My winter rabbit recipe

My winter rabbit

I have previously posted my best rabbit recipe in which rabbit, tomatoes, fresh basil and black olives make a truly tasty combination. But how to prepare rabbit in winter, when even on the Riviera tinned tomatoes often are a better choice than pale and watery winter tomatoes and locals choose pistou instead of fresh basil? Pistou is crushed basil, salt and olive oil and it is an ancient preservation method in the South of France.

Rabbit goes very well with white wine, crème fraîche, mustard and black olives. I have seen many winter rabbit recipes using these ingredients, and rabbit made like this is often served in restaurants in the South of France. The following recipe is my best winter rabbit.

Bouquet garni is a bundle of herbs usually tied together and mainly used to prepare soups, stocks and stews. Ducros bouquet garni is made of various vegetables and aromatic herbs and is available in small individual packets.

2 servings

2 rabbit legs, cuisses de lapin
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
3 shallots, peeled and cut into quarters
1 garlic, minced
1 sachet Ducros bouquet garni
100 ml white wine
2 tbsp crème fraîche, 15 % fat
1 tbsp grainy mustard, moutarde à l’ancienne
About 10 black olives
Black pepper, freshly ground
Parsley, minced

Warm the rapeseed oil in a heavy casserole over medium heat. Fry the rabbit legs on both sides until golden brown.

Add the shallots, garlic, black pepper, bouquet garni and white wine to the casserole. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Turn the rabbit legs a few times.

When only about 10 minutes of cooking time remains, mix the crème fraîche with mustard and add to the casserole with the black olives.

Decorate with parsley and serve with new potatoes and green beans.


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Exploring the near history of Castillon, above Menton

View from Mont Razet with Sospel deep in the valley

The little village of Castillon between Menton and Sospel has had a troubled history. It was first created in the 12th century when fortifications were built on the site –hence the original name “Castiglione” or a small castle.

In 1887 an earthquake with its epicenter somewhere near the Ligurian coast left the village in ruins. It was rebuilt, but in 1944 during the final phases of WW II the village was again destroyed by the Allied bombardment.  At this moment the village was still occupied by Germans. Military installations (See: Ouvrage Castillon; in English) had been built here in the 30's as part of the little Maginot line.

 For the rebuilding, another site was chosen a bit further down the valley for the current village of Castillon (550 m).
Site of old Castillon village and church ruins

For hikers, the site of the ancient village at Col de Castillon (730 m) is an ideal starting point as it happens to be in the crossroads of many marked trails. Here, the ruins of the church still remain.
At Pierre Pointue. These rocks look like man-made!

The hike presented here can also be found in the Conseil Général guidebook “Pays Côtier” (in French) where the hike is called Circuit du Razet and graded as medium/moyenne. The vertical climb is about 500 m, about 100 m more if you visit the mountain top at 1285 m (recommended). Needless to say, views from there are great. As always, it’s recommended to have the topographic map of the area as well. (IGN 3741 ET) From the starting point at 730 m, you first walk straight north along a small road, reaching signposts 136 and 137, then further 92 and 93. From the latter, it’s a short walk to a place called la  Pierre Pointue (1176m) –also the site of an old military outpost. Many old bunkers can be seen here. From here, the peak can be reached in 15 min. The route back to the starting point goes first to signpost 93 then turns left and descends eventually to nr 137. It’s marked with yellow signs all the way.
Mont Grammondo(1379m) the highest coastal peak as seen from Mont Razet

Apart from rewarding views both to Mercantour national park and its peaks, and the bay of Menton in the south, the hike offers some insight to the quite turbulent history of the region. When driving there from Menton, remember to exit the D 2566 road just before the tunnel which actually goes under the Col de Castillon.


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Cod stew with vegetables

Cod stew with vegetables

Fresh cod, cabillaud, has a mild flavour and a dense, flaky white flesh. It should be cooked al dente, just cooked, but never over-cooked. Cod goes very well with mild vegetables, such as carrots, leeks, courgettes and potatoes.
In France, the traditional fresh cod season used to be from March to May, and salt cod, morue, was consumed at other times. Nowadays fresh cod is available year round in supermarkets as the farmed fish and seafood have become more popular.
The following recipe is a carefree one-pot dish. A heavy casserole, such as Le Creuset, is best for this recipe.

