Carcassone

Carcassone

First off my apologies to my regular followers for my absence. I recently returned from a two week trip to France (to visit Jerome’s family) and though I thought I had been so organised by preparing posts to go up while I was away, I hadn’t counted on getting sick when I got home. Between jetlag, heading back to work and succumbing to one of the winter bugs that have been doing the rounds, I didn’t get around to cooking or writing for my blog.

I’m back and recovered now, and ready to get cooking again (after tomorrow’s rent inspection that is). Just in time for The Great Australian Bake Off tonight, which I have been looking forward to for months. I hoping to try to replicate some of the dishes they bake in the weeks to come so if you like baking look out for that.

But for now, I thought I’d share some of the food highlights from my trip to France. The first was a highlight of the whole trip and was a private cooking class with Chef Jean-Pascal Vallee at his cooking school/holiday retreat and spa Domaine du Lac de Sorin. The location (in the Vendee region) was beautiful and if you are ever looking for somewhere to stay, the cabins looked gorgeous. But I was just there for a cooking class; with Jerome to translate (the classes are held in French).

Kitchen where class was held

Kitchen where class was held

View from the class

View from the class

Jean-Pascal Vallee is a former Michelin starred chef who is also a naturopath and now focuses on combining gastronomy with naturopathy. So healthy French cooking! Over 3 ½ hours I learnt the proper techniques for cutting (ciseler, émincer, mirepoir, brunoise, julienne, rondelle etc) and did so much cutting and slicing my fingers went numb. Thankfully I didn’t cut myself, which was something I was very worried about (I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the chef!). The dishes we cooked were Veloute de carottes au saffron aux lentilles (Carrot soup/sauce with saffron and lentils) and Fondue de Tomate et courgettes et filet de merlan aux sesames et tournesol (Tomato and zucchini with fish, sesames and leeks).

Carrot veloute with lentils

Carrot veloute with lentils

The class focussed on using a few ingredients and letting the natural flavours shine, without cooking in butter or oil. Oil was added at the end as a flavouring when it was used. The recipes were simple to do but the results were delicious and impressive. Jerome and his parents definitely enjoyed sampling the finished products.

Fish with tomatoes and zucchini

Fish with tomatoes and zucchini

Another highlight was visiting Carcassone, a World Heritage fortified French medieval town surrounded by 3 kilometres of ramparts and 52 towers filled with shops (some quirky and interesting, others definitely the usual tourist fare), restaurants, hotels and beautiful buildings. While there we all had Cassoulet for lunch, that famous slow cooked dish from the region with white beans, confit duck and sausages. It was incredibly rich and filling and though nice, was much more suited to the depths of winter than early summer when we visited.

Cassoulet

Cassoulet

My favourite stop however would have to be the village of Salers in the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne National Park, with 16th century architecture, buildings with turrets; it was like I had stepped into a fairy tale (or something from Harry Potter). If you are ever in France, I would recommend the region and Salers in particular for beautiful scenery and exquisite villages. While in Salers we sampled another regional dish, this time the Truffade, a dish associated with the Auvergne region. Truffade is a dish of potatoes cooked in lard with cheese and garlic. I love potatoes (and cheese and garlic), so I loved this dish. But again, definitely more suited to winter.

Salers

Salers

And of course we can’t forget about pastry and desserts! I ate a lot of brioche while in France, my breakfast of choice anytime I’m in France. We didn’t make it to many patisseries this trip, but I did have a lovely Tarte aux myrtilles (blueberry tart) in Salers which was delicious. The sweet tartness of the berries was perfect after the very rich and heavy main.

Truffade with salad

Truffade with salad

So that is just a few highlights from my trip, almost a distant memory now that I am back at work. Now its time to get back to cooking and baking! I bought back a few French cookbooks (I know, I wasn’t supposed to be buying more cookbooks – but they are holiday souvenirs).   They are written in French so it will be good work for me to practice my French, translate them and cook. Especially as we are it is winter here and currently cold and rainy!

Blueberry tart

Blueberry tart