Chicken leg recipe Martinique style

Chicken leg Martinique style

In France I discovered exotic mixtures of ground spices, like Poudre à Colombo, le quatre-épices and others. I recently read in a French magazine about the origins of these spice mixtures. They were introduced to Europe by the people who had worked in India during the colonial times, but they were adapted to the European taste. Le quatre-épices was developed in Saint-Malo. Le Colombo, which is a mixture of turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, cumin, mustard, white pepper and clove, is more aromatic than spicy.

These ground spice mixtures need a long time of simmering for the taste and colours to develop. They are convenient to use, but don’t keep long. The following recipe is a loose adaptation from a recipe in a French magazine. We can imagine that it brings exotic taste straight from the French Caribbean. Those who cannot find Poudre à Colombo in their shops can replace it with mild curry powder.

2 servings

2 organic chicken legs
1 large tomato, chopped
About 16 small mushrooms, champignons de Paris
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tbsp tomato pure
2 tsp paprika powder
2 tsp poudre à Colombo or mild curry powder
100 ml chicken stock
1 organic lemon
Parsley and zest of ½ lemon to decorate

In a heavy casserole warm rapeseed oil over medium-high heat and fry the chicken legs until nicely coloured on both sides. Wipe the mushrooms and add to the casserole to fry at the same time.

Reduce the heat to medium.  Peel and chop the onion and mince the garlic and add to the casserole. Add the tomato pure, spices and chicken stock, and mix. Chop the tomato and add to the casserole.

Reduce the heat to simmering. Cover the casserole and let simmer for 45 minutes turning the chicken legs a few times.

Meanwhile cook brown rice to accompany the chicken. Wash and chop the parsley. Wash well the lemon and zest half of it for decoration. Then peel the lemon, cut into small pieces and add to the casserole when the dish is almost cooked. Divide on the plates.

Roc de l'Orméa above Menton

View from Roc d'Orméa down to Castellar

This hike starts from the centre of Castellar (main parking, 340 m), a hilltop village only about 5 km north of Menton as the crow flies.
Roc d'Orméa (1132 m) seen from Castellar

Roc  de l’Orméa (1132 m) dominates the landscape above Castellar, and offers a super panorama on a clear day. We did this hike in the end of February, and when we reached the summit, the foggy clouds ascending from the sea diminished the view. Unfortunately, this type of weather is not that uncommon on the eastern French Riviera.

Start the hike from the centre of Castellar and ascend past the chapel of St-Sébastien. Follow the
signs, initially yellow, later red and white GR signs, and signposts showing Tour du Roc de l’Orméa.

Continue ascending steeply along a partly paved road to the intersection near Col St-Bernard.  Again, note the signpost at this point, turn sharply right ascending along the trail that soon passes the ruins of Vieux Castellar  (870 m). This village was abandoned in 1435 because of the threat of a
Initial ascent from Castellar village
Saracen invasion in favor of the existing Castellar. The trail is now GR52 and marked with red and white signs.

The ascent to Col du Berceau is continuous and quite steep. The Col which is just under the summit of Roc de l’Orméa can be reached in about 2 h 30 min. From here, the summit itself can be climbed easily in less than 10 minutes.
Ruins of old Castellar

The descent to south is rapid. The intersection of GR52/51 is reached soon. At this point turn right and follow the GR51 trail back to Castellar.

On the summit of Roc d'Orméa

Total hiking time 4 h 20
Ascent 780 m

Map: IGN Nice Menton Côte d’Azur 3742 OT

Description in French can be found here

Leg of lamb Provençal style

Roasted leg of lamb, gigot provençal, is a classic Easter dish in the South of France. The legs of lamb with bone used to weigh about 2- 2,5 kg, enough for six people at least, but our supermarket in Nice now sells also smaller legs weighing about 1,3- 1,6 kg.

In Provence, the lamb is cooked rosé, medium to medium rare. Before roasting it is rubbed with olive oil and flavoured with garlic, black pepper and bouquet garni, which is usually a bunch of thyme sprigs and bay leaves. I have found that roasting in 190⁰ C and 20 minutes per 500 grams works best if you also want to bake a vegetable gratin at the same time. After removing the leg from oven keep tented with foil for 20- 30 minutes before carving.

In Provence, the gigot is typically served with a vegetable gratin, tian.The following simple potato- tomato gratin is perfect in early spring. Later on, the vegetables could be more varied; courgettes, eggplants, bell peppers and so on as they come into season. Gratins made with potatoes need a bit longer baking time, so if your leg of lamb is small you can start with the gratin.

For a small leg of lamb, 3-4 servings

A leg of lamb, about 1,3 kg
2 cloves garlic
About 2 tbsp olive oil
1 bouquet garni made of several sprigs of fresh thyme and fresh bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

For a small potato-tomato gratin, 3- 4 servings

3 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
3 tomatoes, sliced
2 fresh bay leaves
Fresh thyme leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
About 500 ml vegetable stock
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 190⁰ C.

