Thursday, April 23, 2015

Off for a leisurely 2 month stroll through Provence & the South of France

Perched village of Gordes

We’re off for a very leisurely 2 month stroll through Provence and the South of France. That’s what people do when they retire. They don’t hurry or run, they stroll. We’re plan to take our time and leisurely enjoy the glorious sights and smells of Provence, stopping often by the side of the road to enjoy the fields of sunflowers and lavender that grow in that region. And of course live the good life.

The truth be told, we already live the good life. The only difference is that we’ll be living the good life à la française. We’ve rented an old stone Mas (a French country house) a few kilometers north of Saint-Rémy de Provence. Saint-Rémy de Provence is located in the heart of the Alpilles region of Provence where we stayed on our last visit.

We’ll shop in the outdoor markets of small villages & enjoy the charm of the typical Provencal way of life. We’ll stroll along the boulevards under the shade of century-old plane trees, wander around narrow little streets, discover squares with fountains, and of course dine outside at many of their cafes and restaurants and sip wine and eat fabulous Provencal cooking based on locally produced products.

We plan to rise early each morning and walk with the locals to the village’s boulangerie for a fresh baguette and carry it home under our arm.

Perhaps later in the day visit the pretty lady in the patisserie to pick up a couple of flaky pastries or a tart (tart citron is my favorite) for the evening.

We’ll hum Starry, Starry Night as we walk in the steps of Van Gogh where he painted some of his most famous masterpieces in the plein air of Saint-Rémy & Arles.

Saint-Paul Asylum

While in Arles we’ll enjoy the Romans ruins of the ancient city & see where bull fights are held.

Seems the Romans were all over Provence. On our last visit we drove to the Pont de Gard, a Roman monument built halfway through the 1st century AD. The long aqueduct supplied the city of Nimes with water.

We’ve planned day trips from Saint-Rémy and will visit other villages such as Isle Sur la Sorgue, where the river Sorgue surrounds the city and walk along canals that run between the ancient narrow streets. Sunday is flea market day in Isle Sur la Sorgue and crowds come from all around looking for vintage items and treasures. Hmm, I should start my list now...

Perhaps we’ll visit the medieval village of Fontaine de Vaucluse again as one of our day trips and have a leisurely lunch overlooking the beautiful clear blue river that gushes by.

There are many perched villages in Provence. One of our favorites is the beautiful old village of Gordes, situated high in the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse with its stone buildings built tight against the base of cliffs. Photo of Gordes shown in the beginning of the post.

Larger side trips include a visit north to Normandy see the beaches and also from Nice we plan to drive over to northern Italy and Modena in particular. Modena is famous for it's balsamic vinegar of course and it's also opera singer Luciano Pavarotti's home. But there's another reason to visit Modena. It also happens to be the home of Erzo Ferrari and the Ferrari factory. I'm sure we'll see plenty of shiny cars to ogle.  

Promenade des Anglais, Nice 

And of course throughout the trip we'll eat and sip wine until our hearts and bellies are content.

And visit a winery or two or three.

For those of you who follow My Carolina Kitchen on Facebook, you can catch me there as I will try to post some pictures from Provence from time to time while we’re away. Click here to follow on Facebook.

So we leave you with an à bientôt (see you soon) and lots of promises for many fun-filled posts about Provence when we return near the end of June. Take care everyone and we hope you have a lovely spring.

I will return early to mid July with posts about our trip and new recipes after we get settled in for the summer in the mountains.

See you then.

Sam & Meakin

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chicken Breasts with Pancetta Cream and Peas

We were so impressed with this recipe that we thought it qualified as a special Sunday dinner. The sauce tastes as rich and creamy as a Béchamel, but actually it’s just a white wine and chicken broth based sauce made from the fond left in the pan from browning the chicken and thickened with a small amount of mascarpone and a bit of flour. Baby English peas are scattered across the top for color and additional flavor.

Both the chicken and sauce come together in under 45 minutes and would be a welcome addition to your list of dinner party recipes or would come in handy when you have a house guests. I served it with tomatoes Provençal, link to recipe here.

It’s one of Cooking Light’s most popular recipes ever. Feel free to substitute bacon for the pancetta and for the mascarpone I used cream cheese because I had it on hand. Don’t pass this one by.

