Chicken leg recipe with Mirabelle plums

Chicken leg recipe

This recipe is inspired by the small yellow plums, mirabelles de Lorraine, that have appeared in our local supermarket. I googled the mirabelles, and they said that Lorraine is the only region in the world where there is such a high concentration of Mirabelle plum trees. The Lorraine region produces 70 % of the Mirabelle plums’ world production.

The Mirabelle plums taste delicious; they seem to just melt in the mouth. No wonder chefs are still inventing
Mirabelle plums
new recipes based on the Mirabelle plums. The following recipe is my twist from a cooking booklet from our local supermarket.

2 servings

2 whole chicken legs, pref. organic, cuisses de poulet fermier
About 200 g Mirabelle plums
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
75 ml white wine
1 tsp ground ginger
A pinch of saffron
¼ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Parsley to decorate

In a heavy casserole, cocotte, warm 2 tbsp rapeseed oil over medium heat. Add the chicken legs and cook for 10 minutes until nicely coloured on both sides.

Add the onion, garlic, white wine, ginger, saffron, salt and pepper in the casserole and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.

Wash and dry the Mirabelle plums. Cut them in halves, remove the stones and add to the casserole. Cover and gently simmer for 10 minutes.

Divide the chicken legs and Mirabelle plums on the plates, decorate with parsley  and serve with new potatoes or brown rice.

Winter hike above Gourdon

Ascending from Gourdon

This is a great and easy walk on a sunny winter day! Park your car at the entrance to Gourdon (758 m), a
The hilltop village of Gourdon in winter
charming hilltop village. Gourdon offers breathtaking views, has a few restaurants and small somewhat touristic shops. We suggest that you combine your visit to Gourdon with a less than 3 hour hike to Plateau de Cavillore.

Restaurants at the entrance to Gourdon
Start your hike by following the road to Cassols (RD 12) for about 100 m, then turn right and follow a path first passing a small residential area. The trail then ascends along a slope to the eastern part of Col de Cavillore. All parts of the trail are well marked with yellow. From the Plateau de Cavillore you have magnificent view over the French Riviera.
Approaching Col de Cavillore

The trail turns left and continues along the plateau to the western part of Col de Cavillore. There are signposts showing “Circuit de Cavillore” and cairns to facilitate the orientation.

The zigzagging trail back down is wide and well visible. This part of the route might also be a natural spot for picnic while enjoying the scenery.  If the wind is too strong and cold, you can always try one of the restaurants in Gourdon.
Crossing Plateau de Cavillore the trail marked with cairns

The trail then crosses the RD 12 road at signpost 105. You descend further along a narrow dirt road passing soon the ruins of Chapel St-Vincent. From here, the starting point can be reached in about 15 min.
The wide path descending down from Plateau de Cavillore

Total hiking time:    2, 5 – 3 hours
Vertical climb:        300 m

Description of the hike in French

Map: IGN Cannes-Grasse Côte d’Azur 3643 ET

Pear crumble with almonds

Pear crumble with almonds

This warming and tasty dessert is perfect for dark and cold winter evenings. It is super-quick and easy to make.

For this dessert I prefer Williams pears. Wash the pears well, but do not peel them. Most of those important antioxidants are just underneath the skin and you do not want to peel them away.

In France you can buy poudre d’amande in ordinary supermarkets. Poudre d’amande could be translated as almond flour, and is used a lot in French pastries. Elsewhere you usually have to grind the almonds yourself into flour.

2 servings

2 Williams pears
1 tbsp rapeseed oil

For the crumble:

1 heaped tbsp sugar
1 heaped tbsp almond flour, poudre d’amande
1 heaped tbsp flour
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
½ vanilla pod

Wash the pears well and cut into small cubes. In a frying pan, warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil over medium- high heat and quickly sauté the pear cubes. Line a smallish ovenproof dish with baking paper and pour the pear cubes in it.

Preheat the oven to 210⁰ C.

In a bowl mix the sugar, flour and almond flour. Cut a half vanilla pod length-wise and scrape the seeds into the sugar- flour mixture. Mix well, and then add 2 tbsp rapeseed oil and mix into a paste. Scatter this on top of the pear cubes.

Bake in oven for 15 minutes until golden. Serve the crumble warm. Vanilla ice cream would go nicely with the crumble.

From Peille to Cime de Baudon

View to north from Cime de Baudon

Upper parts of Peille with Cime de Baudon in background

Starting point in Peille for Cime de Baudon

Today’s ascent to Cime de Baudon (1264 m) starts from the hillside village of Peille (650m) about 25 km by road from Nice. The villages of St Agnes and Gorbio are also possible starting points. We have previously hiked to Cime de Baudon from Gorbio. Today’s ascent is shorter and the vertical climb only 620 m versus 900+ m from Gorbio.

