Blog - Curry Twist

Moules Marinières In The Loire Valley, France

Chinon - 28.jpg

The Château of Chinon stands on the banks of the river Vienne, encircled by vineyards that produce the wines for which the region is famous. Gazing at these tranquil surroundings it is hard to imagine that this was the location of some of the bloodiest conflicts in European history, which played a decisive role in determining the fate of medieval France and England.

Chinon was the principal residence of Henry II, from which he ruled his sprawling kingdom that encompassed both England and a large part of western France. Here he battled not only the French king and renegade barons, but also his own turbulent family, including his four sons who were in a constant state of rebellion. They were encouraged and abetted in their attempts to seize the throne by their mother, the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Henry beat back the challenge from his offspring, but time is always on the side of the young. Henry died while still at Chinon and was succeeded by his second son, soon to become famous as Richard the Lionheart. Eleanor outlived them both, becoming the effective ruler for many years while Richard was off crusading in the Holy Land.

Henry was buried at the nearby Abbey of Fontevraud and he was eventually followed there by both Richard and Eleanor when they died. Now they all lie side-by-side in the silent interior of the abbey chapel. Stepping out from the hush of the tombs into the cloistered gardens inside the abbey, one can only hope that they have eventually found the peace that they certainly never knew in their lifetimes.

Touring vast chateaux can get tiring. Revive yourself with fabulous food in one of their signature restaurants. Often situated right in the sprawling grounds of the chateau, these restaurants feature fantastic, innovative food with reasonable (lunch) prices. Here, you can sit in the shade of an ancient tree, gazing out at spectacularly beautiful gardens while savoring the best food you will eat in your entire trip!

Classic, sophisticated and easy to make, this French favourite will wow your family and friends! Serve with crusty baguette and a crisp salad, and if you have any of that wine left after cooking, serve that too!
Pair this dish with a Chèvre Omelette for a delicious meal.

Moules Marinières

2 lb fresh mussels, scrubbed

2 tbsp butter

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large sprig of thyme

1/2 cup white wine

Salt to taste

1/4-1/2 tsp ground black Pepper

1/4 cup whipping cream

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Toasted baguette

Clean mussels and discard any that are open. Transfer to a bowl.

Warm butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic and thyme sprig. Saute for 2-3 min, until lightly softened.

Add reserved mussels, white wine, salt and pepper. Give it a good mix, cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for about 4 min or until mussels have steamed open.

Pick over with tongs and discard any mussels that haven't opened, as well as the sprig of thyme.

Add cream, parsley and lemon juice, mixing well. Cook 1 min to incorporate.

Serve right away with toasted baguette.

Note: For a thicker sauce, remove cooked mussels from broth and reserve in a bowl. Bring broth to a boil over medium high heat and reduce until lightly thickened, about 2-3 min. Add mussels, mix well before serving.

Serves four

Chinon - 27.jpg

 

 

Ratatouille In The Loire Valley, France

The Loire valley is ideally situated to be the playground for the rich and powerful in France. Close to Paris, and with stunningly beautiful scenery on the banks of the Loire, Indre and Cher rivers, French kings, queens and aristocrats have been building their luxurious châteaus in this region for centuries. Many of the greatest moments of French history have been played out in the halls of these magnificent palaces.

Amboise - 41.jpg

The château of Amboise is one of the oldest in the region, and reached it's height of glory in the early sixteenth century during the reign of King François I, who grew up there and made it his principal residence. The château of Amboise towers above the Loire river from where it dominates the surrounding countryside.

Amboise - 15.jpg

François I was a fervent admirer of the Italian renaissance, and he invited many of the great artists of the time to his court, including Leonardo da Vinci. The great painter came, carrying the still unfinished painting of the Mona Lisa in his baggage. He spent the last few years of his life at Amboise, and is said to have died while being watched over by the king. He was buried in a small chapel in the castle, that still stands.

Chenonceaux - 13.jpg

The most famous château is perhaps that of Chenoceau. Its main halls are built on a bridge that spans the river Cher, creating an iconic image. The stunning reflection of the building in the river and the gardens that stretch out around it attract more visitors than any other site in the Loire valley.