Chicken Breasts with Pancetta Cream and Peas
Adapted from Cooking Light’s The Weeknight Chicken Book – serves 4
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 ½ ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped
4 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup unsalted chicken stock
2 tablespoons mascarpone or cream cheese – I used low fat cream cheese
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed (unthawed worked fine)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove garlic from pan using a slotted spoon, and then set aside. Increase heat to medium-high. Add pancetta and sauté 4 minutes or until crisp. Remove pancetta from pan using a slotted spoon and reserve.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and sauté 4 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan. Add wine; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook until the liquid almost evaporates (about 3 minutes). Return chicken to pan. Add stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for 6 – 8 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove chicken from pan and cover to keep warm.

Add mascarpone or cream cheese to pan and stir with a whisk until smooth. Combine water and flour, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to pan. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes or until sauce is thickened and creamy. Stir in reserved pancetta, garlic, and peas. Cook 1 minute. Spoon sauce over chicken.

Cook's notes: If you don't serve this with something red such as the tomato Provencal and want to add a bit of color, you can add some red bell pepper, cut up in small pieces and sauteed until crispy to the sauce. We did that with the left-overs and it was delicious as well as pretty.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

I’ll be sharing this with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen’s Full Plate Thursday.


Onto an another note - Life is full of surprises. One minute you're on top of your game & the next minute you're flat on your face. That's exactly what happened to me. The other day I was flying high and feeling great and before I knew what happened, I tripped on a step and found myself flat on my face on the concrete - literally flat on my face. Needless to say that has definitely taken the wind out of my sails.

Add to that - we depart in a matter of days for a 2 month adventure in Provence and the South of France. Consequently those two things have altered my plans somewhat for the blog. I thought I would have time to prepare some preplanned posts for you and have them come on automatically while we were gone, but that plan flew out of the window with my fall. I'm black & blue (add to that a black eye and bruises on my face), am very sore and quite frankly just not up to the task. But I do know I lucky I am and how much worse it could have been. We are still excited about the trip and I do have a new post scheduled for next week to tell you about our trip and where we're going. 

For those of you who follow My Carolina Kitchen on Facebook, you can catch me there while we're gone. I plan to post some pictures from time to time while we're away. Click here to follow on our trip on Facebook. 

So I'll leave you with an à bientôt (see you soon) and lots of promises for many fun-filled posts about Provence & the South of France when we return near the end of June. Next week I'll explain where we're going and some of the things we plan to see. 

In the meantime, take care everyone and I hope you have a lovely spring.

Sam & Meakin

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spanish Chicken, Rice, Shrimp & Chorizo turned into a mock Paella

This dish began as a simple Spanish chicken and rice dish and by adding some saffron, Spanish chorizo and shrimp I was able to turn it into a party friendly version of mock Spanish paella. It’s a flavorful one dish meal that comes together in less than an hour. To round out the meal, serve with a crusty baguette, a lightly dressed green salad and pour a good Spanish red wine from the Rioja region.

If you research paella on the internet, you’ll find many versions. I found this one from Tio Peppe’s restaurant in Greenwich Village very attractive and a doable presentation for a home cook. If you look at their paella picture here, you’ll see that the Chef garnished his paella with well placed slices of roasted red peppers, then sprinkled green peas atop the red peppers and a few slices of Spanish chorizo were strewn about to give the dish a big pop of color and flavor. I noticed that he chose to serve the paella in a dark bowl, which I also found appealing from a color standpoint. So there’s no stopping what you can do with a simple base of chicken and rice simmered together in a tomato and wine sauce.

Spanish Chicken, Rice, Shrimp & Chorizo turned into a mock Paella
Adapted from Real Simple – serves 4
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat & cut into 2 ½” inch pieces
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed & torn into pieces, including liquid
¼ teaspoon dried saffron, crumbled (optional)
1 cup long-grain white rice
¾ pound peeled & deveined wild caught shrimp (optional)
1 cup frozen green peas
¼ cup pimento-stuffed Spanish olives, cut in half
4 to 5 ounces Spanish chorizo, roughly diced (optional)
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped + extra sprigs for garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until golden brown, 2 minutes per side.

Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, tomatoes and their liquid, saffron, rice, salt, and freshly ground black pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, or until 5 minutes before the rice is done. Stir in shrimp and continue to cook for 5 more minutes until rice & shrimp are done.

Stir the peas, olives, & chopped chorizo into the rice and chicken and cook, covered, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Spoon the chicken and rice into a platter or onto individual plates and sprinkle with the parsley. If desired, garnish with a sprig of parsley.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.