Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dream Destination Dinner in Saint-Remy-de-Provence in the South of France

Do you have a dream destination for dinner in a foreign city and if so, where would you choose? Paris perhaps or London, Rome or Madrid?  I would probably choose Paris because it’s such a romantic city and the choices of fine dining are plentiful. But how about it if I shake it up a bit and ask what foreign city would you choose if your dream was to prepare dinner for a couple of your friends.

Without hesitation my first choice would be Saint-Remy-de-Provence in the South of France. It is a bit laid back compared to big cities, but that’s what is so charming about the villages of Provence. In fact we are in the process of putting the finishing touches on our next trip there in the spring. St. Remy is in the Bouches-du-Rhône area of Provence in the Alpilles near Avignon, Arles and Aix-en-Provence and about an hour north of the old port city of Marseille. According to the local tourist department, St. Remy is bathed in sunshine for more than 300 days a year.

Since I chose to prepare dinner at home for some friends rather than dining out, it will encompass a bit of shopping. A natural choice for this dream dinner would be to serve a local Provençale Daube of Beef, accompanied by Le Macaronade, a macaroni gratin, and finish with simple dessert such as Julia Child’s cherry clafouti. Join me as we stop in St. Remy for a few things we’ll need.

Shopping in Provence is an adventure all into itself. There will be many stops along the way as you’ll see and everything is done in a leisurely style. Bring plenty of patience with you. I also suggest that you make sure to brush up on your French as many of the shop owners in small towns in Provence don’t speak English and if they do, it is un peu.

In fact if you’re game, I suggest you do a little research and write your grocery list in French. If I happen to look up a recipe on line and the directions aren't in English, I always find it easier if the website owner uses software to translate the website for me. While you’re doing your research, also jot down a few words and phrases that will help you as you shop. I guarantee it will be very helpful. I don’t speak French very well and I found that my written list came in very handy when my school girl pronunciation skills let me down as it often did. Contrary to what you’ve might have heard about the French, most all of them, especially in small villages, want to be very helpful, but it’s important that you do your part as well.

If we are to follow the lead of the locals, the first stop should always be the boulangerie for a freshly baked baguette, the first thing in the morning bien sur.

Tuck the baguette under your arm or put it in your straw shopping bag that you’ve brought along for the occasion. No straw shopping bag? No problem. There will be many to choose from at the local outdoor market in the square, where we’re off to next to pick up some assorted olives and nuts to munch on while we’ll sip a pastis, a popular aperitif in Provence, before dinner.

For the vegetables in our stew, we’ll stop at this lovely vegetable stand and also ask about local cherries for the clafouti.

Of course while we’re at the market we must pick up some flowers. Which ones do you like?

In Provence you never know what you might see at the local market. Perhaps a pet pour vous to take home?

Our final stop will be the boucherie for the meat for our daube. We’ll ask the butcher to choose the cut of beef for us while we chat with him about the weather.

As you can tell, shopping is a leisurely affair in Provence. Everyone must first be greeted with a friendly Bonjour Monsieur or Bonjour Madame as you enter their shop or approach their stall at the outdoor market and there’s always a polite au revoir or bonne journee exchanged as you depart. Oh, let’s not forget to pick up a couple of bottles of a local Cote de Rhone to serve with dinner while we’re out.

We’ve often said that if we had one more big dream left to follow it would be to live in Provence and perhaps find an old mas, the French word for farm house, to remodel. Unfortunately for us, we no longer have enough energy or youth to chase another dream. We already followed one big dream when we lived on a tiny private cay in the northern Bahamas for ten years. So now we visit Provence as often as we possibly can and rent someone else’s home for a couple of months and “pretend” we live there. Here’s our next “pretend” home for the coming spring just outside St. Remy-de-Provence.

When I was last in St. Remy I picked up some Les Olivades napkins at one of the local shops as one of the souvenirs of our trip. You’ll notice that I used them today when I set the table for dinner. Les Olivades is the last local company to continue the tradition of printing on fabric begun in Provence in Marseille in 1648 and they are still creating wonderful designs based on the original styles. Napkins and small things such as the local fleur de sel harvested in the nearby Camargue or charming burlap bags of herbs de Provence make nice gifts for yourself or your friends and they don’t take up any room at all in your suitcase.

The following recipe for daube looks very long, but if I were to leave out the details and the optional garnishes, it might read like this: combine all of the ingredients one day, cook them the next day, let them ripen one more day, spoon off any unwanted fat that rises to the surface, reheat, and eat. All this with only a single pot to wash.

