food travels

Intermediate Cuisine is all about regional foods.  Each lesson is an opportunity to travel to a different region of France and discover its regional products and traditional dishes.  This week our lessons took us to the south of France, where French cuisine is at its finest in my opinion ;)

First up, we traveled to Nice, the capital of the Cote D’Azur (or French Riveria) region of France.  The entree, main course, and dessert for this lesson all deserved a thumbs-up from me.  In practical we made the entree course, which was a puff pastry galette topped with tuna carpaccio marinated in a basil vinaigrette.  This dish was so refreshing and light and packed with great flavors, I just couldn’t get over how delicious it was and kept raving about it even days after =P  Now, if I ever decide to open up a cafe someday, this is sure to be on my lunch menu in some form or another…

The braised beef with olives main course was also second to none.  The beef was braised to supreme tenderness and replete with bright Provençal flavors.  Chef Tivet also suggested that this dish could be ground together with a tomato concassees to make for an irresistable ravioli filling.  Serve it with a fresh tomato sauce and some grated parmesan cheese and you’ll be all set!  (again, another very potential dish on the menu…)

Before we got to tour Provence, we had to make a pit stop in the Loire Valley, which unfortunately meant rabbit stuffed with prunes and goat-cheese filled potatoes…. not really my cup of tea.  The entree was a warm salad with housemade smoked pike-perch, which was much more tolerable than the rabbit, but still nothing to write home about.

The Anjou-style choux fritters with orange cream, however, definitely piqued my interests, only because they remind me so much of zeppole.  Have you ever had them before?  They’re basically Italian-style donut holes rolled in a cinnamon sugar…. sooo good =P  We used to make it all the time at home for a quick go-to dessert any night of the week since it’s so easy to make and all you need is sugar, water, flour and eggs.  *sigh… wish I were back home making zeppole right now =/

Finally, we got to Provence, where we said good-bye to butter and cream and hello to olive oil, garlic, herbs, tomatoes, and all sorts of fruits de mer.  Our practical dish was a traditional bouillabaisse, made with Mediterranean scorpion fish, John Dory, and conger eel.  Last time I was in Marseille I tried a bouillabaisse, but it must not have been the real deal, because the version we made tasted so much better =P  All it needed was a little bit of a kick… perhaps some cayenne or Espelette pepper?

Before the week was over, we traveled to the southwestern region of France, home of salt cod and the traditional French white bean stew, cassoulet… otherwise known as heart-attack in a heartbeat =P

Due to its immensely rich and hearty flavors, cassoulet is best enjoyed during the freezing dead of winter, but in the dead heat of summer?  Uh, no =P  To give you an idea of just how hearty this stew really is, imagine, if you will, a huge cast-iron pot loaded with slow-cooked white beans, bacon, stewed lamb, duck confit, two different types of sausages, and a breadcrumb topping… all of which are individually seared in goosefat.  Get the picture? =P  Cassoulet is really quite tasty, but two bites of this and you’ll have reached your entire caloric, fat, and cholesterol intake for the day =P  What an amazing, food-filled adventure it’s been this week ;)

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