt or fleur de sel
• 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
• 1 large egg yolk
1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and set aside.
2. Combine the flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a food processor; pulse once or twice. Add the cubed butter and pulse until small pieces form. Add the egg yolk and pulse briefly until the mixture just starts to come together. Do not over mix.
3. Transfer the mixture to a lightly floured work surface. Roll dough to approximately 3/8-inch thickness and cut out 3 1/2-inch to 4-inch rounds. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet.
4. Bake the cookies on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until golden. Remove and allow to cool.
JALAPENO HAVARTI CUSTARDS
makes 4 servings
• 3 large eggs
• 3/4 cup whole milk
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/3 cup finely diced Jalapeño Havarti
• 2 tablespoons honey
• 4 tablespoons cocktail sauce (see * above)
1. Preheat oven to 375˚F
2. Prepare four 1/2 cup ramekins by drizzling 1/2 tablespoon honey into each. Gently spread 1 tablespoon cocktail sauce over the honey, evenly coating the bottom of the ramekin.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and Jalapeño Havarti. Divide the custard evenly between the ramekins. Place the ramekins in a baking pan and make a bain-marie (water bath) by pouring hot water in the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
4. Gently slide the baking pan onto the middle rack of the oven and bake the custards for 30 minutes, or until set. When finished baking, remove from the oven and then remove the ramekins from the bain-marie. Cool for 10 minutes.
5. Prepare and grill shrimp while custards are resting.
GRILLED LEMON SHRIMP
• 1 to 2 large shrimp for each serving of savory custard
• Olive oil
• grated lemon zest
• kosher salt
• cilantro, for serving
1. Peel and devein shrimp. In a bowl, toss the shrimp with a good drizzle of olive oil. Add lemon zest and sprinkling of salt.
2. Grill shrimp either on a preheated grill pan indoors or on an outdoor charcoal or gas grill until pink and cooked through.
1. Using a small paring knife, run the tip around the outside of the custards. Top custard with a small plate and invert. Shake to release custard. Place a cookie on a serving plate and using a thin metal spatula center a custard on the cookie. Crown the custard with a grilled shrimp and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Repeat with remaining cookies, custards, and shrimp. Serve immediately.
TAKE a LOOK:
I visited Provence this past June where it seems... all things lead to LAVENDER. You see it growing practically everywhere. I took the photo below several years ago. On our recent trip, we stayed just up the road from this home, where lavender lines the drive, and drove past it almost daily -- a visual delight.
Visiting the village markets and local shops, you will find lavender soap, sachets, lotions, syrups, and what I consider the most wonderful of all -- lavender honey -- in abundance.
But, was I smart enough to bring any lavender products back home with me? Ah, no... I was trés stupide!
Every morning at our B&B in Gordes-Les Gros, we had a breakfast that included lavender honey in a very large container. I saw this same bulk container of lavender honey at the Super U, a grocery store in nearby Coustalet. Did it ever even occur to me to buy any? No... not at all. What was I thinking?
After arriving back home to St. Paul, Minnesota, empty handed, I rode to the Mill City Farmers' Market in Minneapolis and purchased a small bag of culinary lavender... I have been baking with it ever since.
NOTE: I used 10 individual Matfer tartlet molds measuring 3-inches in diameter at the top and 2 1/8 inches at the base. You can also use a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. If making a 9-inch tart, double the ingredients for the filling.
FOR THE CRUST:
• 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
• 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon culinary lavender
• 5 1/3 tablespoons butter
• 3 tablespoon ice water
FOR THE FILLING:
• 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
• 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon culinary lavender
• 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• Confectioners' sugar
• Culinary lavender, for sprinkling
TO MAKE THE CRUSTS:
1. Pulse the almonds in the bowl of a food processor until ground. Add the flour, salt, and lavender and pulse to combine.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas. Slowly add the ice water while pulsing. When the dough just starts to come together, stop and transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap. Press the dough into a disc and wrap with the plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. When ready to make the tart crust, remove dough from refrigerator; place on a work surface. I roll my dough inbetween a flour-dusted sheet of waxed paper and plastic wrap. If making a 9-inch tart crust, roll out the entire disc and fit into the tart pan. If making individual tart shells, cut segments off of the dough, roll, and fit into the pans. Prick the base of the tart crust(s) with a fork and place crusts in the freezer while the oven is preheating.
4. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Remove the tart crust(s) from the freezer and line with aluminum foil. Fill the foil-line shells with dried beans or rice to prevent the crust(s) from rising up during baking. Place the tart pan(s) on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans or rice, return the tart shells to the oven and continue to bake until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to fill with.
TO MAKE THE FILLING:
1. Place the chocolate and butter in a medium bowl; set aside.
2. Combine cream, sugar, lavender, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves and liquid is just at a simmer.
3. Pour the cream mixture through a mesh strainer over the chocolate and butter and let sit until melted, about 4 minutes. Gently stir until smooth.
4. Spoon the ganache into the cooled tartlet shells; transfer to the refrigerator and chill until set, about 1 hour.
1. Whip the heavy cream and Confectioners' sugar, to taste, until thickened. Mound the chocolate ganache tartlets with whipped cream and sprinkle with lavender.
TAKE a LOOK:
Usually, when I travel, I have good food and not such good food. On my recent trip to Provence, I'd have to say that sister Susan, friend Renate, and I ate quite well at each meal. No complaints. No negative critiquing by me or the others. And three of our meals were exceptional. At the beginning of our trip, we stayed in the town of Carpentras and ate at restaurant Chez Serge. Before a previous trip to France, I had read about Chez Serge in the New York Times and then ate lunch there. On this trip, we booked a reservation for dinner.
The night we ate at Chez Serge, there was an abundance of black truffles...
We were served an Amuse Bouche of sliced black truffles and olive oil along with a basket of French bread.
Susan and Renate ordered the black truffle risotto as their main course.
Our next exceptional meal was at Chateau de Mazan's Restaurant l'Ingénue. (more on that in a future post). It turned out to be our favorite -- partly due to the magical setting, but mostly because of the incredible meal. There we again had truffles in our amuse bouche; a small bowl of chilled, puréed Cavaillon melon with several thinly-shaved slices of black truffle on top.
At one of the Provençal weekly markets we visited, there was a young man selling black truffles. He had a small table set up with just a handful of truffles for sale. He could tell I was interested and held his largest truffle under my nose. I knew I couldn't risk having it confiscated at the airport so I reluctantly thanked him and walked away. I think of that truffle often...
The second half of our trip we moved to Le Moulin des Sources in Les Gros, Gordes. Anyone planning a trip to Provence should check out this Bed & Breakfast's website. It is charming beyond belief and a good location for the places we like to visit when there. Before this trip we had never been to Ménerbes, but this time drove to the village 15 minutes from our B&B to dine at La Verandah. And this is where I had the Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Truffle Oil, Croutons, and Chives for the first time. The three of us had this soup for our first course and I think we agree that we would have been happy with nothing but that soup as our dinner. It was amazing. Amazing enough for me to come back home and immediately make it for a dinner party I was hosting the following week. On my last visit to Paris in 2011, I also had a cream of cauliflower soup that was so good I needed to recreate it when I returned home (recipe HERE). I use the same recipe for both soups. The differences between the two (besides the temperature) are the oils and the toppings that are used to finish off the soup.
• 2 heads cauliflower
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 leeks, white part only, finely sliced and well-washed (about 5 ounces)
• 3 ounces unbleached, all-purpose flour
• 2 quarts plus 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
• 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon heavy cream
• 2 large egg yolks
• Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• Truffle oil
• Croutons (recipe follows)
• Fresh chives, finely chopped
1. Wash, core, and chop the cauliflower. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a stockpot over medium heat. When hot, add the leek and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon for several minutes, or until the leek has sweated its liquid but has not taken on color.
3. While stirring, sift the flour into the leek-butter mixture, and fully incorporate. Remove from the heat and set aside about 10 minutes, or until cooled slightly.
4. Place the stock in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, skimming off any foam or particles with a metal spoon. Remove from the heat and, whisking constantly, add the hot liquid to the leek mixture.
5. When well blended, return the stockpot to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Immediately add the reserved cauliflower and return to a bare simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spatula to ensure that the bottom does not stick or burn, for about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. If at any point the cauliflower sticks or scalds, remove the cauliflower from the heat, transfer the soup to a clean pot without scraping the burned portion into the new pot, and return it to the stove. Do not allow the soup to continue cooking once it sticks or burns.
6. Remove the pot from the heat and either pass the soup through a food mill or purée it in a blender. You want this soup to be silky-smooth. If necessary, after blending the soup, press through a fine mesh colander. (I purchased a Vitamix blender just for this soup!).
