Workshop dates 2020. And Nouilles à la George.

We finally have fixed the workshop dates for 2020, adding two theme workshops to the existing line up! Like this year’s workshops, it’s going to be all about great food and great wine and great company, a little Italy, a bit of France, and some Swissness to round it all up. Please go to the workshop tab for the details, we’re thrilled to hear what you think of the programme!  

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Now halfway through the 2019 season, we have been pondering over what we would like to give our workshop guests, what it is we’d really like to share with you. And how to do things right, eventually.

And this is what we’ve come up with: 

There are people who do things well, in general. And there are people, who do things less well, in general. And exceptionally, there are those people to take things a tiny notch higher, a tiny bit to the extreme. While doing things extremely less well perhaps is not exactly desirable but alas to be counted amongst the very encumbrances of life (and an occasional Zen exercise), doing things extremely well in turn means sending the average receptive individual straight into that state commonly referred to as paradisiacal. So, my friends, as to this rough lump of kitchen wisdom, let me give you a proper example. This is: you can do pasta well and you can do pasta less well. And then, you can do pasta with cognac. What a lark is this! What a subtle mind it takes, what heavenly graceful inspiration to add a sip of cognac to make that noodle dough smooth and puffy. But let’s take one step after another. 

The twist goes back to a recipe book of George Sand, you know, the French lady writer who hosted the entire Paris avantgarde of the early 19th century in her beautiful French country house. She had a thing for the cuisine, apparently, and a penchant for epicurean feasts contrasting her otherwise sober and rather modest approach towards living. Perhaps that’s the exact amount of perplexity required to make a person a really interesting human being. 

The thing is rather simple, and this is how it goes: 

Take one egg on about a good 100g of flour. This will yield a nice portion for two persons, or about four sides. Instead of water, add a sip of cognac before mixing and kneading. A sip of cognac is the quantity that an average grown up may gulp down in two gulps without making them awkward in the head. Or 2-4cl, if measured. The liquid-flour relation is perfect when your dough is silky and soft. Form three portions and let them sleep for at least four hours. Then knead again, roll out and evenly cut noodles according to your purpose. Cook for 7 minutes. 

We’ve had ours with scallops fried in olive oil and parsley. And a lady squeeze of lemon before serving. A perfect summer evening treat. And the way to do pasta henceforward. 

Fête de Saint Jean and Trout façon Poissonchat

I have almost missed it, the summer solstice, or the fête de Saint Jean, as it is called here. It all went a little fast, spring, a bit of travelling, peonies blooming. Only when we lighted our own out-of-doors-cooking-wild-fire-because-finally-it’s-not-raining I realised that half the year is past. It seems though we had done the right thing by instinct, for that’s what one’s supposed to do when the year turns, burn what’s no longer needed, and welcome the new episode with a boum. 

For those of you who already are familiar with my blog, you may know well how smitten I am with my wood fired stove (aka the beast) that sits in the monstrous fireplace in my French kitchen. However, with summer temperatures being well over 30° C these days, the beast is having a rest. After all, the kitchen is the coolest room in the house, I rather not turn it into a furnace. Instead, we simply move the whole ménage outside, down to the river Saône’s banks, where the waters’ chill pleasantly stirs the stifling heavy late afternoon air. We start with an apéro of crispy millefeuille with goat cheese and a nice glass of white wine, followed by some fried gnocchi de semoule with a ricotta and nettle filling. 

The sun is setting, and meanwhile, the fire has done its magic spitting out a bunch of fiery blazing coals, just the thing we need. I had cured a pink trout fillet the other day, with a clin d’oeuil to nordic ways of preserving salmon and other fish. It’s rather easy, though a little messy. Which is the fun part, if you ask me.

The basic recipe for a truite façon Poissonchat is as follows:

  • 1 fresh pink trout or salmon fillet with skin. The ones I use usually are around 500g. Ensure the fish is appropriately scaled and deboned and rinse the fillet in cold water before processing.
  • 100g of honey
  • 50g of sea salt
  • A couple of juniper berries
  • A couple of pink pepper berries
  • 1 dl of Mirabelle eau de vie or any other strong alcohol you think will go well with the fish
  • A generous hand full of fresh dill

In a mortar, grind the sea salt and juniper berries, then add the honey, the rest of the salt and the Mirabelle. Pour the mass into a flat plate the size of your fillet. Note that during curing, the fish might draw water, hence it’s recommended your plate is a few fingers deep. 

