Showing posts with label Cahors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cahors. Show all posts

21 August 2014

Throwback Thursday: Bleu d'Auvergne Cheese

Bleu d'Auvergne Cheese, Cahors 2008
A few weeks ago my husband and I had lunch at a local restaurant known for its views of the water and daily specials. We both chose a salad with apples, walnuts and dried cherries that sound good but was in reality overly sweet and well, a little wimpy.

We were disappointed.

A salad combining lettuce and fruit demands a bold counterpart like blue cheese or a savory pairing like bacon to bring out its full flavor.

Bleu d'Auvergne, a relatively new French cheese with roots in the 1850s, is robust and pungent, but creamier and less salty than other blue cheeses. As its name suggests, it originates in the Auvergne, a region of south central France just northeast of the Midi-Pyrnees. When I last visited the latter region, I purchased my first wedge (above).

I used my Bleu d'Auvergne in a salad of regional walnuts and apples, purchased at the market in Cahors. I served it with a main dish of chicken roasted with onions and rosemary and a glass of pear cider, although I understand it also mates well with the black wine of Cahors, which was also an option.

Learn more about Bleu d'Auvergne here and here. I buy it whenever I find it, which is not very often, sad to say, unless I happen to stumble upon a cheese shop that sells something other than Wisconsin cheese.

26 February 2014

Making Jésuites, a French Patisserie Classic



Jésuites from the market in Old Cahors, 2008

Each visit to France has had its own flavor as we explored both city and countryside, north and south, examining the differences.

I love the constant street noise in Paris, even after midnight, but I also love the deep quiet of the dark countryside at 2 a.m.

Both city and country have one thing in common: Incredible outdoor food markets, filled with produce, cheese, meat and baked goods. The baked goods found in Paris seem a bit more inventive and elegant while the pastries of the south are rooted in tradition.

18 February 2014

New! Window Shopping for Sweets

Strawberry desserts from a bakery near the Bastille, 2007.

There's enough Catholic school girl left in me that I actually want to make a Lenten sacrifice of some sort and just enough Jewish to make me feel guilty if I don't.

01 February 2014

Fig-and-Walnut Tart with Cognac


It was so much fun to gather windfall figs from the yard.

I'm reposting this original recipe because this dessert is really exceptional and very rich. It's exactly the kind of dessert to serve in winter. 

France, The Lot, Fall, 2008 - It was late September, and we left the house* each day at mid-morning, ready to explore the meandering river country, driving up into mountain villages and down into vineyards: Montcuq, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Luzech, Albas, Douelle, Catus and up into the still-green Dordogne to visit lovely LaRoque Gageac. And every day, into Cahors, sometimes taking the dizzy-ingly high bridge that sneaks up on you as you snake around the city.

Nights were dark and still, and mornings so cold you could see your breath. We'd eat a hearty breakfast, load the market baskets into the Mini and drive off to enjoy the warm heart of the autumn days. We'd return to our tiny village by late afternoon, my husband to a nap, and me to the kitchen and the yard to ponder supper.

I loved this time of day, when we could hear the rush of traffic climbing the hairpin turns of the road beside the gorge: Workers returning from the city to the village, where the air was fragrant with grapes and woodsmoke. There was excitement, too; the grape harvest was near.

The figs on the tree in the yard that sloped toward the vineyards were ripe and falling; I picked a basket of them and paired them with the ubiquitous walnuts of the Quercy. A smidgeon of cognac and voila! Truly the richest dessert I have ever tasted.

Here is what you will need to make my very simple Fig-Walnut Tart:
  • 1 pie crust
  • 10-16 ripe figs, halved from top to bottom
  • ¼ cup Cognac 
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 5 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 cup walnuts, broken
  • dash orange zest (about a teaspoon)
  • dash sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare your pie crust as usual; originally, I used a pate brisée (pie crust) mix from Carrefour, a somewhat upscale French supermarket. Place in a round tart pan or pie plate.

Prepare figs and drizzle with Cognac, brown sugar, orange zest and 1/2 of melted butter. Place open side up in pan. Sprinkle walnuts on top and drizzle with the remainder of the butter and a dash of sea salt.

