Dijon

Last week I told you about the cooking class that we did in Dijon with Alex Miles. If you missed it, you’ll find the link here.

I ran out of time to talk about Dijon itself. To begin, it’s about more than mustard – although mustard is, of course, part of the Dijon story…as is wine.

History

The history of this part of France is mind-blowing. We’re talking all the way back to Julius Caesar, the Gauls and years ending in BC.

Slightly more recently than that – between the 11th and 15th century – Dijon was the capital of the duchy of Burgundy. There was a particularly golden age during the 14th and 15th centuries when the Duchy challenged the power of France itself. These years were full of stories of assassinations, treachery, back-hand dealings, illegitimate children and power-broking. It’s the stuff that entire mini-series could be written and produced around. Just imagine – sumptuous costumes and tapestries, tales of treachery, treason and lust.

But, I digress. There were four Dukes of Burgundy in these golden years: Phillipe-le-Hardi (Philip the Bold), Jean-sans-Peur (John the Fearless), Phillipe-le-Bon (Philip the Good) and Charles-le-Téméraire (Charles the Bold who later became known as Charles the Reckless). At this point, I’m wondering what I would be known as. I’m thinking a play on my maiden name. Joanne-le-Lion au Coeur.

Each of the Dukes married extremely well and their courts were sumptuous indeed – full of the best in tapestries, music, sculpture, gastronomy and fine arts. At least, that was until Charles the Bold managed, unbelievably, to milk dry Burgundy’s extremely wealthy coffers…but that’s another (long) story.

In any case, it’s this history that makes Dijon so interesting now. The wonderful medieval and renaissance buildings are a direct result of the golden years of the duchy as the finest painters, sculptors and architects were brought to Dijon.

The pics

This is a fabulous city for walking around – and not just for the architecture.

Don’t forget to check out the details.

We had eaten way too much to sample any of the excellent food Dijon has to offer…maybe next time.

Sadly we spent only a few hours wandering this city – we could have spent days.

We visited Dijon as part of a longer stay in the Burgundy region. If you want the details of where we stayed, check out this post.

 

 

 

 

Cooking with Alex…

When we first planned the itinerary for this road trip, a cooking class was on each of our wish lists. And preferably in Burgundy. But not a commercial cooking class, we didn’t want one of those. We were after local food, local markets, and a small group. Something personal with real stories about eating and living in France. Our day cooking with Alex Miles was all of this. And more. But I digress.

We meet Alex outside Dijon Railway Station, near some coffee shop or another. We had no idea how we’d know him, but he came straight up to us. Obviously, we looked as though we were waiting around to meet a chef for a day of cooking in Dijon…

Alex, a New York pastry chef (amongst other things) in a previous life, has called Dijon home for the past 30 years or so. Over coffee and home-made mini muffins that he produced from his bag, we chat about food and cooking, and life in Dijon.

Onto the markets – which are, as an aside, fabulous…but, of course, I’ve already told you about them, here.  Alex seems to know everyone and at every stall, after he’d made his purchases, a muffin comes out of the bag for the proprietor. Alex has a smile, a bonjour, and a muffin for everyone.

Dijon Markets

Back in Alex’s apartment, we head into the kitchen to start preparing lunch. Before I tell you about lunch, a few words about Alex’s kitchen. Aside from having my dream stove (check it out in the pic below), there is not one inch of space in this kitchen that isn’t utilised – and absolutely nothing is wasted.

I asked about the dark powder in one of the spice jars. It was, Alex told me, vanilla powder. When he’d extracted the seeds from the vanilla pods, he dried the pods and ground them into this deep, fragrant dust. In his words, the amount of garbage most of us have is insane.

The spirit of the leftover that we talked about the other week – remember when I told you about the savoury cake? – is continued here. Bones and leek tops are reserved for stocks and leftover vegetables become soups. The base of the pate we’re served with our kir (blackcurrant liqueur in white wine) is another example of nothing going to waste. The recipe is simple:

  • 1 part leftover chicken or duck
  • 1 part sausage mince
  • 1 part liver
  • 1 part veg

It’s all then bound together with eggs and flour and cooked in a loaf tin

Also on the appetiser plate is jambon persille – essentially a ham terrine with parsley. It, like the crème de cassis we have in our wine, is a Burgundian classic. The persille we’re eating was bought at the markets, but in the name of research, I’m going to have a go at making my own…but that’s for another day.