2 servings

2 fresh cod fillets, about 150- 200 g each
1 carrot, sliced
2 small courgettes, sliced
1 leek, sliced
4 new potatoes, sliced
½ fennel, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Black pepper
Parsley, minced (try dill or chives for a change)
100 ml fish stock (made with 100 ml water and 1 heaped tsp Ducros fumet de poisson)
50 ml white wine
2 tbsp crème fraîche, 15 % fat

Slice the carrots, potatoes and fennel. Warm the rapeseed oil in a heavy casserole over a medium-low heat and sauté the vegetables for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the white wine and continue cooking for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are almost cooked.

Make the fish stock by whisking 1 heaped tsp fumet in 100 ml hot water. Slice the courgettes and leek and add to the casserole. Mince the garlic and add to the casserole together with the fish stock. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmering. Add the crème fraîche and stir.

Place the cod fillets on top of the vegetables. Grind a few rounds of black pepper over the fish and cook under cover for about 15 minutes until the cod is opaque and just cooked.

Decorate with fresh herbs and serve.


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Valentine's Day in Limone

Limone ski resort on Valentines Day 2014

Studying the ski map of Limone Piemonte (1010 m), one might first get the impression of a pretty small winter resort just 44 km from the Mediterranean. In addition, the highest lift reaches “only” 2085 m…how long is their season?

Having visited Limone several times before, we knew the reality is very different. Limone is one of the oldest winter sports resorts in Italy. They have a history of over 100 years.  The runs are long and usually well maintained. The biggest continuous vertical descent is 1000 m, actually more than Auron and Isola 2000 nearby in France can offer. Maybe it’s the geography combined with meteorological facts that result in more snowfall. The cold northerly winds blowing over the Italian plain nearby meet the warmer and the more humid Mediterranean air here. The latest snow depth on their web site reported 350 cm on the top, 250 cm in the valley, avalanche risk 3/5.
Stormy wind at altitude. All lifts closed

Recent recurrent traffic problems in the Tinée valley have certainly turned the eyes to Limone. The Roya valley is by no means immune to traffic problems either. But from Limone you have at least the long “escape” route back to the coast via Italy. The driving time from Nice is about two hours. The recommended route from Nice is to take the A8 to Ventimiglia, then north along S20   and further along D6204 to the tunnel at Col de Tende. Check the inforoutes06 web site the morning you leave!
You don’t have to drive all the way down to the town of Limone if you’re on a day trip. Immediately after the tunnel on the Italian side, you can take
the small road left to reach Limone 1400.
Its lift system is connected with the rest of the resort.

Alpetta chair lift upper station. Mont Viso visible in distance

The only way to reach the skiing area from the town is to use the gondola called Severino Bottero. It’s newish and fast but queues tend to build up here, especially in front the ticket booths. On the day of our visit, we had just managed to buy our ski passes when the gondola stopped. There were a lot people waiting and waiting. No information was given. Eventually we came back one hour later. It turned out that the wind speed had increased to a level that they had to close all lifts for the rest of the day. No cash refund was offered. They gave receipts that could be used for ski passes the next day or later this season.
Start of the Pian del Leone run at 2085 m

Valentine’s Day started with clear skies and light winds. After some queuing again, yesterday’s purchases were refunded and up we went! No queues whatsoever here. The only limit was your performance. There are several great red runs, all well groomed so watch your speed! The black run number 16 called Olimpico Giacomo Marro back to the gondola station is very good as well, might be classified red somewhere else.

Our favorite mountain restaurant
Sanglier with polenta. Salad with parmesan and artichokeWhen in Italy, you ski and eat with style. We went to our favorite high altitude restaurant. We opted for salad with parmesan and artichokes followed by wild boar in red wine sauce with polenta. Gustoso! Not bad at 1800 m. Furthermore, we stayed overnight at  Grand Hotel Principe next to the gondola station. They too serve traditional Italian cuisine, as it used to be in the old days. Fresh ingredients, no nonsense, not Michelin but tasty! Not easy to find in Florence or Rome these days unless you know where to go.



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Roasted pineapple recipe

Roasted Pineapple

This is a warming simple dessert for those miserable rainy winter evenings in Nice when I start dreaming about sunny spring days and colourful fresh apricots and peaches. Luckily in winter there seems to be really good imported pineapples in our supermarket.