Ascending in a pine forest to Cime de Baudon

Park your car in the upper part of the village. The trail starts as the stairs of St Bernhard and continues as a small road called Barri to Col St Berhard (750 m; 15 min walk from the village). From this point turn right and ascend along a path in a beautiful pine forest. Follow closely the yellow signs (which are numerous on this route) and signposts. The path reaches a plateau with a signpost at 974 m. From here, the ascent is steeper and requires some easy
The plateau before the final steep climb to Cime de Baudon
scrambling when climbing the southern slope before the summit.

On the mountaintop, there is a table d’orientation and a 360 degree panoramic view. Thanks to the clear January weather, we were even able to see Corsica. It has been said to be just refraction due to atmospheric factors. However, if the atmosphere is not taken into account we calculated that from the altitude of 1000m a mountain range of 2000m (Corsica’s highest peak Monte Cinto is 2706 m) should be well visible given that the distance to northern Corsica is about 190 km.
Easy scramble before reaching the summit of Cime de Baudon

Looking north, you can see the snow capped peaks of the southernmost Alps. Not surprisingly there were quite a few hikers enjoying the views on this winter day. Cime de Baudon certainly is one of the most appealing mountains near the Riviera. The summit is just 7 km from Monaco coastline as a crow flies and yet you are in the middle of the nature.  There’s a feeling of a real mountain. No ancient bunkers or masts spoil the scenery.
Corsica just visible above the haze

The descent is first along the same trail but then continues along the mountain ridge further west before descending steeply back to the same trail that was used on the way up.

Duration:         3 h 45

Vertical climb: 620 m
Descending back to Peille along the ridge

Map: IGN Nice Menton Côte d’Azur 3742 OT

The Randoxygène guide has a description of this hike in French

Coq au vin recipe

The story goes that this very old dish was invented by Julius Caesar during his campaigns against the Gauls. The French word coq literally means “rooster”, but most of the coq au vin recipes are made of chicken. In standard recipes chicken, red wine, cubed bacon/lardons, button mushrooms/champignons de Paris, herbs and onions are used. The wine is typically Burgundy (Pinot noir), but many regions of France have variants of coq au vin using the local wine.

I prefer to use a light young red wine of Côtes du Rhône or Luberon, and these go nicely with the dish as well. My lighter more modern version does not include bacon cubes, and I have omitted the usual browning of the chicken thanks to a brilliant suggestion of Jamie Oliver in his stew recipe.

4 servings

8 chicken thighs, pref. free range, poulet fermier
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
About 150 g small shallots, peeled but left whole
About 200 g button mushrooms, champignons de Paris

300 ml chicken stock
300 ml red wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp flour
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Parsley to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C.

In a heavy casserole warm the rapeseed oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, chicken, herbs, and flour and stir. Add the stock and red wine and a few grinds of pepper. Bring to the boil and then transfer to oven.
Coq au vin recipe

Cook coq au vin in 180⁰ C for 1 ½ hours without lid. Towards the end of the cooking time keep an eye on the stew and add a little water if it starts to look a bit dry.

Before serving remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Serve with steamed new potatoes and decorate with chopped parsley.

Winter hike above Èze-village

Èze-village in midwinter

Èze-Village (356 m) is extremely popular among visitors to the French Riviera. You can easily combine the visit with a moderate (less than 3 hours) hike up to Fort de la Revère (696 m). The fortress itself which was built in the late 19th century to protect Nice is not open to the public. There is a super picnic area in the area.  In WWII, the fortress was also used as POW camp, notably for RAF pilots.
Start of the trail Fuont Roussa

The parking at the entrance of Èze-Village costs about 8 € per 5 hours. Follow the Moyenne Corniche (RM 6007) about 150 m to a small bridge. Turn left and find the path named Fuont Roussa at the end of a small parking. The trail is marked with yellow and signposted all the way to the fortress. Start ascending in a small wood up to Grande Corniche (RM 2564), cross it and continue climbing first between some villas and then in open terrain.
Maison de la Nature

You will first spot Maison de la Nature (free admission). There is information in French about the flora, fauna and geology of the region. From here, it takes just about 5 minutes to walk to the scenic fortress area where benches and tables can be found. To the east, the mountain top of la Simboula (675 m) with
Fort de la Revère
its excellent viewing point is 5-10 min away.