Chenonceau came into the possession of King Henri II, son of François I, who gifted it to his beloved mistress Diane de Poitiers who lived there and built the graceful span across the river. Unfortunately Henri II died in a jousting accident, and his widow, Catherine de Medici became the Regent of France, ruling in the name of her infant son. Catherine had a somewhat jaundiced view of her late husband's generous presents, and forced Diane to return the château. Catherine made Chenonceau her own favourite residence and expanded it even further.

If there is any château that competes with Chenonceau for the title of the loveliest building in the Loire valley, it is that of Azay-le-Rideau.

Azay-le-Rideau is one of the smaller châteaus in the region, but it is a perfect little gem. Set on an island in the middle of the Indre river, it looks like a fairy-tale castle, complete with pointed rooftops on the corner towers. All it needs are Sleeping Beauty and a handsome prince for the fantasy to be complete!

Ratattouille.jpg

The Loire valley is famous for its gastronomy. There is amazing food to be found in chic Michelin starred restaurants tucked away in tiny little towns. Opt for the set lunch menu and you will dine like a king at a very affordable price! Ratatouille, with sweet summer ripened vegetables is a classic from this region and needs only crusty bread to mop up it all up.
Try your hand at another easy French classic - Moules Mariniéres.

Ratatouille

4 tbsp oil, divided

2 cups each, 1/2 inch dice: eggplant, assorted coloured zucchini, assorted coloured sweet peppers

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 large sprig of thyme

2 cups pureed tomatoes, fresh or canned

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

Warm 2 tbsp oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add eggplant and cook for about 5-7 min until lightly browned and softened. Transfer to a bowl.

Add remaining 2 tbsp oil to skillet. Add onions, garlic and thyme. Saute until lightly browned and softened, about 5-7 min.

Add zucchini and peppers. Saute for another 5-7 min until vegetables are softened.

Add eggplant back to skillet. Cook 2 min.

Add tomatoes, salt and pepper, mixing in gently. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for about 15-20 min until vegetables are soft and sauce is thick. Remove thyme sprig.

Transfer ratatouille to a serving bowl and sprinkle fresh parsley over top.

Serves four

Chenonceaux - 13.jpg

Crepes In Versailles

Louis XIV was never a man to believe in understatement. When he decided to renovate his father's hunting lodge in the little village of Versailles, the final result was a palace that still staggers the imagination. It served not just as the home of the king, but also as his seat of government and a residence for all the aristocracy of France. Much of French culture and style was developed in these sprawling hallways, while courtiers conspired and intrigued in a never-ending scramble for power and influence.

The Hall of Mirrors is the most impressive part of the palace. Its walls are lined with mirrors, which in the seventeenth century were an incredibly expensive luxury. The workmen who made them had to be enticed from Venice, at the time the only place where the technology to make mirrors existed. The Venetian government was so enraged at the loss of their monopoly that it dispatched assassins to eliminate the renegade craftsmen.

Every corner of Versailles is stuffed with paintings, sculpture, and furniture, all overlaid with gilt and silk. It remains a remarkable monument to the man who was revered as the Sun King, and enjoyed being portrayed as a Roman god.

The breathtaking splendour of the palace spills out into it's gardens, which are dazzling in their symmetry. Laid out in 1661 by André Le Nôtre, they stretch out into the horizon in an enchanting display of manicured lawns, tree lined hedges and colourful flower beds. As you walk deeper into the gardens, you will see many lovely marble sculptures, imposing fountains and even an orangery with orange and lemon trees.

Taking in the grandeur of the palace and it's gardens can be exhausting. We revived ourselves with a pitcher of cider and crepes! Crisp crepes with lacy edges remind me of South-Indian dosas, made with fermented rice and lentil batter. Stuff them with eggs, ham and cheese like the French or with spicy potatoes as in India and you have yourself a fabulous treat!

