Monday, 2 May 2011

France Easter Holiday In Food

I went to France over Easter to visit my mum's family. My grandparents live in Saint Etienne so we stayed there for a few days - some really great boutiques popping up and a stunning new patisserie. I bought a few new plates for the blog! I could have come home with loads more if luggage allowed! I also got a few cookery books and magazines. Foams, savoury cappuccinos and all manners of whipped items seem to be the fashion at the moment. If you don't have a siphon then you're just not on the cutting edge of French cuisine!

We then went to the South of France for a week over Easter weekend to a place called Le-Grau-Du-Roi. We've been going for a few years now to a self-catering apartment which is great as we can make the most of local ingredients and indulge.

Here is my attempt at art on the beach when I wasn't eating!

But first back to Saint Etienne, and I had to include a photo of the well-known Cournand shop. They are famous for their pasta, especially their ravioli. They sell the best of the best and their windows are always beautifully decorated.

But what I got ridiculously excited about was a new Patisserie in town called Patisserie Montcoudiol. It is run by Bruno Montcoudiol who is a world champion in patisserie and it certainly shows. I would have been quite happy to cuddle the window for hours to admire the pretty cakes and macarons. Really good value too compared to cupcakes here. As you can see they didn't travel terribly well, there was more shopping to do, jewellery to buy and clothes to try. Ah well, they still look pretty.

We shared each small cake between four of us! Wasn't easy to cut but you can see how much work goes into each cake. It was really, really hard to pick just 4 cakes and I was hoping to go back to try some more but we never made it back. Boo. So we went for a Violina which was a white chocolate bavaroise with a blackcurrant and violet cream and a lemon and almond genoise sponge. Then at the top is the Framboisine which was vanilla bavaroise with raspberry coulis, lemon genoise and a cute mini macaron on top. Then a Pur Velay which was a vervaine diplomate (the liqueur is very local), blackberry cream, almond sponge and a sable made from Puy lentil flour (again, extremely local). All amazing. I love all the colours.

The mini macarons were beautiful and perfectly formed, resting on small squares of chocolate.

Lastly an Amandriotte which was almond, pistachio cream, cherry coulis and the most crumbly, buttery pastry I've ever tasted. This was my favourite, not the most impressive to look at but so delicious. Check out the shop's website here: There is a fantastic video which shows off some of the cakes, his macarons, chocolates and a quick look at how he makes some of the items.

To celebrate my Grandparent's wedding anniversary (as we found out later!) we went to a restaurant in the Pilat called La Fondue Chez L'Pere Charles. Alas no-one was eating fondue and they had to be shared between two. I would have eaten one myself, I love a fondue! There were 4 different menus to choose from, I went for one of the cheaper menus as I fancied it the most. Above is my mum's starter - duck ham, fried foie gras and salad. Lovely.

I had one of my favourite things - a plate of great charcuterie. Rillettes, saucisson, dry cured ham, dried fruit bread and some onion jam. Simple but a winner everytime.

My main was red mullet with 3 kinds of tagliatelle with a creamy sauce. Absolutely delicious and something I want to make myself. The 2 other kinds of tagliatelle were strips of courgette and carrot which was a lovely idea.

There were so many different types of cheese to choose from, here is a selection of solely goats cheese!

My mum's dessert was so pretty, carpaccio of pineapple with rum and raisin ice cream. A good end to a filling meal.

I had 3 kinds of ice cream, a little boring but I loved the way it was presented. I want to take inspiration from this when I try to make ice cream this summer.

One of my favourite places to eat is in a supermarket! But this is no ordinary supermarket cafe - this is a French one! Casino started in Saint Etienne and this is a massive one which sells everything you could hope for. I got some great silicone baking moulds for 4 euros each and a couple of recipe books (plus some amazing skull and crossbones towels!! I love skulls so much!). But, most importantly, they have a brilliant cafeteria. A few stations with starters, salad bar, desserts, cheeses and a fruit salad bar; then different areas for your main meals. There are various pasta dishes, pizza, tagine, then meats and fish dishes. You help yourself to whatever veg you want.

There was a new verrine I wanted to try with yogurt, cucumber, tomato and raw cubed salmon. There was loads of lemon juice in it and it was yummy and really simple to make yourself.

Then it was a given, steak hache and half rice/half chips! I do look at other things but I always come back to this! When I was little we always had to wait ages for the steak to be cooked as I ate it well cooked, a notion which is slightly fluid in France! I often stuck it in the provided microwaves to cook it a little more once we'd paid! Now as an adult I don't mind a little blood and this is just delicious. Half chips as it's law to have chips with your beef and half rice as it's really buttery and lovely. A lovely tomato sauce to go with it.

Finally on the menu - one of my all-time favourite desserts: Oeufs A La Neige (or Floating Island). Edible even when you've had tons to eat as the meringue is so light and fluffy and the custard is beautiful and fragrant. I've tried to make this at home and it's quite tricky to get the meringue right but I'm quite willing to try again.

Once in the south of France I headed straight for the cakes! Here we have two kinds of rum baba, one with cream and one with custard (mine!), a pine nut tart and a choux bun.

Here are gorgeous bunches of white asparagus on Grau Du Roi market. They were very tasty indeed. I just wish you could find more white aspargus in this country.

Amazing purple potatoes. No difference in taste but oooo, pretty!

A Camargue speciality, guardiane with bull meat. This is a favourite with my family. Unfortunately we bought this from a different shop so the meat didn't melt as it should. I've made some nice versions of this dish. You just need onions, carrots, diced beef, herbs, red wine and black olives. Cooked for a few hours it's scrummy.

Another super impressive patisserie, which I don't actually know the name of! This was a rich chocolate mousse surrounded by chocolate meringue.

This dessert was a chestnut bacarois with a spong base and a vanilla cream in the middle, topped with a candied chesnut, walnut and a vanilla pod.

Next a blackcurrant and pear charlotte. It looked so beautiful with all the colours painted on the side.

There were pieces of pear at the bottom with a pear cream and a blackcurrant mousse in the middle.

My choice was a large lemon, date and ginger macaron. I thought it sounded quite unusual and needed to try it!

It was a little odd at first and the ginger was very strong but I really liked it, the tart lemon cut through the ginger and sticky date well. We went back to get more cakes a couple of days later but we were too late and most of the cakes had already gone. Oh no!

These cakes were from a sweet tea room, La Toison d'Or. Some nice photos of the shop are here: There was a religieuse filled with chocolate custard and a raspberry bombe which was filled with raspberry coulis.

Here are what my mum calls Bugnes but in the South of France, near Montpellier, are called Oreillettes. They traditionally have orange flower water but the patisserie also made them with lemon which was a nice twist. Incredibly unhealthy as it's just deep fried batter but when did that ever stop me?! They were slightly chalky which was a shame, they should have been crispier. My mum used to eat these freshly made with her grandmother as a child, scoffing them as quickly as they came out of the oil!

And lastly, HUGE prawns. Very fresh and delicious with plenty of mayonnaise.

Back next week with a new cookbook review.


  1. This all looks really delicious, Nathalie. I love Floating Islands too but as yet have never got round to trying to make them, however it's on the 'to do' list.
    Almost 8 weeks to go until we go to France ... and counting!
    'Meanderings through my Cookbook'

  2. Hi Nathalie,

    We would like to invite you to a cheese and wine tasting event in Manchester on the 7 June. Could you please email and I will forward on the invitation.

    Kind regards,


  3. This has so made my mouth water! I haven't been to France for over 10 years but this really makes me want to go.

  4. Oh goodness, I now want to try some of those amazing cakes - they make mine look very humble indeed.