Sunday, September 14

Up and Down the French Alps

I often write about French food. 
How can anyone that loves food, not talk about French cooking?! 
All roads lead to Rome, but all culinary paths and trails lead to France, at least for me... 

Unfortunately, I have not been on that side of the Atlantic these days (as some of those more fortunate), but I started my closer relationship with the Alps a long time ago while spending some time in Switzerland and Italy. 

Having some of my family members visiting in the French Alps, more precisely the Rhône-Alpes area, was just the extra motivation and inspiration I needed to write about one of my favorite places. 

This region of France has some amazing scenery: lakes, rivers and mountains. 

The really friendly and easy going people add to the ambiance, making it so easy for one to experience so much here.

They have it all here: 

Grenoble gondola to Bastille

Big cities like Grenoble and Lyon, little Alpine villages 
and unique mysterious places like the monastery 
where the famous Chartreuse liqueur is made.

The food is fresh, wholesome, simple and pure, yet at the same time, complex enough to make the Rhones-Alps the second-most-starred region in the French Michelin food Guide. 

You can enjoy the most simple and authentic dishes here, like a roasted pig on a stick or

 gastronomic masterpieces in the Lyonnais bouchons (traditional and authentic restaurants associated with Lyon) that offer "cochonnailles" (a pork speciality), quenelles (ground fish dumplings), cervelle de canut (fresh cheese with herbs ), 
praline tarts, 

and the Lyonnais Coussins
 (a dessert made of chocolate and blue marzipan).

Traditional Savoyard and Dauphinoise cooking consists of simple ingredients being used to make specialty dishes like: gratin (potato),

croziflette (pasta dish made with crozets, buckwheat pasta from Savoy),

tartiflette (made with potatoes and Reblochon cheese), diots (Savoyard sausages), and matafan aux pommes (a kind of apple tart).

The most famous Savoy cheeses are definitely: Reblochon, Beaufort and Tomme de Savoie and Ardèche and Drôme goat’s cheeses. 

Ordinary walk trough the Alps; peace and beauty

 There are numerous products marked as the AOC in the Rhône-Alpes, however the only meat worth of this label is Poultry from Bresse, with their white feathers, and blue feet.

Charcuteries from Lyon and sausages stuffed with truffle and/or pistachio etc.. 

Ardèche is renowned for its chestnuts. Another fruit that stands out in the Ardèche, as the chestnut, is the bilberry

For many years, the Tricastin and southern Drôme have been the biggest producers of truffles (85 % of the whole harvest in France), way ahead of other regions that claim to be top truffle producers.  From the month of December, truffle markets can be found throughout the Drôme. 

Montélimar has famous Nougat de Montélimar ! This is a speciality from the Drôme, a sweet, hard paste made from honey, sugar, almonds, egg whites, vanilla and pistachios. Nougat is one of the 13 traditional desserts at Christmas that I mentioned in my earlier post about traditions in Provence for Christmas.
Pogne, a plump brioche flavoured with orange water and a speciality of Valence, was originally made only once a year at Easter.  Now it’s eaten year round. 
 Stuffed with pralines, it is called the brioche of Saint Genix.  
Pralus, the cake and chocolate maker from Roanne, became famous for inventing the Praluline, a delicious praline brioche that is now exported throughout the world.

Walnuts from Grenoble are one of the region’s first AOC products and walnut oil is becoming increasingly popular, just like the Saint Marcellin, a creamy cheese that is made in the Isère.

In the Chartreuse mountains, the Abbey’s monks guard the secret recipe of green and yellow Chartreuse liqueur and elixir, made in the cellars at Voiron.

Obviously, Beaujolais wines are particularly known in this region, but along Rhone, there is so much more to write about. I don’t have enough space to write about all that so I will focus mostly on this region's delicious and authentic food recipes.

Some food specialties to enjoy in the Rhônes-Alpes:

Rosette de Lyon : French Salami
Noix de Grenoble : Nuts
Volailles de Bresse : poultry
Fruits : apricots, peach, cherry...
Fondue Savoyarde: melted cheese on bread
Tartiflette:  Reblochon cheese, with bacon, potatoes and salad in pot
Raclette: Cheese with potatoes, ham, salami and Italian coppa
Gratin Dauphinois: Potatoes with cream.
Ravioles de Romans : Cheese pasta.
Caillette: specialities of local meat.
Soupe a l’Oseille : soup with herbs
Gratin de Crozet : special kind of pasta gratin
Quenelles de Lyon: Knedles (dumplings) with local fish in sauce 
Andouillettes: speciality of local meat
Perches au vin : fish with wine
Lièvre à la royale : jack-rabbit in sauce

