Part of what made the food so amazing was that it was all local, seasonal, organic, and of the highest quality. Gina prefers to cook without set recipes, instead using whatever is available and good. She also has a strong interest in nutrition and holistic living (and as it turned out, zen meditation), treating food with respect bordering on reverence. All of this is why, except for my mom's cooking with her homegrown veggies, I've probably never eaten so well.
The lessons were calm, relaxed (other than my needless worrying about doing something wrong), and proceeded with a sense of mindfulness (that's where the zen came in). We took our time, did things precisely, and put together dishes that were beautiful and delicious. I couldn't have asked for better.
Here's what we made (and ate):
BREAKFAST: Every breakfast, I had the option of a variety of breads (some gluten free), homemade jams (the pear-saffron jam was to die for), excellent butter, yogurt, and muesli. There was also juice, milk, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. I always had juice, and since I'm hooked on caffeine (literally--I get terrible headaches if I try to skip a day) green tea with mint. I don't know how accurate this is, but I had read that the French often set a sugar cube in a spoonful of coffee and let the sugar soak up the liquid before popping it in their mouth and enjoying the rest of their drink. Whether the French do this or not, I discovered it was delicious with the tea :)
WELCOME DINNER: Gina made a special dinner of tapas the night I arrived. It was supposed to also include a wine tasting, but...I'm not really big on wine (I know, I know--total sacrilege) so I asked her to skip that part, knowing it would be wasted on me. The tapas, however, was both incredibly good and satisfying. I have no idea how I had gone so long without ever having tried it before. In lieu of wine, Gina made rosemary tea, which was lovely. I wish I could have eaten more, actually, but the plane trip followed by a three-hour train ride and another half hour in a taxi had left me a bit on edge and without much of an appetite. That's also why there are no pictures. But I can offer instructions:
good bread (a baguette works well), cut into rounds and toasted
cloves of garlic
assorted toppings, such as goat cheese, sliced cucumbers, sliced cured meats (such as prosciutto), or whatever suits your preferences
Take a piece of toasted bread and drizzle a bit of the olive oil over it. Rub a clove of garlic against it (sort of like you're grating it against the surface). Then take a tomato and rub against the bread as well; press the tomato onto the bread. Add your choice of toppings. Enjoy with glasses of wine or rosemary tea.
LESSON ONE: Cooking with Olives
Having a Greek background, I thought I knew about olives, but it turns out there's always so much more to learn. Gina had us sample a variety of different olives (including some that were naturally preserved without any oil, vinegar, or salt). We then made tapenade and chicken with olives.
Unexpected discovery: The chicken, free range and organic, was noticeably large, still had bits of feathers attached, and--unlike North American chicken--not at all gross. I've never touched raw chicken before and not immediately felt the urge to wash my hands. Gina says salmonella is nonexistent in the chicken there, and I believe it. I also had the unpleasant realization that the chicken we get in supermarkets at home is slimy. There's no other word for it. Whatever we're doing to our chicken in North America is just wrong.
|The chicken was first pan fried skin-side-down in a dry pan (it cooked in its own fat) until the skin was crispy, and then it was placed in a casserole dish|
|Chopped veggies included carrots, onion & zucchini|
|Chef Gina Trevier in her element|
|The veggies were lightly sauteed in the same pan in which the chicken was cooked|
|Olives were added and then everything was added to the casserole dish with the chicken|
Roast Chicken with Olives
Since Gina generally doesn't use set recipes, this is more a guideline. You can use whatever ingredients you prefer/are in season--feel free to experiment. Scale amounts to the number of people being served.
chicken thighs and legs
fresh onions or leeks
green olives with pits (we used the kind preserved in salted water)
preserved lemons (optional, but highly recommended)
Place chicken skin-side-down in a dry pan (no oil added) and cook until skin is crispy. Meanwhile dice vegetables, setting aside zucchini. When chicken is mostly cooked through, place it in a casserole dish. Drain most of the fat from the pan and add carrots and onions, as well as a healthy amount of white wine. Cook, stirring gently, over low heat until carrots are tender. Add zucchini and olives; continue cooking until zucchini is tender. Place veggie mixture in dish with chicken, Add chopped preserved lemons, if desired (they add a bright note that really makes the dish). Strip leaves from several stalks of rosemary and add to the chicken and vegetables. Cover dish and bake at a low temperature until chicken is cooked through.
|Thinly sliced heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with basil leaves and flowers|
|Thinly sliced cucumber drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with piment d’Espélette (Basque pimento pepper)--you could probably substitute mild paprika|
|Sliced fennel bulb drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with chopped fennel fronds|
|Thinly sliced heirloom tomato (they're green when ripe) drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with basil leaves and flowers|
While there are hundreds of variations of tapenade, most including long lists of ingredients, all an excellent tapenade really needs is:
pitted black olives (approx 1 cup)
capers in brine (about 1 tbs)
oil-packed anchovy fillets (about 2)
You can play with the amounts to taste. Do not skip the anchovies! They add much-needed umami without a fishy taste. Trust me. Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until chunky. Serve.
|Halved apricots were sauteed over low heat|
Dessert was the perfect light finish, especially for anyone not fond of overly sweet desserts. Lightly sauteed apricots were served with rich vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with bee pollen.
Canadians, since I wrote this post I've come across a local source for Espelette (Basque chile pepper): Franco Market. They also carry all kinds of other French foods,
Also, I discovered that Loblaws carries this brand of grey salt. Check in the spice section to see if your local store carries it. You can also use Celtic sea salt, which I think Loblaws might have in their "health food" section, but which can definitely be found in health food stores. Gina prefers to use grey salt, which is a mineral rich type of sea salt.
Lessons 2 to 5 coming soon...
Photos ©Whimsy Bower