Bake tart on lower shelf in oven for 40-50 minutes. Watch carefully to ensure walnuts do not get too dark. Allow to cool a bit before serving with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Since I made this in France, and have not replicated it in the US, I recommend checking it frequently during cooking time.

It was rich and rustic; softness and crunch with deep dark hints of pleasure. How satisfying to create a dessert this good from fruit plucked from your own backyard, even a rented backyard!

One of the reasons I have not recreated this dish is that I have not found a source for fresh figs. Plums or apricots would be a good substitute; you may have to adjust the amount of sugar used.

*Readers can rent the house we stayed at here.

PostScript: What about this take on figs? Yum!

27 August 2012

France: Late Summer in the Lot

Autumn seems to be sneaking in early this year, with splashes of scarlet and saffron already tinting the maple trees along the river and the bay. Warm days and cool nights bring out the beauty in Wisconsin's sugar maples. Last week, visitors from San Francisco, on their way back home after spending time back east told me New England's colors were already showing.

I love the colors of fall, and recently augmented my cool-weather wardrobe with sweaters the color of paprika and pumpkin. No more business suits for me after Sept. 28

Meanwhile I wanted to share some late summer scenes from The Lot Valley in France. Late summer, with its hints of glories to come, is as lovely as fall.

 Entering our little village west of Cahors.

Display of bulk spices at the Cahors market.


Grapes at the market in Cahors.

A field near Flottes, Pradines, on a lazy Sunday in September.

Driving into Albas, west of Cahors, on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

La Roque-Gageac, up in the Dordogne, which was still green and warm.

 Roof tiles in the afternoon sun, Caillac.

The neighbor's dog visited often, and stayed on our last afternoon, consoling me.

05 April 2010

Kitchen Tools: Rapé Tout

I am a pushover for freshly snipped herbs and freshly grated cheese or onion or nutmeg on whatever I am preparing.

There is a luxury to such things. And they are simple indulgences.

I was shopping in Cahors at a wonderful domicile shop called Choses et Autres, located at 77 Boulevard Leon Gambetta where I found this darling little dish-cum-grater called a rapé tout.

It does indeed grate just about everything, from onion to cheese to carrots.

When I use it, my kitchen is transported to the sunny southwest of France.

And that's a real luxury.

05 July 2009

The Twists and Turns of Side Streets and Dark Alleys

I have never stayed on the main road for too long. The little side streets, the tangents of life are too intriguing.

In my career I sidetracked for a long time, which ultimately helped put me on the main road again with more horsepower and sharper vision.

But sometimes there are places I'd rather not explore. Some of those places are dark lanes in old Cahors, just feet from the lively and friendly market place, which teems with life and flavor and the more guttural accent of the Midi Pyrenees. (Some friends had a close call near here a few years back. We are vigilant.)

So I took photographs instead, and found this one intriguing with its rosy hues.

Not much time to cook just now.

18 October 2008

France: The Market in Old Cahors

Today I visited the farm market in my town to buy a pumpkin and some organic tomatoes. We have two local markets, running a total of three mornings and one afternoon a week, June through October. One of them is located in a designated market area, which offers a small covered stall. The other is sited along the water, a wonderful place even when the bay breezes are cool.

I lingered for an hour, talking to the vendors and catching up with friends and acquaintances. Because the market also offers space to non-food vendors, I often purchase quilted items, soaps, rag rugs or other locally made crafts. Today a "garage sale" element was added, so there were many other items available. Several of our local non-profit organizations also raise money by selling cider, hot chocolate, brats and hotdogs and candy.

I did not bring my camera, but I remembered it three weeks ago when we visited the Wednesday and Saturday markets in old Cahors, at the foot of the cathedral of St. Etienne. Food vendors set up shop in the cathedral square, while non-food vendors arrange their goods along streets that shoot off or even snake off to the west of the church.

I thought you might enjoy these photos from one of our visits. Aren't those grapes enticing?

I love the spice vendor. The colors and the aromas transport me to the spice countries.

Can you see why I was so tempted by these Jesuites from Lou Boulbil's stall?