Tomme de Savoie
(Tomme de Chartreuse is one of them)
Reblochon: used to cook the famous «Tartiflette »
Bleu de Sassenage : blue cheese
St Marcelin
Picodon d’Ardèche : goat cheese

Ordinary local gathering cannot go without big selection of authentic local cheeses

Sweet specialities:

Crème de marrons
Marrons glacés

Nougat de Montélimar 
Gâteau de Savoie : cake
Tarte aux Myrtille : blueberry tart
Bugnes : fritters
Pogne : local brioche with pralines
Papillotes : filled chocolate

Recipes from this region:

Quenelles Lyonesse (Dumplings from Lyon)

The quenelle recipe is believed to originated in Lyon, a city in the Rhone-Alpes region of France. The quenelle Lyonnaise gained its popularity when a prestigious publication included it as one of the universal recipes at the end of the 19th century. Traditionally, quenelle Lyonnaise use pike fish, a freshwater bony fish found in lakes and ponds near Lyon. Today, the famous quenelle Lyonnaise retains its character by using the same fish, species and the traditional procedure.
Method of Preparation
The traditional quenelle recipe and the original ingredients include spike fish, beef fat or butter, eggs, flour, and nutmeg as spice. The method of preparing perfect quenelles de brochet consists of three major steps: the panade, the farce and shaping of quenelles. The first major step is to make the panade. A perfect panade is a well-made stiff paste by mixing flour, eggs and butter together until smooth enough to the touch. The second major step is the making of the farce. It is done by properly mixing the dice fish fillet and butter with the panade that was prepared in the first step. A nutmeg may be added to add more distinct flavor in this phase. The third major step consists of forming quenelles into oval shape using two spoons. These make the quenelles ready to be poached in salted water or stock over slow heat.
Since I live in salmon region, where pike fish is not very often on a fish market, I wanted to use modified recipe of this interesting dish that I can prepare more often in my kitchen.

Salmon Quenelles

3/4 cup water
1-1/2 ounce butter
salt and pepper to taste
3-1/2 ounces flour
Salmon mixture:
1 pound salmon filets
salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste
7 ounces butter
2 eggs
4 yolks

Remove bones and skin from salmon, rinse off scales. Keep salmon chilled.
Make panade: Bring water, butter, salt and pepper to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the flour all at once and stir until the mixture comes together in a ball. Return to the heat to dry out the mixture slightly, stirring constantly. Transfer it to a pan, flatten it out so it cools quickly and coat the surface with butter to prevent drying out. Cut the salmon into chunks and purée in the food processor. Add the panade and blend until smooth. Break the eggs in a bowl and add them in a steady stream to the salmon mixture. Soften the butter and blend it into the salmon mixture. Pass mixture through a sieve and return to a bowl. Stir until smooth. Bring a half full frying pan with water to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and poach a spoonful of the mixture. Taste it to correct seasons. Then poach the remaining dough, using two wetted spoons. Use with your favorite sauce or asparagus sauce (recipe follows).

Asparagus sauce for the quenelles
1 cup asparagus, cooked and chopped (reserve some tips for garnish)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pinch mace
1 cup whole milk (or more if needed)

Sauté the onion and garlic in the melted butter over low heat until soft. Sprinkle in the flour, mix, then add milk slowly over low heat, stirring until well blended and thickened. Cool slightly. Put mixture in a blender or processor with the cooked asparagus (except tips for garnish), salt and pepper, and mace. If a thinner sauce is desired, add a couple of tablespoons more of milk. Reheat in the saucepan but do not boil. Pour on the plates and add the warmed quenelles over top. Garnish with reserved asparagus tips.

Mushroom sauce for the quenelles:

1/2 pound mushrooms
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp finely chopped shallots
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare and cook the chicken quenelles. Drain and set them aside.
Slice the mushrooms. There should be about two and one-half cups. Heat the butter in a saucepan and add the shallots and mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are wilted, stirring often. Sprinkle with flour and stir. Add the milk, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. When blended and smooth, add the cream, salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, cool, and slowly bind in the egg yolk.
Preheat the broiler. Butter a shallow baking dish. Add the drained quenelles. Spoon the sauce over all. Sprinkle with cheese and run under the broiler. Cook about five minutes or until the top is bubbling and golden brown.

