On the second day of our cooking retreat at La Pitchoune, Julia Child’s former Summer home in the South of France (to begin with Day 1, please click here), it was becoming quite evident that one of our favorite things about the trip was…our classmates!
We were lucky to be paired up with four fabulous girls from Nova Scotia who kept us laughing virtually non-stop since the day we arrived. While sometimes it’s nice to travel with friends, Steve and I have also had great experiences making new ones (like at this cooking class in Burgundy) and this trip was NO exception. And cooking is ALWAYS more fun when you’re laughing your arse off!
But back to cooking!!!
Day 2 began with a quick yoga class followed by a trip to the market in Antibes to shop for the day’s class. The three dishes we would attempt today were – are you ready? (1) Boeuf Bourguignon, (2) Bouillabaisse and (3) Coq au Vin.
Needless to say, my heart skipped a beat and I thought for a minute I had died and gone to heaven. These dishes represent the holy trinity of French cooking for me AND to make them in Julia’s kitchen? I could barely. wrap. my mind. around. that.
As we jostled along the dirt road heading off the property, it was clear we were blessed with another gorgeous day. Once we arrived in Antibes, the view was positively breathtaking. Definitely like nothing I’ve seen on my way to Publix at home.
The brilliant, azure blue sky framed towering, snowcapped mountains in the distance, while sunlight danced across the brilliant sea in front of us. And although there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the heavenly ocean breeze made a light sweater a welcome accessory.
Makenna directed us to a local coffee shop where we finalized our market plan over lattes and green smoothies. We were not only to purchase items for our recipes (The Miskews were Team Coq au Vin!) but also to select a few things that really inspired us, like an interesting piece of fruit, an unusual spice or a unique type of cheese.
The bustle of the market was both invigorating and overwhelming but one thing was for sure – I was in heaven! Steve and I hit the cheese vendor or fromager first. We thoroughly enjoyed sampling a nutty Tomme de Savoie, tangy Ossau Iraty and creamy Saint-Felicien before making our choices.
For the Coq au Vin, we wanted to include an assortment of mushrooms. Not only plain button mushrooms (champignons) but also morels which were luckily in season!
When it comes to mushrooms, the highly coveted morel is one of my favorites. Morels have a unique honeycomb appearance, spongy texture and deliciously rich flavor. They are also commonly used in Provencal cuisine and you know what Ron Burgundy says, “When in Rome…”.
In the States, I’ve mostly encountered dried morels, but this market had oodles of fresh ones! Needless to say, we snatched up a bunch and once we’d finished our shopping, Steve and I wandered over to the ocean to take in the breathtaking view (to see a video, please click here).
Even though we only live two minutes from the beach at home, this was a completely different experience and we reveled in its beauty before heading back to La Pitchoune.
Back at La Peetch, we quickly got down to business prepping our dishes. Chef Dominie provided lessons on breaking down a chicken, complete with how to spatchcock one (to learn more about this fabulous term, click here), as well as layering flavors and textures in soups and stews by taking us through the steps of making a succulent Lamb Navarin.
One of the things I loved most about The Courageous Cooking School is despite the range of cooking skills, everyone, was able to participate and have fun in the hands on classes.
But why the rush prepping our dishes?
Because apparently, we had a very special field trip to take later that afternoon! And once our dishes were simmering away on the stove, we headed out for an afternoon of…Champagne tasting! Yes, you heard me, C H A M P A G N E!!!
The owners of Champagne House Cristian Senez just happened to have a tasting room nearby. And frankly, I couldn’t think of a better pairing for our varied assortment of dishes we were going to enjoy later that night.
We were welcomed by Cristian’s lovely wife Josette who led us through a tasting of seven different cuvées. From the charming, entry level Senez Brut made of 100% Pinot Noir to the unique La Cuvée des Filles, a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, to the 2008 Rosé de Saignée Millésimé and 2005 Brut Grande réserve Millésimé each wine was more delightful than the next.
The only thing competing with the Champagnes was the Senez’s Jack Russell puppy, Fifi! We lingered over our wines, chatting, laughing and playing tug-of-war with Fifi until it was time to repair to La Peetch for our special dinner.
Back at La Pitchoune the house smelled so good I’m sure Julia would have been proud!
We all put the finishing touches on our dishes, set them out on the buffet and heartily dug in. The Bouillabaisse was chock full of heavenly seafood cooked in a delightful fennel scented broth while the Coq au Vin was hearty and satisfying with earthy mushrooms, savory chicken and salty lardons. The Boeuf Bourguignon was also heavenly featuring hearty chunks of beef simmered in a rich broth infused with red wine and root vegetables.
The Senez Champagne we brought back from our tasting paired beautifully with the various dishes and thus was the end of another near perfect day in Provence.
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