As we chop vegetables for our spring vegetable starter (I’ve already blogged the recipe – you’ll find it here) Alex prepares the rabbit in mustard sauce – Dijon mustard of course. Alex has sent me the recipes and given his permission for me to share them, so I’ll do that over the next few days. Oh, if you don’t like rabbit, this mustard sauce works really well with chicken as well.

Next, we prepare the Crème d’Amande or Almond Cream for the tart – Alex has already made the crème patisserie and the Pâte Sablée aux Amandes or sweet almond pastry. Treat the pastry as you would a woman, he says.

Finally, it’s time to eat – and drink…so we do. First, the spring vegetables…

Then the Lapin a la Moutarde, rabbit in mustard sauce…

Local cheeses,

and finally that perfect pear tart.

In order to walk off at least some of that fabulous food, Alex leads us on a walking tour around Dijon and presents us with a praline brioche – another classic of the region. It’s the perfect way to finish a fabulous day.

this photo was taken in Lyon

 

If you want to know more about cooking with Alex Miles in Dijon, you can email him at alexmiles47@gmail.com or check out his website here.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Les Halles Dijon

One of the things we loved most when we were in France was our picnic style dinners. If we’d had a proper lunch, rather than go out to eat in the evening we’d buy a baguette, some charcuterie, a cheese or two, maybe some rillette, and of course wine. Rather than eat, we’d graze and drink wine and talk and laugh.

Where possible we’d pick up our food from markets or local stores rather than supermarkets so it would all be locally produced.

One of the best markets was this one – Les Halles in Dijon.

We visited this market as the first part of a day cooking with someone I’ll introduce you to next week – Alex Miles. Alex is an expat New Yorker who we spent a fabulous day with – but that’s for next week.

The ironwork of these markets have a touch of the familiar about them – that would be because the building is said to have been designed by Gustave Eiffel. Yes, the same Eiffel. He was born here – in Dijon. As to whether he designed it? Well, that’s less clear. I’ve read some references that state his designs were rejected or there was confusion – it all sounds very French. In any case, Gustave was soon busy designing a little tower somewhere else instead…you might have heard of it?

Was he involved with Les Halles? I’d like to think so. Of course, I could do more research, but hey, it’s been a messy week at work.

None of that takes away from the fact that this is a fabulous building – and an even better market.

French markets are a snapshot of the life and food of that region, and in Burgundy, that means dishes such as coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, jambon persillé (ham cured with parsley), oeufs en meurette (eggs poached in a red wine sauce) and, of course, escargots.

Burgundy is also famous for its blackcurrants distilled into liqueur de cassis – the essential base of the French aperitifs Kir (cassis with white wine) and Kir Royale (cassis with champagne).

All of that was at this market. We, however, were there to buy cheese, vegetables and rabbit for the lunch we’d be preparing back at Alex’s apartment

From here I’ll let the pics tell the rest of the story… There were spices and fruits…

cheeses…so many cheeses…

and other dairy – although as I think I’ve already said, the French tend not to drink milk.

Artichokes and asparagus…

and mushrooms…oh how I loved the mushrooms.

Veggies and bread in the outside stalls…

And flowers…although the dog was not for sale – he was very cute.

Then we took everything that we’d purchased back to Alex’s apartment and cooked a relatively simple veggie dish that tasted of spring on a plate.

 

Vegetables in Puff Pastry

This is more of an idea than a recipe – as, indeed, the best recipes are. Alex cut some squares of puff pastry from some he’d made earlier, brushed them with a little egg wash, and popped them in the oven pre-heated to about 200C. Cook them for about 10mins or until they puff up nice and golden.

Use any veggies you want – we used carrot, celeriac, green beans, squash, asparagus and mushrooms. To prepare the veg, peel and cut the celeriac and carrots into matchstick pieces, top and tail the beans…you know the drill.

Cook the veg in boiling salted water in order of firmness and cook until almost done eg the carrots will take about 10 minutes, then add the celeriac, then the beans. The idea is to keep the colour and some firmness.

Drain and cool the vegetables in cold water to stop the cooking process.

Clean the mushrooms. Cut them into thick pieces and place them in a non-stick pan. Cook them, with no oil or butter, under a low flame till most of the water that they release has evaporated.

Add the cold, cooked vegetables and heat through with butter. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot with the cooked puff pastry.

 

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.