The descent is along the same trail as far as the first intersection & signpost.  At this point, turn right following the direction “Moyenne Corniche, Serre de Fourque, Eze-Village”. The trail soon crosses the Grande Corniche. From here, it first follows Chemin Serre de Fourque, a paved steep road then a wide path in a pine wood.  The starting point
A nice picnic  spot near Fort de la Revère
in Èze-Village is then reached rapidly.

A classic all-year-round Riviera hike!

Descending back to Èze-village

Total hiking time: 2.5 – 3 hours
Ascent 350 m

Description in French (the randoxygène guide)
The path of Serre de Fourque to Èze-village

Map: IGN Nice Menton 3742 OT

Fish and Chips Recipe

Fish and Chips Recipe

Fish and chips  is an iconic, beloved British dish. It is a popular take-out food in the UK, and used to be served wrapped in newspaper. Chips are what Americans would call french fries.

This fish and chips recipe has a modern Niçois twist. The cuisine in Nice, South of France, is colourful, tasty and heart healthy. Olive oil is the starting point for almost all dishes. Fish is regularly featured on menus, and such a variety of fish and seafood is hard to find anywhere else. Tasty tomatoes, capers, black olives of Nice, lemons and basil are basic ingredients in the local cuisine and super sources of those important antioxidants.

In the UK, fish and chips are usually made of haddock, aiglefin, or cod, cabillaud. Haddock is not often available in our local supermarket in Nice, but they have regularly very good and fresh French cod.

In this recipe chips are coated with olive oil and oven-fried together with cod. This is a healthy way to cook chips and reduces the amount of fat and calories. Anyone can make this tasty and easy dish.

Fish and chips recipe

2 servings

2 large potatoes
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp flour
¼ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg
2 fillets of cod, cabillaud, about 150 g each
2 ripe and tasty tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp dried Provencal herbs
2 tbsp black olives of Nice
2 tsp capers
½ lemon
Fresh basil

Heat the oven to 200⁰ C, roast.

Peel the potatoes and cut into about 1,5 cm thick slices, then cut each slice into about 1,5 cm thick chips. Pour 2 tbsp olive oil into a largish plastic bag, add the chips and shake well. Line a large oven tray with baking paper and pour the chips in a single layer onto it. Leave a small space for the cod fillets. Bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile in a frying pan warm 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat and sauté the garlic and shallots for about 5 minutes. Cut the tomatoes into wedges and add to the pan. Season the tomatoes with pepper and Provencal herbs. Continue cooking gently, stirring now and again. Add the black olives in the last minute.

Place the flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Whisk the egg, ½ tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt on another deep plate. Coat the cod fillets in flour, shake off the extra flour. Then coat them in egg, again shaking off the extra. This kind of coating is in France called à la parisienne. Take the baking tray out of oven and turn the chips. Place the cod fillets on the baking tray. Bake the chips and cod for about 10- 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of cod fillets.

Wash and dry a few fresh basil leaves, and cut into strips. Cut ½ lemon into wedges.

Divide the cod fillets, chips and tomatoes on the plates and sprinkle the capers over the cod. Decorate with basil and serve with lemon wedges.

Gialorgues valley above St-Dalmas-le-Selvage

On our previous hikes (Tête de la Boulière; On the roof of Alpes Maritimes ) we have admired the beautiful valley of Gialorgues from high above. So today we decided to explore it starting from the village of St-Dalmas-le-Selvage (1500m). This small village a few km north of St. Etienne de Tinée in the upper Tinée valley is better known as a small cross-country ski center.

We decided to start our hike from the village of St-Dalmas-le-Selvage from signpost 67. It is possible to drive up to a small parking called Valloar (1950m), but the unpaved road is better suited for a 4x4 than our car. So we walked. It is about 1h 30 from the village to the end of the dirt road and signpost 73.

Gialorgues Valley

At signpost 73 turn right and start ascending along a path among larches. This is where the trail enters the Mercantour National Park. When the wood ends, the trail continues on a vast plateau up to the unmanned refuge and signpost 73a (2280 m). It is about 1 h 30 up to this point from signpost 73. From the refuge the mountain pass of Gialorgues (2519 m) can be reached in about an hour. If you intend to hike to this mountain pass or even further driving up the dirt road might be a good idea.

Vast plateau before the refuge. Summit of Roche Grande in background

When we approached the refuge, there was a large sheep flock with a dog and a shepherd. We turned back because we did not want to disturb them.

Ascent from St-Dalmas-le-Selvage to the refuge and signpost 73a: About 700m and about 3h.