DSC_0048.jpg

Buckwheat crepes, also known as galettes have a deep, earthy flavour that pairs well with savoury fillings such as eggs, ham and cheese. Serve them with a side of Ratatouille or a fresh salad for a delicious meal.
Try your hand at making Indian crepes, a delicious variation made with chickpea flour.

Buckwheat Crepes

Crepe Batter:

3/4 cup buckwheat flour

2/3 cup (1/2 cup+2 tbsp) all purpose flour

Salt to taste

2 eggs

11/2 cups milk

1/2 cup water

4 tbsp melted butter, divided

Crepe Toppings:

Grated Gruyere cheese

Thinly sliced ham

Freshly fried eggs

Combine both flours and salt in large mixing bowl. Whisk in eggs, milk, water and 2 tbsp butter until well blended and lightly aerated. Let stand 15 min.

Warm 1/2 tsp butter in large non stick frying pan or crepe pan set over medium heat.

Add about 1/3 cup of the batter and swirl the pan in a circular motion to evenly distribute the batter in a thin layer over bottom of pan.

DSC_0034.jpg

Cook until batter dries up on top and edges are crisped, about 1-2 min.

Sprinkle some of the grated cheese on crepe, top with ham and a fried egg.

Fold over edges of crepe in a rectangular package, leaving just the egg yolk exposed. Sprinkle some salt over egg yolk if desired.

Cook some more until crepe bottom is crisped up to your liking, about another min.

 

 

Serve crepes hot off the stove and repeat with remaining batter, butter and fillings.

 

Serves four

French Onion Soup In Montmartre, Paris

Monmartre embodies the most romantic side of Paris. From the stark beauty of the Sacré Coeur basilica to the cobbled streets that wind through the neighbourhood and the lively bars and cafés on every corner, it is easy to see why generations of artists came here to work, carouse, and create La Vie Bohème! Picasso, Degas, van Gogh, Matisse, and many others lived here, experimented with new styles and in the process invented modern art.

It is still possible to see glimpses of the windmills and vineyards that formed part of the original village of Montmartre, but it has become too popular a place for many rustic charms to survive. So many films have been made with Montmartre as a backdrop that it is well known around the world, attracting thousands of tourists every year.

However, when you walk through one of its narrow alleys late at night after the crowds have gone home, you can still imagine what it was like a century ago. The steep, narrow, atmospheric streets and the lovely, gracious buildings lining them evoke a sense of days gone by.

In spite of the popular image of Monmartre artists and their models starving in freezing attics, reinforced by countless songs, books and movies, one can eat very well there. Cafes, bistros and bars set up impromptu seating on footpaths, street corners and squares. The sounds of laughter, conversation and the clinking of cutlery mingle with inviting aromas wafting around.

Although we ate in many a brasserie, Cafe Wepler was one of the most memorable. For over a hundred years Wepler has been the hangout of choice for artists, writers and famous personalities and it is still impressive with it's food, furnishings and art. My favourite bistro dish, and one that I invariably ordered everywhere, is French onion soup. I just love how it's warm, comforting flavours fill me up with contentment!

onion soup - 1.jpg

You too can create that Paris bistro feeling with this easy, satisfying recipe. The secret to deep, rich flavour is in the sautéing of onions. They have to be done long and slow to develop that characteristic sweetness, colour and aroma of this soup.
For a delicious and unusual variation, try French Onion Soup with Lamb, or another Paris bistro classic - Croque Monsieur.

French Onion Soup

2 tbsp each: unsalted butter, olive oil

1 large sprig of thyme

2 large onions (such as Vidalia or Spanish), halved and thinly sliced, about 4 cups

1/2 tsp sugar

1 tbsp all purpose flour

1 cup dry white wine

900 ml broth, chicken or beef

Salt to taste

1/4 tsp each: ground black pepper, smoked paprika

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

4 thick slices of baguette

4 slices Gruyere cheese

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish, optional

Warm butter and oil in deep heavy skillet set over medium heat.

Add thyme and onions. Sauté, stirring occasionally until all the liquid is cooked off and onions are lightly browned, about 30 min.

