It’s been a rainy Monday. I escape with memories of my garden.
“I wish that life should not be cheap,
but sacred…the days to be as centuries,
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
“Once upon a time we all walked on the golden road…
We heard the sound of morning stars;
We drank in fragrances aerial and sweet as May mist;
We were rich in gossamer fancies and iris hopes;
The years waited beyond and they were fair …”
Lucy Maud Montgomery “The Golden Road”
I took these photographs at Roxanne and Michael’s tranquil country home, and the beautiful Beaver Valley, a two-hour drive North-West of Toronto.
A couple of weeks ago my dear friend Aimes decided we both needed a holiday. Somewhere in the sun. An adventure. A Caribbean cruise.
Aimes is a professional photographer, and in another life a fashion stylist in the movie industry. When she discovered a fabulous vintage black sequin dress at a local thrift shop she decided it was the perfect “bling” outfit for me. The combination of sequin dress AND jacket was dated. We both agreed. So I fashioned the dress into a skirt. Easier said than done
Sewing sequins is an art. At each seam the sequins most be clipped away. I cut the top of the dress off . This Frank Usher creation was so beautifully and carefully sewn one could almost wear it inside out. Every seam was hand finished with tiny stitches.
Labour intensive I stitched and stitched. The skirt was finished. Fashionable once again. Years past this dress had shimmered through parties, galas, nights at the opera. Then for years it languished in the back of a closet. Too many memories to be discarded. Once again the little black dress was going to dance to Frank Sinatra under a tropical moon and enjoy fabulous memories.
Funky, fashionable and fabulous the reincarnation of my little black dress.
OLIVE SPREAD WITH WALNUTS
I call this a million dollar recipe. It’s that good. This is a type of tapenade that combines all the lush and lovely flavours we associate with Provence. There’s olives, garlic, fresh herbs like thyme, oregano and sage. You just can’t stop eating this appetizer spread
1 3/4 cups Kalamata and green olives mixed half and half (or what ever your taste buds tell you)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts chopped (don’t have any big pieces)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp coarse ground Dijon mustard
2 fat garlic cloves
1 generous tb each fresh thyme, oregano and sage (no substitution)
a pinch of cayenne pepper.
In your food processor put the garlic cloves and the fresh herbs and chop them fine.
Add the olives and chop fine
Take about 3 tbs of the walnuts and add to the mix
Add olive oil, mustard and cayenne pepper and mix well.
Turn out into a bowl and add the chopped walnuts.
Last three days if you’re lucky. Serve with crackers of bread.
Pour a glass of wine. You’re in Provence.
Laduree is the quintessential French Patisserie. The elegant and grand interior, the salon de the, and their famous macarons this is the stuff of sugar dreams.
Laduree’s artistic shop window displays, showcasing bright piled-high macaron cakes, stops you in your tracks.
When our son and his wife visited Paris I asked them to bring me back just one thing, macarons from Laduree. I rationed them out but alas they quickly became sweet memories.
Callum decided for Christmas he would recreate Laduree’s macarons , and gift friends and family with the sweet treats. He spent hours researching recipes and downloading, in French, entire cookbooks on macarons. Then he spent one long week making batch after batch of macarons, with their decadent buttercream fillings.
Then, pouf, they were gone. With all the hurry and scurry of Christmas before I could photograph them we had devoured these marvelous morsels of sweetness.
CHICKEN SAUTE PROVENCE STYLE
serves four to six (but it is so good count on seconds, so mebbe it will just serve four gourmands)
This is a recipe that is better cooked in a slow, lingering manner. Put Edith Piaf on the cd player or perhaps Charles Aznavour and start slowly browning your chicken. I highly recommend this chicken recipe for Friday Night Suppers with Friends.
A 3 (1.5k) chicken cut into 8 pieces or so. Or, what is really better 10 or 12 pieces of chicken legs or thighs. The brown meat loves slow cooking.
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp. olive oil ( or more if necessary)
1 large onion coarsely chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, chopped
Bouquet garni – fresh thyme, bay leaves, sage,rosemary tied together with a string works well. ( or dried Herbs de Provence if you haven’t access to fresh herbs)
A really, really good splash of white, rose or red wine
A generous cup of tomatoes and sauce from a can of whole peeled tomatoes.(Try and use canned tomatoes from Italy. They have a true, rich tomato flavour)
A dozen or so of salt cured black olives, lightly crushed. Kalamata olives work well here, too.
A small handful of fresh parley or herbs to finish (finely chopped)
Pat your chicken pieces dry and rub all over with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a very large, heavy based pan or flameproof casserole. Brown the chicken well. You will have to a few pieces at a time. Another reason to start early in the afternoon. You don’t want to hurry your chicken pieces.