Place the trout fillet on top of the mass, with the skin down. You may scoop some of the mass on the fish, depending on how strong you wish the cure to be. Put the dill on the fillet and  cover everything well. I use plastic foil for this purpose, not yet having found any ecological substitute that works. Put it into the fridge and let it soak for at least 12h. Generally, the longer it soaks the stronger its taste, however, I wouldn’t recommend to leave it for more than 48h. You may feel the skin starting to get a typical leathery texture. Rinse it well under fresh running water. Dry it for a few hours in a dark and cool place. 

The trout now keeps a few days in the fridge, you may serve it for example with grilled bread, crème fraîche and a squeeze of lemon. For the fête de Saint Jean, however, we had decided to take the process a little further by a hint of smoke and fire. To this end, the cured trout is nailed on a wooden board and placed near the open fire. For the actual smoking, we use a bunch of old dried herbs no longer needed now that the garden provides an abundance of fresh ones. Juniper twigs, some dried oregano and fennel leaves in particular. Note that the fish shouldn’t cook but only gently be enveloped in the fumes of the smoking herbs. 

For our purposes, we smoke the trout about as long it takes to grill a batch of sliced eggplant and zucchini, rubbed with olive oil that I perfumed with fresh herbs for three days, as well as some fresh violet onions along.

Serve with a warm olive oil and lemon emulsion. 

Oh and for dessert we have tiramisu. With armagnac. Heavenly. The recipe will follow!

Mini L’Art de Bien Manger Workshops (and Poires au Vin)

An awfully nasty storm is tearing at the blossoms and fresh leaves outside, furiously and relentless, throwing gushes of raindrops at our windows and trying to squeeze through cracks in the walls. 

I am poaching pears in my kitchen, over the fire, warm, and very appropriate considering spring having such an autumnal fit. I’m experimenting on a recipe by my egg man at the weekly market, a very interesting chap. Knows a great deal about local food and eats, all closely tied to the wine growing which has now nearly disappeared in our corner. 

I’ve written up the recipe further down for you, and I’d be thrilled if you let me know what you think of it, as it’s rather peculiar.

While the pears are sleepily simmering away in the pinot bath we are comparing our thoughts and notes to the opening of the L’Art de Bien Manger workshop. So happy and grateful, it was a wonderful time with a wonderful crowd, we never expected this to be so so so much fun! I will partner with my Mother for all future workshops, she’s absolutely priceless, knowing so much about cookery and culinary indulgence. 

We thus decided to add a couple of Mini L’Art de Bien Manger sessions. These are one day workshops with a focus on creating an elegant and sumptuous five course dinner based on local produce and a selection of fine wines. We’ll spend time outside in the garden foraging herbs and edible flowers, an occasional swim in the Saône or venture upstream by boat. We’ll set up our table under the big ash tree at the river, candles and lanterns, flowing dresses and ruby red wine in crystal glasses illuminating the hot summer night. 

The mini workshops will take place on 20 July, 24 August and 14 of September. 

Brief outline: 

The workshops start at 11am in the morning with a session on local produce and food philosophy, accompanied by a selection of French terrines, pâtés and cheese. In the afternoon we continue with the dinner preparations, diving into specific cooking techniques such as cheese making, smoking and pasta making. Group size is limited to six persons to keep it private and neat, so hurry up to book your spot. 

Cost: 

The cost of participation is EUR 280.- per person. It includes dinner, lunch and all that goes along with it. It does not include any fares and accommodation. There are very nice B&Bs in the neighbourhood and we are more than happy to direct you to the one that suits you. 

Location: 

The workshops will be held at our private house in the upper north of Franche Comté, halfway between Paris and Zurich, or Dijon and Nancy. It is advisable to come by car, upon your request we are happy to organise a driver who will get you at your own expense from the nearest airport or train station.  

Please contact us at lespoissonchats@gmx.ch for further information. 

And now to the Poires au Vin. Peel four nice Williams pears and place them in a not too wide pan. Cover them in a light red wine, a pinot noir for example, and add a generous spoon of honey. Peel two cloves of garlic and add them to the soup. I’ve been very surprised about the latter step, and more so of the outcome! You may or may not add a little cardamon to enhance the flavour. 