Total hiking time: About 5h- 5h 30. Map; IGN 3639 OT Haute Tinée 1

How not to gain weight on a transatlantic cruise

Norwegian Epic in St Thomas

We recently made a transatlantic crossing on Norwegian  Epic from Barcelona to Miami. It was a two-week cruise with port days in Madeira, St. Maarten and St. Thomas. This was our first transatlantic cruise, and we were looking forward to it as an adventure, but of course wanted to do some planning as well.

We Googled what was the biggest issue before a transatlantic cruise. It seemed that people were most concerned about weight gain and dress code.
Exploring Funchal, Madeira

As Norwegian’s dress code is casual as part of their Freestyle experience, we didn't have any concerns about dress code. For dining out we normally feel comfortable dressed smart casual. Because we are used to warm restaurants in the South of France, our only concern was the cool AC in American restaurants. So our smart casual evening wear needed also to be warm.

In order to maintain stable weight, our aim was to try and maintain approximately our normal activity level and not to increase our calorie intake. Because we are used to regular hikes which take several hours, the first aim was challenging on board a ship.

We set simple rules for activity:

1. Always climb stairs and never use elevators.
We one day estimated that by climbing stairs we made about 200 m vertical ascent! We were thankful to Epic’s long corridors which were excellent low-level activity.

2. We planned to use Epic’s gym every other day and the running track the other days.
The gym was fantastic and much more appealing than the running track on deck 7. So we went to the gym almost every day, except port days, alternating with weight training and aerobic training.
Epic's gym

3. We aimed to grab every opportunity for dancing.
The 2-day salsa course was great, and we did some ex tempore salsa when possible. For Halloween, we even tried to learn Michael Jackson’s Thriller steps.

4. On port days we wanted to pack in activities and not just sit in a tour bus.
Funchal in Madeira was great to explore by walking. We took Norwegian’s shuttle bus to the centre so we could walk in more interesting areas than in the port. In St. Maarten we participated in Orient Beach Rendezvous Tour. It was a great day with swimming in sea and walking on a super sandy beach; we could have stayed longer! We had visited Charlotte Amalie previously over 30 years ago and were curious to see how much it had changed. We took the 1,5 mile seafront walk from the ship to the old centre where we explored the alleys and shops.

5. We planned to do every day at some point stretching.
To our usual stretching we added some quiet time and tried mindfulness meditation. This was new to us, and felt so relaxing that we planned to continue with it. They had yoga on Epic, but it was at 8 am, too early for us unfortunately.
Orient Beach in St Maarten

But still with all this we couldn’t quite maintain our normal activity level so we had to be stricter with our eating. Having previously done a short weekend cruise with Norwegian we knew that it is easy to make healthy choices and at the same time enjoy the great cuisine. Even so, some simple rules would make things easier because on cruise ships one is tempted all the time. According to one survey the average weight gain is 14 lbs. / 6.4 kg for a two week cruise.

We agreed to the following rules:

1. We planned to eat three moderate size meals and a small snack in the afternoon.
There were no problems with this meal plan, our habitual, except that the small snack tended to increase from a small plain yoghurt to a slice of quiche.
Walking from the cruise ship to Charlotte Amalie, V.I.

2. We decided to continue with our healthy moderate breakfast.
We had no problems choosing a healthy breakfast similar to what we usually have at home.  Except that again the fruit portions quickly seemed to get bigger and bigger! Epic had wonderful soft Swiss style muesli, frozen berries and plain yoghurt. Luckily they also had small bowls to help with the portion control. Some days we skipped the muesli and had a vegetable omelet or egg Benedict perfectly cooked by a chef. This made us feel like a million dollar star!

3. We aimed to have lunch with plenty of salads and vegetables, a dressing with olive oil and vinegar, some protein and a slice of multigrain bread.
No problems with this. The buffet lunch was varied and tasty. We only drank ice water, never soda or beer which quickly add empty calories. On port days we enjoyed a glass of wine with lunch.

4. Sorry, no cocktails!
They are loaded with empty calories. Some examples: Mojito 160 kcal, Bloody Mary 168, Gin and tonic 190, Margarita 192, Cosmopolitan 200 kcal. A glass of dry sparkling wine has only 89 kcal, so we enjoyed a pre-dinner glass of Prosecco on special days like leaving a port or whenever there was something to celebrate.