Pogne de Romans
(brioche cake)

1.2 lb flour
1/2 oz yeast
1/4 lb granulated sugar
1 or 2 tbsp. tablespoons orange flower water
6 eggs
2/3 lb butter
For shaping:
a little flour and some oil

Variation: adding chocolates (200g)

Preheat oven to (210 ° C)The day before: In a bowl, dissolve yeast in 7 or 8 tsp of warm salt water and added 1 tsp sugar. Stir in 1/4 lb flour to make a dough wheel. Cover with a damp cloth. Next day: In a bowl, mix the remaining flour and sugar, dig into a fountain. Gradually stir in the orange flower water, the eggs one by one, then the yeast yesterday, beating the dough so that it takes the body. Stir again softened butter at room temperature. Form into a ball, cover the bowl with a damp cloth, let stand 2 hours. With floured hands, rework the dough to make it fall. Then ball. Then rest 4-5 hours. Take 1/4 then pasta, shape the crown on oiled baking sheet. Keep and put a 2nd crown on same plate. Let rise 2 crowns in the open air 20 to 30 minutes. Before baking crowns practice notches on their surface with a knife blade dipped in cold water. Bake, cook for 30 minutes and see if a knife blade to the heart spring dry. On leaving the oven, turn out on a rack. Prepare the same two other crowns with the remaining dough.

Gratin dauphinois
(potatoes gratin)

800g potatoes
30cl full-fat milk
50cl crème fraîche
1 large knob of butter
2 garlic cloves

Before starting this Gratin Dauphinois recipe, wash, peel...and slice the potatoes into 3mm thick slices. For this step, it’s good to use mandolin. Do not wash the potatoes once they have been sliced. Place them in a saucepan, together with 30cl of milk, 30cl of crème fraîche, butter, chopped garlic, salt, pepper and ground nutmeg. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat a little and continue cooking for about 8 minutes. Stir gently with a spatula to ensure the preparation doesn't stick to the pan. The potatoes should now be coated with cream. Arrange the potatoes in a gratin dish. Level the surface and leave to cool so that all the different flavours blend. Add 20tsp of crème fraîche.
Cook in a preheated oven at 180°C for approximately 15 minutes.
(With the tip of a knife, check if the potatoes are cooked.)Remove from the oven when the surface is brown. Serve in the gratin dish.

(potatoes gratin with bacon)

Ingredients / for 6:

500 grams of potatoes
150g smoked bacon
1 Reblochon cheese
2 onions
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons white wine
salt and pepper

Cook the potatoes, peel them and cut them into slices. Cut onions into strips.In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and cook potatoes, bacon and onions add salt and pepper, for about 15 minutes. At the end add the white wine and cook for another 5 minutes.
Pour all into a baking dish and cover with slices of Reblochon cheese.
Bake at 200 ° C for 15 minutes. Serve warm with a green salad.

Brioche Saint Genix:
(briche with pralines)

Ingredients / for 6:

500g flour unbleached
100 g of sugar
1 tsp salt
350 g of butter
6 eggs whole
2 packets of dried baker's yeast (2 tsp)
0.25 l of milk warmed to 35° C
300 g of crushed pink pralines (or candied rose petals)
1 yolk egg diluted with little water.

In a bowl, place the flour, salt, sugar and mix well. Dissolve yeast in warm milk and mix with flour. Add the eggs one by one. Add the softened butter and mix well until you get smooth, homogeneous dough (for about 20 minutes). Put to rise in a warm place covered with a cloth for about 1 hour. Remix and knead the dough two or three times and then refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the dough and incorporate crushed pralines. Put the dough in a dish lined with parchment paper and let it rise again, covered, in a warm place for about 2 hours. Top with egg wash and bake about 35 minutes at 200° C.
(It’s better to make two rolls of 250 g rather than one 500g).

Endive salad with apples and walnuts de Grenoble:

Ingredients / for 4:

5 beautiful endives
2 apples Gala
100g shelled walnuts
50 g of Gouda cheese
1 small shallot
5 tablespoons oil olive
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons chopped chives
salt and pepper

Peel and cut apples into small cubes. Gouda cut into small cubes. In a bowl, place the endive leaves, diced apple and Gouda, and walnuts. Peel and chop the shallot and place in a bowl. Add the oil, lemon juice 1/2, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and mix.
Add chives and season the salad.