Add sugar; continue to stir and sauté onions until they are a deeper brown, about 15 more min.

Add flour, cook 1 min.

Add wine and cook for 1 min until it bubbles, scraping up the burnt brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Add broth, salt, pepper, paprika and vinegar, stirring well to incorporate.

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 1 hour until onions are very soft and soup is slightly thickened. Remove thyme sprig.

Ladle soup into 4 individual oven proof bowls. Preheat broiler in oven.

Toast baguette slices lightly and top each bowl with a slice. Lay the sliced cheese over top. Place all the bowls on a large oven safe tray.

Place tray with soup bowls about 8 inches away from broiler and broil until cheese melts and browns lightly, about 1-2 min. Sprinkle parsley over top, if using.

Serves four

 

GLBPB.jpeg

French Onion Soup With Lamb In Aix en Provence

The Romans who founded the town of Aix-en-Provence twenty-three centuries agomay have been the first people that we know of to fall in love with the charms of Provence, but they were certainly not the last. Artists such as van Gogh and Cezanne have immortalized the olive groves, craggy red hills, breathtaking lavender and sunflower fields, and the brilliant sunshine that make Provence top the wish-list of any traveler.

The lively, bustling city of Aix contains everything that makes Provence irresistible.  It all enchants: the famous Cours Mirabeau, bordered by plane trees that form a leafy, green arch as you stroll along the sidewalks,  the baroque fountains spraying water in the summer heat, solemn churches, fashionable shops, and bustling cafes filled with university students.

And when it comes to tasting the flavors of Provence, nobody does it better than Aix. We were enthralled by the creative use of herbs, the inspired treatment of vegetables, the lovingly simmered stews and the delicately cooked seafood that we enjoyed at every meal. Traditional dishes such as Daube, French onion soup, Pistou, Ratatouille and Bouillabaise tasted like none other after the imaginative treatment they received at the hands of local chefs.

Classic French Onion soup done with a Provencal twist was one of my favorites in Aix. A little sprinkle of Herbes de Provence makes a world of difference to its flavor!

In my recipe, I use Herbes de Provence too, but first I season the lamb broth generously with whole spices to create depth of flavor and a subtle spicy aroma that goes well with Herbes de Provence. The shredded lamb and barley add another level of flavor to the soup, setting it apart from anything else you may have had before.

French Onion Soup With Lamb And Barley   

You can serve this rich, hearty soup the traditional way with a thick slice of rustic bread and some cheese melted over top, or you can serve it with bread on the side for dipping. Making and refrigerating the lamb broth a day ahead of time simplifies the process and also makes it easier to skim off the extra fat. You can, of course, make the soup vegetarian - substitute vegetable broth instead. It's delicious!
For a more classic version try this recipe of French Onion Soup

For the lamb broth:

3 lb lamb shanks (about 3 large)

6 cups water

4 cloves garlic

10 each: whole cloves, cardamom

1 tsp whole black pepper

1 inch stick cinnamon

Salt to taste

For the soup:

2 tbsp olive oil

2 bay leaves, preferably fresh

2 large sweet onions (such as Spanish or Vidalia), halved and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

½ tsp each: sugar, herbes de Provence

1 carrot, diced

1 stick celery, diced

1 cup sliced mushrooms

½ cup each: white wine, white wine vinegar, pearl barley

Combine all broth ingredients together in large saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 2 hours or until lamb is very tender.  Lift lamb out of broth, cool and shred.

Strain broth and skim off fat. Reserve broth.

Warm oil in deep skillet set over medium high heat. Add bay leaves and onions. Sauté for 10 min, stirring frequently until they begin to brown. Reduce heat to medium, add sugar and herbs. Saute for another 10 mins until onions are dark brown. Add vegetables, sauté 10 min.

Add wine and vinegar to deglaze skillet. Cook 5 min until slightly reduced. Add barley, shredded lamb and reserved broth. Stir gently, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low heat for 1 hour or until vegetables are very tender and barley is cooked.

Taste for seasonings, sprinkle some chopped fresh parsley over top if desired.

Serves four