Take the leg of lamb out of the fridge so that it can reach the room temperature before roasting. Start preparing the potato- tomato gratin. Oil well a medium sized oven-proof dish, tian. Slice the potatoes and tomatoes and place them in layers in the gratin dish. Place the bay leaves and scatter the thyme leaves on the middle layers. Finish off with a layer of tomato slices, grind over black pepper and sprinkle with 1 tbsp olive oil. Place in the oven for about 20 minutes while you make the vegetable stock and prepare the lamb.

Peel and slice 2 cloves of garlic. Make small deep cuts into the lamb and insert the garlic slices. Rub the lamb with olive oil and grind over a few rounds of black pepper. Place the lamb in a roasting dish and arrange the sprigs of thyme and bay leaves on both sides. Place the roasting dish in oven and roast for 55 minutes for a leg of about 1,3 kg.

Remove the vegetable gratin from oven and pour in vegetable stock so that the vegetables are almost covered. Continue baking for about 1 hour. Cover with foil towards the end of the baking, if needed.

When the lamb is roasted, remove it from oven and place on a carving board. Tent it with foil and let rest for 20- 30 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile prepare the sauce. Discard the sprigs of herbs from the roasting dish and pour in 100 ml white wine. Scrape up all the bits from the bottom and pour the liquid in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes until thickened.

Carve the lamb and serve with the potato- tomato gratin and the sauce.

If you have leftovers from the lamb, they are great next day in a vegetable gratin topped with potato pure; this is called parmentier in French. They can also be added in a vegetable soup.

Veal Osso Buco with orange

Veal osso buco with orange

This recipe is perfect to make when tasty oranges have appeared in our shops. It is slow-food at its best. After two hours in the oven the veal is tender, and meanwhile you have a chance to do something else! The dish is so tasty that we do not add any salt in it. If you wish you can add a pinch of salt at the table.

2 servings

2 veal osso buco, veal shanks with bone, about 200 g each
2 oranges
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp lavender or other runny honey
1 bouquet garni, thyme sprigs and a bay leaf tied together
Freshly ground black pepper
50 ml white wine

Wash and dry one orange. Grate the zest and set aside for decoration. Cover with film. Then peel the orange, divide into sections and remove the tough membranes surrounding the sections. Set aside on a plate, cover with film and place in the fridge.

In a heavy casserole, cocotte, warm the rapeseed oil over medium heat and fry the osso buco until golden brown on both sides. Add the shallot and garlic in the casserole. Spread the honey over the osso buco.

Preheat the oven to 150⁰C.

Press the other orange. Add the juice and bouquet garni to the casserole. Grind a few rounds of black pepper over the osso buco. Cover the casserole and place in oven for 2 hours.

When 15 minutes of the cooking time remains, add the white wine and orange sections in the casserole.

Divide the osso buco on the plates and decorate with orange zest. Serve with steamed new potatoes and Brussels sprouts.

Ascent to Puy de Tourrettes -snow above Côte d'Azur

The summit plateau of Puy de Tourrettes

The hike starts from the small village of Courmes  (630 m) above the Loup River Valley. It is a quiet village
The village of Courmes and the Loup River Valley
surrounded by oak trees and terraced pastures. 

We did this hike on a gorgeous day in late February. After recent snowfall in higher terrain, the northern slope and the summit of  Puy de Tourrettes (1268 m) were still covered with snow. The summit is just about 14 km from the Mediterranean Sea at Cagnes-sur-Mer as the crow flies. There was more snow than we had expected as the mountain seen from the coast seemed to be almost bare. The layer was nevertheless very hard after previous night’s frost making the ascent easy without any need of snow shoes. You could walk almost anywhere!

Villages of Cipieres and Greolieres seen from the trail

Park your car at the entrance of the village at the visitors’ parking. The first signpost number 88 to St-Barnabé is right behind the parking. St-Barnabé (968 m) is a tiny hamlet on a vast plateau west of Col de Vence. The first part of the hike follows the GR 51 trail as far as signpost 83. There leave the
red and white GR trail temporarily and follow the trail left (yellow marks) zigzagging uphill and eventually joining the GR 51 trail again. Head north along this trail for a while. At signpost 85, leave the GR and turn south ascending towards the mountaintop. From this intersection, you have about 300 m vertical climb left. Note that the trail is now marked with cairns, heaps of stone, and sporadic faded yellow marks. However the path is clearly visible as it is used quite a lot.
Turning right at signpost 85 towards the summit
Ascending to Puy de Tourrettes
Nice seen from Puy de Tourrettes

The summit of Puy de Tourrettes offers –not surprisingly- a super panorama. The geographic summit is not distinct at all as the mountaintop actually comprises a large plateau. The summit is marked with a big heap of stones.

The geographic summit of Puy de Tourrettes

The usually helpful Randoxygène guide had this hike in the old version, but it has now been replaced by a hike to Pic de Courmettes, the neighboring mountaintop.  The same applies to the online guide.