Cake Savoyard
(savory cheese cake)

Ingredients / for 6:

3 eggs
150 g flour
1 packet of yeast
10 ml oil + 1 tablespoon
5 tsp of milk
100g Gruyere cheese, grated
100g Reblochon cheese
150g lardons (bacon)
100 g of onions
1 dab of butter
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of pepper

Preheat oven to 180 ° C. Slice the onions, fry them in a pan with a spoon of butter and a spoonful of oil, a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the bacon and let them lightly brown. Remove from the heat. Cut the Reblochon into pieces and mix it with bacon. In a bowl, work well with a whisk the eggs, flour and baking powder. Stir in gradually the oil and preheated milk. Finally add the grated cheese. Mix. Then stir in the onion mixture, bacon, Reblochon at the base. Pour into greased mold and bake for 45 minutes.

Savoy Hotpot

Ingredients / for 4 persons:

1 small ham
300 g breast of pork salted
600g loin of pork salt
300g through pork salt
2 Savoy sausages
1 large cabbage - green
4 carrots
4 turnips
2 onions
8 potatoes
3 cloves

Peel the vegetables. Wash the cabbage and cut into quarters. Prick cloves in onions. Blanch the cabbage 10 minutes in salted boiling water, refresh immediately. Finally in a saucepan, bring the chest, spine, and through the shank. Cover with cold water. Add onions, carrots and turnips. Lightly salt and bring to boil. Skim and cook over medium heat about 60 minutes. Halfway through, add the blanched cabbage, potatoes and sausages. To serve, cut the pork. Serve cabbage on a serving plate; spread the pork in the dish and the other vegetables. Reserve the broth and serve separately with slices of toasted country bread.

Morels and walnuts cake

150 g flour
4 eggs
8 ounces of oil
15 cl of milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
150g walnuts
150 g of fresh mushrooms washed (or 30 g of dry morels rehydrating beforehand in hot water)
150g grated Comté cheese
15 g butter
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 180 °.Mix the flour with the yeast. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well. Add oil and milk. Work the dough with an electric whisk to make it smooth and creamy. Continue mixing with a spatula and add the grated cheese, the mushrooms and shelled whole nuts. Butter a loaf pan carefully and fill two-thirds. Bake about 1 hour: the cake is cooked when a knife planted in the heart, dry spring. Cool then cut into slices. Kernels of whole nuts and morels create original mottled.

Grenoble Cake with Walnuts

Ingredients / for 4:
100g walnuts crushed (de Grenoble)
100g butter
3 eggs
150 g flour
100 g of sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
juice of one lemon
Zest of 1 lemon , grated

Combine in a bowl the eggs and melted butter. While whipping, add sugar, nuts, lemon juice, the zest grated, flour and baking soda. Mix well.
Finally place in a buttered pan. Bake in a moderate oven for 35 minutes.

Crepes aux marrons et a l’orange (Crepes with chestnuts and orange)

4 Large crepes.

4 tbsp of creme de marron (Sweet chestnut puree)
4 tbsp of creme fraiche (thick)
1 tbsp of rum
2 Oranges
icing sugar
orange marmalade or jam

In a bowl, beat together the creme de marron, the creme fraiche and the rum.
Peel the oranges and cut into quarters remembering to remove all the pits and bad stuff.
Place a quarter of the marron mixture on each crepe and evenly distribute the orange segments.
Fold in half. Fold in half again forming triangle four layers thick.
Place on to a warmed serving dish.
Decorate with warm marmalade, icing sugar and orange slices.

For the praline filling, you can choose to add more or less cream to it. But if you're a creamy type of person, the recipe as it is a perfect for you! 

Pink Praline Tart

For the sweet pastry: 

250g flour
100g butter, cubed and slightly softened
100g confectioners' sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
2 medium eggs, at room temperature

For the praline filling:
1 cup praline, crushed
1/4cup double cream

Make the pastry:

Put the flour in a mound on a counter (ideally marble) and make a well. Put in the butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt and mix together with your finger tips.Gradually draw in the flour into the center and mix with your finger tips until the dough becomes slightly grainy. Again, make a well and add the eggs. Work them into the flour mixture, using your fingertips, until the dough begins to hold together. When the dough is well amalgamated, knead it a few times with the palm of your hand until smooth. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and rest in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours before using.

Preheat the oven at 180deg C.

When the dough is rested and you are ready to use it, unwrap and roll out on a lightly floured counter to a 2 - 3 mm thickness. Line small tart moulds or rings with the pastry, cut out the pieces hanging over, cover the pastry with baking parchment and dried beans or baking beans, and bake blind for 15min until golden.

Make the filling: 

In a small pan, slowly melt the pralines until completely melted, adding the cream as you go along. Pour the praline filling over the pastry case and leave to cool for at least a couple of hours until set and hard. 

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