The market is a prime source for these darling little rounds of cabecou.

You can also find Provencal fabrics, blankets and mats. Did I mention jewelry, woven market baskets and kitchenware?

Throughout the world, open-air markets are such a wonderful, time-honored source of good food and other intriguing sites and smells, and sometimes even sounds. There may be nothing I love more than an outdoor market.

06 October 2008

France: The Black Wine of Cahors

The first thing I noticed was the smell; the aroma of Chez Bateau, the pleasant mix of must and wood smoke. It filled my nostrils and bade me welcome as we entered the house.

We were home. Not our home, of course, but a home we are privileged to call ours for a fortnight.

Outside the door was the oily aroma of herbs from the wild tangle of garden. I remembered this from last time.

I stood by the pool and looked out over the valley and the vineyards and heard the cooing of doves.

This was what I came for.

The air is always fresh here. Today, the day after our arrival, the air is again filled with sunshine and conifers and the faint smell of autumn on the rise.

The leaves are beginning to turn here, but most of the summer flowers are still in full bloom. The hydrangea are stunning, a blend of coral and pale chartreuse; only the roses are fading.

There is a breeze today, and it moans low in the trees and shrubs that dot the meadow running down to the grapevines.

We saw a falcon pirouette against the sky, and in the woods below the vineyards we could hear the frenzied barking of hunting dogs chasing some unfortunate prey.

Yes, this is home. A sensual but spiritual home. Such a vast array of riches to savor.

Among them are the three bottles of the famous black wine of Cahors that were waiting for us when we arrived. The first thing we did was take the Mini Cooper down to the supermarché for provisions to get us through the weekend. The second thing was to open a bottle and take it out to the pool so we could look out over the vineyards, woods and valley while we savored its rich, dark promise.

The wine (which must be 70 percent Malbec grape) is fruity and tannic and - depending on its age - a little bit tart. It has been historically considered easy on the stomach. According to its pedigree, Cahors wine was offered at the wedding of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England. Its history is inextricably linked to that of the meandering Lot River. Its vineyards have been wiped out - or nearly wiped out - twice.

It is - like Chez Bateau and the country around it - pure magic.

02 September 2006

France: The Worker in the Vineyard

During our stay in the Lot Valley, it was important not to rush around seeing things and taking pictures but to give in to the rhythm of the tiny village in which we stayed. We wanted to experience everyday life in rural France.

Mornings we drove down to Cahors, prowling the markets and the shops and cafés. Afternoons we preferred to stay closer to home.

The lovely house our friend loaned us after my husband’s surgery was too enchanting, with its tile floors, massive armors, comfortable sofas. Herbs and lilacs grew in the yard; everything was green and lichen-covered. Why leave? Here was sheer magic!

Nearly 300 years old, the home turned its back on the village and faced a vineyard. Afternoons while my husband rested, I sat by the pool listening to the calls of roosters and cuckoos and the droning of contented and very benign bees in the warm spring sunshine.

Looking down into the vineyards, I noticed a solitary worker, who began his task of staking the vines at about 9 a.m. each day. He worked until noon, took the traditional two-hour hour break, and went back to his vines. Between 2 p.m. and about 6:30, the sound of chain saws and tractors would ring out across the valley again, competing with the roosters and cuckoos.

The man in the vineyard went about his work, never looking up. I wondered if he could hear so strong was his attention to task. I later learned he could not.

For a week, I watched his progress. I don’t know if he ever saw me up there, but I considered him my companion on those sunny afternoons.

I sometimes think of him, when I am working at a repetitive task and giving it my full attention. I wonder if he is content with his job. Or does he merely tolerate it? Does he wish for a different lot in life? Is he happy staking vines and caring for grapes used in making the famous Black Wine of Cahors. I hope he is.

Several bottles of wine from the very grapes he tended had been left for us by our hostess. They were deep and rich and tannic and we drank from them in the evenings, once we closed the shutters and settled in. Our wine tasting was always accompanied by hooting from an owl that sat in the lilac tree each night.

Those were wonderful days and nights, the vineyard, the worker, the wine, the owl, the church bells and the smell of wood smoke and herbs. Such deep contentment!