Let the pears simmer, turning them from time to time so that they are well coloured on all sides. Cook until the red wine-honey is reduced to a thick soup. 

Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche. Bon appétit! 

L’Art de Bien Manger Workshops 2019

When we bought our house in this lost corner of France a few years ago, we never imagined that it would develop such a firm hold on us. We thought it was us making all the decisions, but fact is, as we learned over the years, that this house is rather peculiar. I’d call it a haunted house if this term were not so negatively perceived. I therefore rather like to think of it as a ship, a cosy neat little ship, peaceful, with everything you need for the good life, out there in the vast ocean. A very beautiful battered old ship with a long history. We are comfortably off, because apparently, neither of us is its captain, neither of us is in charge. It’s rather that this ship brings us to places so new we hadn’t ever dreamed they existed. For we are lucky, we have a benevolent and experienced captain. Only thing left to us is to make sure we appreciate this ship’s legacy, harbour it, mend it, if needed. And, of course, add to it. This is the best part, I think. And best things are best shared. This is what we intend to be doing even more in the coming year, it is the new shores that this ship is steering us towards. We already see them, faintly chiseled against the glowing horizon, when we climb the ship’s mast. In plain language, what we intend to do, is probably called culinary workshops, or food workshops. Or a cooking atelier. This is all very well, but we have it in our minds to genuinely share our life on this ship. L’Art de Bien Manger, which is not just cooking but after all the spirit that goes along with it. L’Art de Bien Manger with good people for a few days. Of course there will be cooking, lots of it, and wine, and champagne. French dishes and dishes from where we come from and new breeds. Porcelain, crystal glasses and silver. Pique-niques, delicacies cooked under the stars in summer. Bonfires, fairy lights in the trees. A midnight swim in the river for those who really dare (I wouldn’t, neither would Monsieur, because of the thing with the gleaming eyes). But most of all, there will be stories, intervals of our lives shared, a touch of the soul. That’s the Art. 

We start small, with three dates for 2019, three three days workshops:

The early summer workshop (28 – 30 June 2019)

I love the month of June. When the heat is soft and embracing and won’t scourge you yet. The water still fresh and green. The month of Matisse, Renoir, Redon. There will be a pique-nique, and redcurrant with champagne. Strawhats and ribbons. A little wine tasting and brocante. Dinners on a large table, the windows wide open to let in the balmy summer evening. A night walk through the fields. 

The summer workshop (9 – 11 August 2019)

The time of the stars falling from the indigo sky, the fields slowly turning into gold. Of fiery sunsets and nights in shirtsleeves. We will go upriver towards the wild woods and breathe the clean fresh air. Set up our table on the lawn, make a bonfire with sparks matching the falling stars. Cook under the sky, snake bread and bouillabaisse, rusticity and fine china. A feast to please Titania. Wine tasting and brocante, for these are a must. Refresh ourselves with a swim in the river, or row under the canopy of the luxuriant trees. 

The harvest moon workshop (18 – 20 October 2019)

Golden days and fresh nights, elderberry wine with your back against the old warm wall of our house, watching the sun sink slowly into the river. Strolls through harvested fields, hunting for fresh rose champignons. Gather basketfuls of fruit and do some proper moonshining. Champagne cocktails with hawthorn syrup. Transform nature’s bounty and abundance into the finest treats. Comfortably sit in front of the fireplace, with a glass of ruby red burgundy while the trees whip up a storm outside, listen to the stories, tell yours. 

Brief outline: 

The workshops will usually begin around 11am in the morning. We will start with cooking a light lunch together and slowly move into dinner preparations in the afternoon on day one and day two. Dinner will be at least a five course menu, for after all, we are in France. On the third day, we will prepare another light lunch together and round off the workshop with coffee and mignardises in the afternoon. Group size is limited to six persons, to keep it neat and private. 

Cost: 

The cost of participation is EUR 800.- per person. It includes the dinners, lunches, plenty of wine and all that goes along with. It does not include any fares and accommodation. There are very nice B&Bs in the neighbourhood and we are more than happy to direct you to the one that suits you. 

Location: 

The workshops will be held at our private house in the upper north of Franche Comté, halfway between Paris and Zurich, or Dijon and Nancy. It is advisable to come by car. Upon your request we are happy to organise a driver who will get you at your own expense from the nearest airport or train station.  

Please contact us at lespoissonchats@gmx.ch for further information. 

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