When all your batches of chicken are a delicious golden brown transfer them to a plate and set aside. Drain most of the oil/fat off and discard. Leave just enough oil to saute your onions until translucent. While the onions are cooking sprinkle with a little salt and add the chopped garlic. Saute the garlic for just a minute or so. Now pour in the wine, and pour yourself a glass, and add the bouquet garni, scraping up the sediment as the wine reduces by half.
Add the generous cup of tomatoes, smooshing down the whole tomatoes so they become one with the sauce. Cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes , stirring. Return the chicken to the pan and reduce the heat to low medium , cover and cook for 30 minutes or more (could be an hour if you are cooking very slowly) In the last ten minutes of cooking add the crushed olives. The chicken should almost fall from the bone and the sauce reduced to a wonderful essence of Provence. Remove the bouquet garni and discard.
To serve scatter the fresh parsley or herbs over the chicken.
Concentrated chicken stock in your deep freeze can turn you into a kitchen magician. Chicken stock, good home-made chicken stock is pure alchemy. One can whip up a quick sauce to rival any French kitchen. Add it to a few vegetables and you have soup divine.
Our Bistro kitchen always had brown and white chicken stock, veal stock, vegetable stock, fish stock, shrimp stock, and beef stock. The traditional mother of the brown sauces, demi-glace that takes several days to accomplish was always reducing away on a back burner.
It may not be convenient to stock your deep freeze with ALL the stocks but one can easily have a good chicken stock, a beef stock, and a fish stock. When you make them yourself you can reduce and concentrate the flavour. Store them in plastic containers, labeled and dated. Some recipes suggest pouring them into ice cube trays. You all always use more stock than one or two cubes. Use half-cup or one cup plastic containers instead. Remember you have made beautiful, CONCENTRATED stock, so you can increase the volume by just adding addition liquid (water etc.)
This stock is so full of flavour and such a lovely golden brown it can almost stand alone. It makes fabulous French Onion Soup (see my recipe) or anything that doesn’t have to be pale in colour. If you don’t brown the bones you have white chicken stock. I reserve the white chicken stock for risottos and delicate cream sauces.
CHICKEN STOCK … BROWN … makes a lot
Around 4 pounds of chicken bones raw. Put these in a large roasting pan and sprinkle with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast at around 350F until the bones turn a lovely shade of brown. Give them a shake once in a while. This could take around an hour or so.
Put the bones into your big stock pot and set aside. (this would be time to add the roast chicken carcasses your have been saving in your freezer)
Put water in the pan you roasted the bones in, and either simmer on the top of the stove, or put back in the oven. You want to be able to scrap up all the lovely brown bits. When you have scraped up as much as you can add this to the roasted chicken bones in your stock pot.
Now add water but be sure to leave enough room for the vegetables. Hey, you can always add additional water.
Coarsely chop up a couple of carrots and sticks of celery. Slice a little off the top off a head of garlic. Insert 4-5 cloves of garlic in a fat onion. Now add these vegetables to your stock pot. Sprinkle with around a tablespoon of peppercorns and a few stalks of parsley. If you have some fresh thyme add that too. Push the vegetables down AND THEN NEVER TOUCH THEM AGAIN. The secret to clear, beautiful rich chicken stock is to NEVER STIR IT ONCE IT STARTS BOILING.
Bring your stock to a raging boil, for about 2-3 minutes, then immediately drop the temperature to a soft, gentle, barely bubbling simmer. With the lid off let your stock simmer all day long. You want to reduce the liquid by a generous couple of inches.
Your chicken stock should look like this. The vegetables hunkered down on top of the stock. NEVER disturbed by stirring or poking.
Strain the chicken stock into containers and cool as quickly as possible. It is easier to remove the fat from the chicken stock when it is in small containers. Voila! You have fabulous stock.
MORE CHEFS NOTES: When your chicken stock has cooled it should be like wobbly jelly. If it isn’t you have not reduced it enough. Back into the stock pot with it and simmer at a higher heat to reduce your chicken stock. Here’s the deal. Why freeze water!
PURCHASED CHICKEN STOCK: For convenience or emergencies it is sometimes necessary to buy ready-made chicken stock. Which is the best? To find out put your stock into a sauce pan and reduce it down by more than 50 percent. If when it cools it is not jelly like avoid that brand.
Another test is to reduce purchased chicken stock to almost nothing. It should be a lovely thick glistening syrup. I have reduced packaged chicken stock that has simply just turned into powder.
For something as important as chicken stock you should have very high standards.
STORING CHICKEN STOCK; If you store your chicken stock in the refrigerator more than 2-3 days, always return the stock to the boil and simmer for around 5 minutes. Again, cool as quickly as possible and refrigerate. Here’s a restaurant tip. Fill a clean plastic bottle with water and freeze. Use this as an ice wand to quickly chill your stocks.