The warming effect comes from a mixture of spices. Quatre épices is a mixture of ground cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg. It is easy to find in Nice supermarkets, and it is also easy to make your own mixture. The ground spices lose soon their taste and have to be replaced regularly. Some freshly ground black pepper and cumin add to the warming effect of spices.

I like to serve the roasted pineapple with some fresh French cheese, fromage blanc 0 % fat. In spite of being practically fat-free it has a good round taste and compliments well the spicy pineapple. Fromage blanc is a good source of protein and calcium; some are even supplemented with vitamin D, all important nutrients for bone health. You could serve your pineapple with classic mascarpone or vanilla ice cream for a special treat. Even some world famous French chefs nowadays choose healthy ingredients in their Michelin restaurants and consult nutritionists and dietitians.

4 servings

1 pineapple
6 tbsp sugar
1 tsp freshly ground cumin
2 tsp quatre épices
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel the pineapple and remove the tough inner section. Cut into fairly large cubes.

Preheat the oven to 200⁰ C, roast.

Mix the sugar and spices. Roll the pineapple cubes in the mixture and place on an ovenproof dish on single layer. Roast for 20 minutes.

Divide the pineapple cubes on the plates and spoon over any juice from the bottom of the roasting dish. Serve with fromage blanc, mascarpone or vanilla ice cream.


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From Villefranche Market to Mont Alban

Villefranche seen from Mont Alban

We remember learning at school that Mediterranean winters typically are mild and rainy. This winter certainly fits the description, at least as far as the rainy part goes. You have to grab every opportunity even for short hikes and walks!

At 222 m, Mont Alban situated between Villefranche-sur-Mer and Nice is not really a mountain. The visitor is nevertheless awarded by great views as the video clip shows. The walk presented here is also called Circuit du Mont Alban. It is well described (in French) and recommended in the randoxygène guidebook.
 The Fortress on Mont Alban

This is a walk that combines culture, history and nature. You can even explore the outdoor market in Villefranche. The walk starts with a long ascent along stairs (l’escalier Campo Quadro) gradually reaching the middle Corniche. From this point, it is about 500 m to col de Villefranche. The trail (marked with yellow) then continues to Mont Alban and the fortress.  Built in the mid 16th century by the Duke of Savoy Emmanuel Philibert, the fort is today normally closed. Guided tours have been arranged during the summer. From here, the trail continues south about 500 m, then turns left and descends trough a wood back to the basse Corniche and finally down to the port of Villefranche.


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Sirloin steak recipe hunter-style

Sirloin steak hunter-style

Cooking à la chasseur, hunter-style, is a style of cooking in which meat is cooked with a sauce containing white wine, shallots and mushrooms. It may also contain tomatoes, garlic and herbs, but mushrooms are essential. It was thought that hunters would pick mushrooms while returning from the hunt.

Cooking sirloin steak à la chasseur results in very tender and tasty meat. This is a quick recipe if you choose a ready-made whole grain side dish, such as Bjorg Quinoa Pois chiches, cooked quinoa with chickpeas. It needs only 1 ½ minutes reheating in microwave. I like to decorate it with marinated cherry tomatoes.

2 servings

For the steaks:
2 nice sirloin steaks, faux-filets
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
About 8 mushrooms,
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
150 ml white wine
1 tbsp tomato pure
1 tsp Provencal herbs
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp of chicken stock cube

For the marinated cherry tomatoes:
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp olive oil

Side dish:
1 packet Bjorg Quinoa Pois Chiches, from the health food section

Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes. Place them in a bowl with olive oil and chopped parsley and let marinate while you cook the steaks and mushrooms.

Warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil in a non-stick frying pan. Clean and slice the mushrooms and cook in the pan, stirring occasionally.
In a heavy pan, heat 2 tbsp rapeseed oil over high heat and quickly fry the steaks on both sides until nicely coloured. Reduce the heat, and add the chopped shallot and garlic in the pan. Add the white wine, tomato pure, provencal herbs, black pepper and a small amount of chicken stock in the pan. Stir and bring to a boil. Then let simmer for about 10 minutes. When the mushrooms are cooked, transfer them on top of the steaks. Cover and let simmer while you microwave the quinoa chickpeas.

Divide the steaks and quinoa chickpeas on the plates. Decorate with the marinated cherry tomatoes and chopped parsley.


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