5. We planned to have Norwegian's three-course dinner as we knew that the portions are moderate.
The exceptions were pasta, steaks and cakes which came in large American portions. We normally almost never order pasta anywhere in restaurants because the portions now are huge also in Europe and they never have whole wheat pasta.  The steaks were good but we couldn’t eat them all.  We were careful with the breadbasket. I gradually started to hide the breadbasket after my husband had had his slice. We had a glass of wine and ice water. In short, we enjoyed fine American dining at its best, and often to live music! The menus were varied; from fish and seafood to meat and vegetarian dishes. For dessert, we tried to avoid cakes and often chose fruit-based desserts. Epic’s Warm Dark Chocolate Volcano was super, and soon became our favourite dessert after a lighter main course.
Epic's Warm Dark Chololate Volcano

6. Epic had a nice selection of wines by glass.
We enjoyed a glass of different wine every evening and made some new discoveries. We never had soda or beer, only ice water. After dinner we only drank water and always kept a water bottle in our cabin.

How did it go? We measured our waist line at the start of the cruise, one week later and at the end of the cruise. We used this measurement as a proxy to weight maintenance because most of the rapid weight gain accumulates on the waist. The result was that our waist measurements fluctuated plus or minus 0, 5- 1 cm, which can be considered a normal day to day variation. We certainly felt fitter and and stronger!

European cooking Thanksgiving turkey in U.S.

Turkey breast a la Ina Garten

Last November we spent Thanksgiving with family in the U.S. I was asked to cook the turkey. I have never before done this and had only a vague idea how the Americans tackle this. So I felt a bit like Julia Child travelling to Paris to cook the classic French dishes, only the other way round; now it was me travelling to the U.S. to cook their most classic dish.

In this internet age, I did a bit of googling about Thanksgiving turkey. It soon became apparent that even Americans can be apprehensive of the task. Thanksgiving is often a big party involving cooking in huge amounts and at the level of the traditional pilgrim cuisine. As ours was only a small family party of four, this at once lessened the stress level.
Placing herb mixture under the skin

The first thing to decide was how much one should cook for four persons. The whole turkey was out of the question, but should one cook one turkey breast or two breasts, and what do the Americans mean by a “double turkey breast”? To understand this better, I had to calculate the American pounds into kilograms. As most internet sites that I saw recommended a “double turkey breast” for four persons because the tradition is also to have enough leftovers the next day, I settled for this. A “double turkey breast” weighs about 5- 7 lbs. / about 2, 3-3, 2   kilograms, although opinions about the weight varied hugely on the net.

The next thing was to find an appealing recipe on the net. After reading several recipes I finally chose Ina Garten’s because it had fresh herbs, lemon juice, garlic, black pepper, olive oil and white wine; a typical  Italian combination of ingredients. For this recipe one needed a “double turkey breast” with skin, and I suppose that it always comes with a bone in the middle, or maybe not? After further googling it became evident that this is not a common thing to find in American
Double turkey breast ready for oven
supermarkets because they mostly want to sell whole turkeys.

Because we would arrive only a few days before Thanksgiving, our family in the U.S. would order our “double turkey breast” as most websites recommended. So a few days before Thanksgiving we went to the local specialty supermarket to collect our “double turkey breast”. After some hassle in the shop our order finally arrived from the back room. To me the package seemed suspiciously large but I didn’t think too much about it. So it went straight into
Making the fresh cranberry compote
our fridge.

When the package was opened on Thanksgiving it became clear that they had given us the whole turkey minus legs and wings! It was a moment when I missed the skillful French butchers, but at the same time felt that the situation must be dealt with true pilgrim spirit.

We started removing the “double turkey breast” from the rest of the body. After a lot of effort and my husband using all his surgical skills the “double turkey breast” finally sat in its oven
Testing the temperature of the double turkey breast
dish. Now I could continue placing the herb mixture under the skin.

Garten recommended to roast the double breast in 325 degrees F for only 1 ¾ - 2 hours which to me seemed a bit short. Other recipes recommended to roast 2 ¼ - 3 ¼ hours in 325 degrees to reach an internal temperature of 170 degrees F. I felt very American using an instant-read thermometer, I never do this in France and I don’t think they are very reliable. After more than three hours the temperature never reached 170 degrees so the turkey was taken out of oven and tested. It then rested covered for a while before being sliced.
Thanksgiving dinner can now start

The turkey was served with sweet potato mash, fried mushrooms, microwaved Brussels sprouts and sweet cranberry compote. The compote was cooked in a few minutes from fresh cranberries, orange juice and a little sugar and water.

The turkey was declared a great success, and we had plenty of leftovers for next day’s picnic sandwiches and a simple dinner of vegetable and turkey gratin.