Provençale Daube of Beef or Estouffade Provençale
Inspired by Cooking School Provence –by Guide Gedda & Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells 
Serves 6 to 8 and should be made two days before serving 
Printable Recipe

2 ½ pounds beef, cut into 1 ½” chunks (a butcher can do this for you), we used boneless bottom round
2 medium mild onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into ½” rounds
1 celery rib, minced
Kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bottle (3 cups) red wine, preferably Provençale, I used a Cote de Rhone
¼ cup marc de Provence or Cognac
1 bunch of fresh thyme
3 imported bay leaves
4 cloves, wrapped in a bag of cheesecloth
About a ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 strip of orange zest, about 2 inches, dried if desired (link to how to dry orange zest here)

As needed:
1 ounce baking chocolate, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons local honey
A dash of red wine vinegar

Garnishes, optional:
More orange zest, chopped, for garnish
Fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley for garnish
Assorted fancy mushrooms, briefly sautéed in good butter & seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 or 4 fresh carrots, peeled, par-boiled and sautéed in good butter until they begin to brown, then seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Two days before serving the daube, combine all of the ingredients minus the garnishes in a large enameled casserole. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, bring the mixture to a simmer over low heat. Simmer gently until the meat is very tender, about 3 to 4 hours. Allow to cool down and refrigerate until the fat rises to the top and can be easily scraped off with a small spoon, about 12 hours or overnight.

At serving time, scraping off any additional fat. Reheat until the meat is heated through, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the thyme leaves, bay leaves, orange jest, and bag of cloves. Taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly. You may want to add the crumbled chocolate, honey and/or the vinegar if taste dictates. I added the chocolate and I thought it took away the slight bitterness of the sauce. If your sauce is too thin, see cook’s notes below on how to thicken with a beurre manié.

For garnishes, be sure to use freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley and chopped orange zest. Both bring an air of light freshness to the dish. If desired you can add additional garnishes, such as freshly sautéed fancy mushrooms and additional carrots.

If accompanied by a macaroni gratin (recipe below), be sure to reserve 1 cup of the sauce from the daube for the macaroni. Equally delicious is simple buttered noodles with grated Parmesan.

Cook’s notes: If your sauce is not thick enough (ours wasn’t), make a beurre manie by blending 3 T flour with 2 T softened butter to make a paste. Off heat, whisk in the beurre manié, then simmer the sauce for 2 minutes as it thickens. If you find your sauce is too tart (ours was), you can add some finely chopped good chocolate or a bit of honey and let it heat through the dish. I keep only dark chocolate on hand and honey, especially local, is a staple in any kitchen in Provence. If it needs a bit of spark, add a dash or two of red wine vinegar.

La Macaronade or Macaroni Gratin
Adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells – serves 4
Printable Recipe

To prepare authentic macaronade, you must first prepare a stew, either an Estouffade or a Daube, the traditional beef stew of the south of France.

Kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 cup liquid reserved from Provençale Beef Daube
1 cup freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese

Preheat the broiler. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Salt the water and add the pasta and cook until tender, then drain. Spoon half of the noodles in a 2 quart gratin dish or individual serving dishes. Moisten the noodles with half of the stew liquid. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the noodles, then add remaining noodles, liquid and cheese. Place under the broiler and broil just until the cheese is browned and sizzling.

Julia Child’s Cherry Clafouti a la Liqueur
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child – serves 6
Printable Recipe

3 cups pitted black cherries
¼ cup cognac
1/3 cup granulated sugar

Liquid from the cherries and enough milk to equal 1 ¼ cups
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour
An electric blender
A 7-8 cup lightly buttered, fireproof baking dish or Pyrex pie plate
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Use fresh, black, sweet cherries in season and let them stand for 1 hour in the cognac and sugar.

Place the batter ingredients in your blender jar in the order in which they are listed. Cover & blend at top speed for 1 minute. Pour a ¼” layer of batter in the lightly buttered baking dish or pie plate. Put in the oven to let the batter set. Spread the drained cherries over the batter, then pour on the rest of the batter and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.

Place in middle position of preheated oven and bake for about an hour. It is done when it has puffed and browned and a needle or knife plunged into its center comes out clean. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar just before bringing to the table. It need not be served hot, but should still be warm. It will sink down slightly as it cools.

Au revoir for now from Saint. Remy-de-Provence in the South of Provence.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Weekend Bites at Simple Recipes.  

Have a great weekend everyone.


  1. Fabulous food! Everything looks incredibly scrumptious.

    A lovely destination!



  2. Sounds like you have a great trip coming up Sam, it's always nice to have something fun to look forward to! Your dinner sounds very tasty, the 'optional' and 'as needed' items are all different for stew:@)

  3. Your post is an unexpected treat this morning. I've enjoyed it with my first cup of coffee. How nice to "shop" with you. I'm reminded of a similar "trip" with Susan Herrman Loomis some year's ago. Thank you!


  4. Just passed the Daube recipe on to my husband. He makes a great Beef Bourguignon but the onions are always a pain so maybe this recipe would be good. We have lots of cherries in the freezer from our tree and I make a great clafoutis with them. Completely different to your recipe so maybe I will try a change :-) Keep well Diane

  5. Well I enjoyed my trip!
    I would pick Provence..where exactly not sure..
    Or..San Gimignano I think in a quaint Italian resto.
    Such a fun post Sam..actually because of you when and if we return..St-Rémy would be in the itinerary:)

  6. Thank you for taking me on a trip through the south of France. It brought back wonderful memories of my trip there. I would love to go back to Italy.

