Yerp: Part 3 – Cooking Dinner for More Than a Dozen People.

May 14, 2011

Alright. Second morning waking up in Yerp. At the crack of dawn. Before everyone else. Again.

My head hurt, though. No idea why.

This is the night on which I have committed to prepare dinner for The Group. Part my thank you and part me being a show off. I hate me.

So we were off to the Les Halles Market in Narbonne to select my booty. I adore this market. It’s also France’s oldest indoor food market opening its doors in 1901. #funfact

Fun things from the market.

I hadn’t really thoroughly conceived of what I wanted to prepare. Or how. So I was a little frantic at the market. Oh, and I don’t speak a lick of French - except vas-y mollo, which is not tremendously helpful while figuring out how to buy enough fava beans to create a puree that feeds twelve plus, folks. Or really helpful at all, for that matter. 

Emma helped some until she spotted The Group having wine and tapas at one of the stands. Then Dad jumped in to help me figure out my meat purchase. Which involved math. In French. I was STRESSING. But we ended up finding a gorgeous pork loin roast.

Stressing at the market (photo courtesy of Dale).

And then I joined The Group for a bite and a glass of wine before heading back to Armissan to prep.

The menu that I settled on went like this:

Champagne, olives and charcuterie

Salad of Greens from the Garden (with Jean-Jacques awesome dressing and which Dale assembled)
Roast Pork Loin Stuffed with Spinach, Fresh Herbs and Garlic with Pan Sauce Reduction and Fava Bean Puree
Potato and Artichoke Hash
Sauteed Chanterelles in Olive Oil and Sea Salt

Cheese Plate

Thumb Wrestling

Dad, sassing back about "the fava bean situation".

I put Dad and Emma on fava bean duty: a chore I doubt either of them will ever embark on again voluntarily. I don’t think Dad was wild about dealing with the artichokes either. But I gotta give the guy props - he actually helped me in every arena of this meal, including the keeping-me-calm arena. You see, I had never cooked a formal meal for this many people before. This past Thanksgiving, yes. Hell, I made enough food for greater Los Angeles that day. But I was cooking for days and it all came out staggered. Food just continued to pour out of the kitchen all day and night. It was buffet style.

Cocktail hour (top photo courtesy of Dale)

Salad (photo courtesy of Emma)

With the exception of the artichokes still having a few of the sinewy leaves here and there in the hash, I think the meal was a hit. I was proud of it.

I hope The Group liked it.

Thumb Wrestling (top photo courtesy of Emma)

I believe Emma and I capped off this evening with a bottle or two more bottles of wine while laying in our beds, sighing, giggling, and taking stock of the last twenty-four thirty-six hours, the whirlwind, of our adventure.

Notice a pattern?

The artichoke-potato hash that I prepared was inspired by Suzanne Goin’s (imagine that). I have the recipe for you here:

Artichoke-Potato Hash

Serves a mere 6...

12 baby artichokes
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes
extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs of thyme
2/3 cup sliced shallots
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the hash, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic cloves, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

While the potatoes are roasting, prepare the artichokes.  Cut off the top third of the artichokes and remove the tough outer leaves.  Using a vegetable peeler, trim the bottom of the stem and the stalks.  Cut each artichoke in half and using a small spoon, remove the fuzzy choke if there one.  As you work, immerse the artichokes in a large bowl of cold water and the juice of 1 or 2 lemons, so they do not discolor.  Be sure to drain and dry them well before cooking.

Heat a large saute pan (we used two), over high heat for 2 minutes.  Add 1/4 cup of oil to the pan and then wait for 1 minute.  Add the artichokes and season with 1 teaspoon of thyme, 1 teaspoon of salt, and a grinding of pepper.  Turn the heat to medium and saute for about 10 minutes tossing often, until the artichokes are golden brown. 

Remove the artichokes from the heat and after they've cooled a little, cut them into large chunks.  Once the potatoes have cooled, cut them into large chunks and squeeze the roasted garlic from their skins and set aside.

Wipe out the pan the artichokes were sauteed in and return it to the stove and heat it over high heat for 2 minutes.  Swirl in 1/4 cup of oil and wait a minute.  Add the potatoes to the pan and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper.  To get the potatoes nicely browned and crisp on the outside, do not overcrowd them in the pan.  We used two pans.  Don't be temped to stir the potatoes too much, that will prevent them from getting the good brown crust.  It should take 6 to 8 minutes to get a good crust on one side.  Stir the potatoes and continue to cook until they are browned all over.

Once the potatoes are golden brown on all sides, turn the heat down to medium and add the shallots, artichokes, and roasted garlic.  Toss well and sautée the hash together for 5 to 6 minutes until the artichokes are hot and the shallots are translucent. 

Toss in the chopped parsley and squeeze a bit of lemon just before serving. 

Yerp: Part 2 - An Evening in Gruissan.