7. Place a saucepan with the cauliflower soup over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the heavy cream and bring to a simmer.
8. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons cream and the 2 egg yolks. Whisk in some of the hot soup to temper the mixture before whisking it into the simmering soup. Taste, and if necessary, season with salt and pepper.
9. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with truffle oil. Garnish with croutons and chopped chives.
No cutting corners on these croutons. The amount of butter and oil seem excessive, but don't cut back on those ingredients!
• 3 tablespoons butter
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 6 slices of a good, white loaf bread (I use a sourdough loaf from Whole Foods), crusts trimmed and bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
1. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the skillet.
2. Add the bread cubes and over medium-low heat use a thin metal spatula to turn the bread cubes. You want all of the croutons to be evenly covered in butter-oil. Add a little more oil if necessary. Keep turning the bread cubes, almost constantly. Your goal is to have them perfectly golden on all sides, but not burnt! When golden, remove from the pan to a small plate or bowl and set aside.
TAKE a LOOK:
+ Brocante in Malaucène, France
It seems as though trips to Provence always center around antiquing... or visiting "La Brocante" -- a shop or outdoor market dealing in second-hand goods. It probably has something to do with the fact that my sister is the designated driver when we travel... and her passion is antiquing. When she hears about a brocante that, "you will always find good stuff" at, it becomes our destination, and there is nothing I can do about it. I cannot lie... I also love scouring second-hand stores and brocante markets almost as much as Susan does, but there is a huge difference between my sister's purchases and mine. Susan is a serious "collector" and always in search of specific items (Antique-of-the-Week). I, on the other hand, am a collector of nothing in particular. I am open to anything and everything. An eclectic piece that I find fascinating usually ends up going home with me -- if it's cheap.
+ Brocante market on the edge of the Ramparts... the walled, medieval city of Avignon
And sometimes, when going to a weekly brocante market such as this one in Avignon, it means that we cannot have breakfast at our B&B since we need to get there, "before everything is gone!", as Susan would say. I really look forward to my café crème with a croissant and brioche in the morning. And did I mention the French lavender honey??? Going without my Petit Déjeuner puts me in a foul mood. But if you arrive at La Brocante hungry, this is what you can purchase for breakfast!
+ A Brocanteur's means of travel
I don't know what I was thinking when I bought this white French ironstone bowl, especially when I kept preaching to Susan and friend Renate about the risks of traveling with breakables. The knives, however, didn't pose a problem for my luggage. And how could I not bring them home with me? They have "Paris" stamped on the blades.
+ In search of antiques in Bonnieux, France
+ Sunday brocante in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
The L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Sunday brocante market and shops are where you go to view the really beautiful stuff, but not necessarily buy. It's a huge tourist destination; second only to Paris for antiques. And hugely expensive. This was also our first day with heat of 98 degrees +.
I could easily find a place for this iron chair with striped fabric at my house... if I could only fit it into my luggage.
Monday, 9 June, was "Fête de la transhumance" in St. Rémy-de-Provence; a festival that celebrates moving the sheep to higher grounds and pasture lands. In the morning 3000 sheep are paraded through the town. We missed that yearly tradition, but did stroll the holiday's brocante market later in the day. A carousel is set up near the brocanteurs to entertain the children.
Somehow, these old, French café au laits bols made it back home with me...
I'm sure that sister Susan will soon have a post or two on her brocante purchases, too. I'll let her tell you about the tin sconces off a French chateau that dominated space in her luggage...
TAKE a LOOK:
The reward of surviving a Minnesota winter, for me, is dining alfresco during the summer months. It means Salade Nicoise with my garden's haricot verts, roasted beets, French tomato tarts, and Insalata Caprese, just to name a few; and all served with a chilled French Rosé.
That type of dining has come to an end, for the most part. But there is always hope that one more day of Indian Summer will come along, and allow us one more relaxed meal on the patio before the fountain is drained and the outdoor furniture relegated to storage.
This Tuna Pissaladiére will make a perfect alfresco luncheon, along with a green salad, and that glass of rosé. A 70 degree day is predicted for early this coming week. I'll caramelize the onions and roast the red peppers this weekend, allowing a quick assembly of the pissaladiére, to enjoy on that upcoming (and hopefully not last) day of Indian Summer.