  7. That is one fine looking meal Sam. Several years ago we made a whirlwind trip thru France and were in Provence as we travel up the Rhone River on our wine tasting tour. I wish I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently. I do fondly remember shopping for lunch one morning in Meursault and it was just as you described, then we ate it sitting on a wall overlooking gorgeous vineyards somewhere in Burgundy.

  8. Sam, Nice photos from France... Very pretty! That's a great looking meal as well... We haven't traveled that much, just Canada, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, so I don't know where I'd have that special meal. As far as I'm concern, given my limited knowledge, Chicago would be hard to beat! Of course, the photos from France are more appealing... Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

  9. What a fun trip Sam. Thanks for taking us along. I was surprised to read about chocolate, but I trust you and Patricia. Your first instructions is how my Mom used to tell me when I asked how to make her vinaigrette. She said mix it until it taste right. No kidding. :)

  10. Oui, s'il vous plait! I will take it all - including your pretend home. What a lovely post!

  11. Can I be your pretend dinner guest? This looks like a perfect meal. I am so excited that you will get to return to St. Remy this Spring. I have fine memories of that beautiful town and our lunch at Bistro Decouverte.

  12. I was completely drawn into this enchanted city. Great post, lovely pictures.

  13. Looks great Sam but after marinating overnight like you do, we drain well reserving marinade and then brown the meat in batches. This caramelization of meat juices adds lots of flavor to the final product. After that return all meat to pan and add the marinade liquid and veg. This might help with the tartness issue. Happy to hear you will be in Provence in the Spring....maybe we can connect!

  14. Your dinner is beautiful Sam, and brings back lots of wonderful memories of Provence. We were just talking about going back there next year and I hope it will work out. The food and food market are the best. I'm looking forward to following along on your springtime trip. Great photos.

  15. Your dinner is beautiful and I know it is delicious, too! Loved the pictures...Love your "pretend" home! It will be a wonderful trip....lots to see and many tasty meals!

  16. Sounds like a dream dinner, beautiful food markets!

  17. That's a well planned and incredible dinner, Sam. Love those beautiful Paris photos, esp. the market ones. Thanks for sharing, Sam.

  18. Sam, what a beautiful post. Dare to dream and looking forward to seeing you again this summer!

    Dave and Jackie

  19. A fascinating post Sam. You make me want to return to France!

  20. thank you for taking me out of the cold dreary winter and transporting me to the south of France where I LONG to be!! wonderful recipes and a lovely way to start the day!!

  21. best dinner ever I would think. Love seeing all the pictures. I feel like I was there too:)

  22. Boy, I would be your guest in a heartbeat! Location doesn't matter. You are the BEST cook ever!

    Now if I were going to serve you dinner, let me see. I think I would choose St. Andrews in Scotland, and because I am not a good cook, I would treat you to the dinner we had 30 years ago of Rainbow Trout and a fabulous mushroom and barley soup that is the best soup I have ever eaten. I still dream about it.

    I am comforted to know you survived the ordeal of the big S. Oh, Sam, this has been something else. I am with you, I think I am going to get the shot. But I have to wait to get it. Drat! I am still itching and hurting at intervals and am trying my best to stay out from under stress. I hope neither one of us ever catch it again!!!


    Sheila :-)

  23. Ever catches it, not catch it. Sorry. I am rusty with my computer skills.

  24. Oh my gosh! This is a great post, Sam, and I really enjoyed shopping with you! Now I'm ready to return to France. All the food looks delicious. I made Julia's Cherry Clafouti recipe years ago and it was so good. Great photos! Have a wonderful weekend!

  25. Sounds lovely.
    I have a question about the macaroni dish. Your instructions call for adding cheese, but the ingredients don't list what kind or the amount.

    1. libbydodd at comcast dot net

    2. I'm still hoping for an answer.

    3. My apologies for not getting back to you sooner Libby and for accidentally omitting the cheese. I just saw your question and I appreciate your bringing this to my attention. It should read 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese. I have corrected the recipe on the blog as well as on the printable recipe.

  26. There's no better way to experience a country than to "pretend" to live there for a couple of months. You have done an excellent job. I too have "pretended" to live there in different areas and the best is definitely Provence. Some of them can be quite a challenge except for the ritual of buying a baguette which the locals buy fresh for every meal. I've often thought they just do it to get out of the house!

    Thanks for a wonderful trip down memory lane. You have made my morning!

  27. I've never been to France but I would certainly love to one day! I loved my day in France and the lovely meal you prepared.

  28. Dear Sam, This does look like a dream from beginning to end. xoxo Catherine

  29. Great looking plating there and I'd love to try this. As far as my dream locale? Pretty much anywhere by water, I love eating and cooking by the water.

  30. My husband and I have often talked of living in Europe but now we are like you and like to go the pretend route when we just vacation there. I agree with Penny, I would love to be one of your guests and share that delicious meal with you and Meakin.


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