My first morning in Armissan.

May 13, 2011

I had this vision of the France leg of the vacation. I saw a lot of nothing. I saw myself reading, writing, eating, cooking, staring into space and sipping wine – all in a lovely, pastoral milieu. I envisioned a lot of silence. Save for the birds chirping and the rooster crowing. 

There was no reading or writing. At all. There was little to no silence. There was, however, a great deal of eating and sipping wine. There was a great deal of the wine. All in a lovely, pastoral milieu.  

The little house.

The first time I was there, three years ago, Chris, Jean-Jacques and I dined at a restaurant called La Cranquette, in Gruissan. It was my favorite, and most memorable, meal of that trip (and we even went to Vieux Puit in Fontjoncouse). It was a tiny, charming, casual, spot in a tiny, charming town on the Mediterranean. All of the food is cooked in a kitchen the size of my thumbnail, and everything is cooked on a griddle. Even my seared ahi tuna over a slab of foie gras. Yes, you read correctly.

So, for our second night in France, all fourteen (14) of us occupied the expanse of outside tables at La Cranquette (had we sat inside (my preference) we would have filled the entire space)). The place hadn’t changed a bit, which warmed my heart. Our waitress, Nadeen, was sweet and was able to keep us sufficiently herded, so to speak. And, although she spoke with a perfect regional French accent, she was from New York. This made things easier as well. That's her above, holding plates and whatnot.

Dinner was excellent. With such a large group I imagine we ordered everything on the menu. But I ordered pretty much exactly what I had ordered there three years ago. I started with tellines, which are little wedge clams sautéed in a little foie gras. And then I had the duck breast served under a generous slab of foie gras (yes, I did) with a reduction and some Pyrenees honey. Holy little baby Jesus. 


Jean-Jacques (who ordered a dish aptly, and cleverly, titled "Mars Attack" (see picture below)) took over in the wine department by selecting all local, regional (and delicious) bottles for the table.

What a truly beautiful meal. I highly recommend this restaurant.

For a full set of pictures of the evening click here.

I believe Emma and I capped off this evening with a bottle or two more bottles of wine while laying in our beds, sighing, giggling, and taking stock of the last few twenty-four hours, the whirlwind, of our adventure.

Which had, really, only just begun...




Yerp: Part 1 (of many).

May 11 & 12, 2011

I’m doing this. I’m on the plane. I’m running on three hours of (wine-induced) sleep, two Xanax, a quarter of a bottle of water, and three quarters of a cup of coffee from the La Brea Bakery stand next to airport terminal 21. I’m listening to Explosions in the Sky and I’m pretty loopy. Loopy in the good, euphoric way.

It was a stressful stretch from waking up this morning up until this point. I fell asleep irritated about something tremendously trivial, woke up fifteen minutes after I was supposed to have walked out the front door, endured the cacophony of my disco car’s sounds during the teeth grinding ride to the airport, all after those tiny three hours of sleep. I have about twenty-four hours of travel to work through before I arrive where I’m going and I look like hell in a hand basket (whatever that means). But now I’m here. Here, at this point. On my way. On my way to vacation. My European vacation.

Against all odds I feel pretty good.

My mission for this here vacation:
Take naps (gasp!).
Drink wine.
Write about it.
Take pictures.
Go to markets and purchase food stuffs I have never seen or prepared before.
Cook said food stuffs.
Drink wine.
Write about it.

Sounds pretty reasonable to me.
I have made it to Munich at this point. I have the final stretch in front of me: the brief flight from here to Barcelona. And then there’s the two-hour drive from Barcelona to Armissan, France. 

I awoke at five this morning. By the time I arrive at my final destination it will be after six in the morning on LA time. Twenty-four hours. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is why God invented Xanax.

And that was the first, last and only thing I actually wrote on my trip. My ten (10) day trip in the south of France and Barcelona. My trip to Yerp. 

Until today.

So, yes. After three years I took myself a vacation. Emma and I (via Los Angeles) were to meet Dad and his girlfriend, Dale (via Richmond, VA) in the Barcelona airport to then drive immediately to Armissan, a small town in the south of France, to meet Chris and his dad (and a host of other characters which will all be introduced soon enough) in time for a big welcome dinner at the house where we were staying.

The drive was a blur. A champagne-filled blur.

But we made it just in the nick of time. There everyone was, at the dining table of Midge and Jean-Jacques, our gracious hosts. With the addition of us four, I believe we made the group around twelve. Dinner was grand. We had lamb tagine, rice, asparagus, a salad from the garden and fresh strawberries and cheeses for dessert. It was a blur. A champagne, food and winewinewine-filled grand blur.

I believe Emma and I capped off this evening with a bottle or two more bottles of wine while laying in our beds, sighing, giggling, and taking stock of the last few hours, the whirlwind, of our adventure. 

I made it. I'm on vacation.

Stay tuned...