Duration 3 h 45

Ascent    650 m  Map: IGN Cannes Grasse Côte d'Azur 3643 ET 

There are 2 more Baous above the French Riviera

Baou des Blancs seen from Baou des Noirs

We have previously described hikes to Baou St Jeannet (800 m) and Baou de la Gaude (796 m). Baou is a Provençal word meaning a rocky limestone hilltop with a flat summit.
Starting the hike to Baou des Blancs and Noirs

Above the town of Vence there are two more baous: Baou des Blancs (673 m) and Baou des Noirs (678 m). You can easily hike to these two hilltops during the same day as they are quite near each other, the itinerary is well marked and only a modest ascent, around 300 m, is required. It is a good winter hike too. We did it in early January 2015.

Both baous are marked with a black iron cross. These remind us of the Christian past in the middle ages when Penitents had an important role in assisting people in the mountains.
Spring flowers in January near Baou des Blancs

Drive through Vence and take the RD 2 road leading to Col de Vence and Coursgoules. Park your car alongside the road about 6 km before Col de Vence. There are several small parking spots.

Depending on where you parked the car, you have to descend 0-400 m along the RD 2 road until you
Baou des Noirs and Baou St-Jeannet
see a good path running above and parallel the road. Follow this, go around a bergerie, a sheep farmhouse and follow the signposts to Baou des des Blancs. From the summit, you have a great panorama over the coast, and even a glimpse of the snow-capped high mountains of Mercantour.

Descend back along the same trail a little bit to the
Great panorama over the coast from Baou des Noirs
signpost showing the path towards Baou des Noirs. The trail heads north climbing a little bit then turns east. The yellow marks are numerous and navigation easy. Not surprisingly, the views are great from this baou as well. Here you can enjoy the nature and admire the acrobatics of eagles. Descend back to the RD 2 road along the same trail.

Total walking time: 3 hours

Map:  Cannes Grasse IGN 3643 ET

Sea bass on bed of white beans, red bell pepper and pancetta

Sea bass on bed of white beans, red bell pepper and pancetta

This is a winter fish recipe when you may prefer a spicier and more substantial dish. The recipe is loosely adapted from a French magazine. I have substituted the ingredients from the Pyrenees with local ingredients from Nice with an Italian twist.
But I have kept Piment d’Espelette AOC which is a mildly hot chili pepper from the northern territory of the Basque country. You can substitute this with some other mild/medium chili pepper powder.

2 servings

2 sea bass filets, about 150 g each
400 g tin of small white beans, eg. Bonduelle Haricots blancs préparés
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp Piment d’Espelette
50 g Italian pancetta cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Chives to decorate
Lemon wedges to serve

Preheat the oven to 200⁰ C.

In a large frying pan warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil over medium heat. Add the finely chopped bell pepper and pancetta cubes and fry for about 5 minutes, stirring now and again. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the shallot, garlic and Piment d’Espelette. Sauté for 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

Rinse the beans under running water and add to the frying pan. Grind a few rounds of black pepper and stir well. Cover and let become thoroughly heated over medium heat.

Meanwhile arrange the sea bass filets on an ovenproof dish covered with baking paper. Drizzle 2 tbsp olive oil over the filets and bake in oven for 10- 12 minutes, depending on the thickness.

Wash and dry the chives. Cut them finely, saving a few sprigs for decoration.

Divide the bean-vegetable mixture on the plates and arrange the sea bass filets on top. Decorate with chives and serve with lemon wedges.

5 top winter hikes near the French Riviera

Baou St Jeannet

Choosing the five top hikes on the Riviera is a difficult if not an impossible task. There are just so many candidates. This is purely our own subjective selection of walks and hikes that we have done in the nearby mountains. The great coastal trails would certainly deserve their own list.

In normal weather conditions, the hills and mountains close to the coast in Alpes Maritimes can be climbed all year round. Cold spells can sometimes bring snow to surprisingly low altitudes. After rainfall, trails can be icy and slippery especially in the shade. On a clear and crisp winter day, the blue skies usually prevail all day whereas summer heat often brings high cumulus clouds above the mountains; afternoon thunderstorms are not infrequent during the summer months..

Here's our selection:

1. Hike above Èze-village

This is a classic Riviera hike which offer super view over the French Riviera a few km east of Nice. It is specially rewarding on a sunny winter day. The hike featured here was done in December. The hike itself is moderate, about 2, 5-3 hours, and you can easily combine it with a visit to Èze-village.

2. Walk above Gourdon

This easy walk, about 2, 5 -3 hours starts from the charming hilltop village of Gourdon. Although a bit touristic in the summertime, the village is pretty quiet in the winter; mostly locals seem to visit the restaurants at the entrance of the village

3. The Baou above St-Jeannet

The ascent from St-Jeannet to Baou de St-Jeannet gives you first a good workout and from the summit great views over the Var Valley, Antibes etc. From the top, you have various options back to the village: the shorter route along the eastern side of the Baou or the longer route along the western side as featured in our blog. Parking is almost impossible during weekends and market days even in winter.

4. Hike above Menton

This moderate 3 hour hike starts from the village of Castellar above Menton. The highest point is quite near the coastline on the Italian border offering breathtaking views over Menton as well as over the Italian coast.

5. From Peille to Cime de Baudon 

Even though this ascent to Cime de Baudon is only 620 m in vertical climb it is steep in some parts requiring some easy scrambling. On a clear winter day, you can simultaneously see the snow capped Mercantour peaks and Corsica in the south.

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