The Cuisine in Poitou-Charantes, France.

Poitou-Charentes. Rolls of the tongue doesn’t it? Some say this region situated in the south-west of France is the prettiest region in the country. I don’t know if I could agree (Provence will always be in my heart!) but still, it seems to have bewitched me. Truly a windy land, where sea, rolling pastures and several swamps come together as one, Poitou-Charentes, which includes the port city of La Rochelle (where i’ve been studying for the past month as part of an exchange program), is most famous for it’s cognacs and wines. Since you don’t exactly drink aperitifs without something to nibble on, it’s easy to see why they’re famous for their food as well. To be blunt, it’s kind of a foodie paradise.

First of all, one should probably know that the region is one of France’s biggest producers of sea-salt and as such, the powdery white stuff is sprinkled on everything! whether it’s dinner or dessert, you can rest assured it’ll be salty (and delicious). And of course, where you have salt you have the ocean. In La Rochelle, i gorged myself (yes, gorged!) on mussels, specifically “moules a la mariniere”, which is simply mussels cooked in their own juices with a little wine, some butter and pepper. You can also get them “en mouclade”, or smothered in cream sauce with white pepper or even grilled and thrown into a salad.
Mussels aren’t the only delicacy however. Clams of all sorts, smaller fishes and even lobster are all eaten with abandon here.

Not a seafood person? no fear! since the region is hilly with hundreds of green pastures, it’s perfect for animals of all kinds and thus perfect for meat dishes as well. People in the region argue that their beef is the best meat in all of France and although I cant vouch for that myself, a friend of mine had recently told me she’d eaten the best steak of her life in La Rochelle, and trust me, that Albertan girl knows her meat! Here, beef is grilled, served as tartar with crostini and mustard and cooked in ragout. Lamb is also very popular, and is typically simmered with herbs and pepper, served with either potatoes or roasted vegetables. Rabbit is adored, as is duck, which is either made into confit or made into duck bacon! (hello!), typically thrown into a salad with just boiled potatoes, onions, a light vinaigrette and a handful of olives. My host family made this for me and to be honest, it was one of the best salads I had ever eaten!

Vegetarian? Don’t worry, the vegetables in this region are incredible!!! Most of the meals i’ve had in the past month have actually been salads and my favorite restaurant in La Rochelle – “Le soleil brille pour tout le monde”(13 Rue des Cloutiers  17000 Rochelle)  has plenty of veggie, gluten-free and organic options that are all insanely good, all for under 10 euros. Case in point – this salad – “l’etoile”, which I could barely finish. Indescribably scrumptious, this salad had vegan sausage, chevre, avocado, marinated carrots, beets, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, quinoa and several types of lettuce.

And of course, where you have cows and goats, you have milk…and where you have milk you have dairy products, which in Poitou-Charantes usually take the form of either cheese, yogurt or most famously, butter, which is of course salty, golden colored and considered by almost everyone, even by Parisians, as the ‘best of the best’. Chevre, the supporting actor in this tale, is even more protected than that butter, as the goat cheese made in Poitou-Charantes represents half of the goat cheese eaten in France. How is it? delicious. I like to eat slices of it on toast with some french mustard, a drizzle of honey and a slice of perfectly ripe tomato. And of course, with a liberal sprinkling of salt, which brings me to the last topic, dessert. Is the region famous for desserts? no. Do they have delicious desserts? yes. Are they also salted? (do you even have to ask?) but of course!
Salted butter cookies, sea-salt caramel crepes and chocolate mouse with salty-sweet nougat are all typical regional desserts. I especially loved the sea-salt caramels sold in the city center of La Rochelle. Smooth, creamy, perfectly balanced perfection.

To put it short and sweet, come here. Come for the history, the scenery, the ocean and the people. Stay for the food. You won’t regret it!.

Healthy Almond-Chocolate cake

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I made this cake a couple months ago after seeing the original version in style-at-home but I’ve decided to post it now because it’s just so good! you’d never believe a cake this decadent could actually be good for you, but it is. Well, for the most part at least (chocolate has antioxidants, right?, and coconut milk is good fat, right?…almonds are good for the heart, yeah?….ok maybe I’m just in denial, either way, it’s much healthier than your average chocolate cake!) It’s a little work, but I promise it’s worth it.

Ingredients:

Cake

  • 2 cups extremely dark chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup canned light coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons rum
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup truvia (depending on taste)

Glaze

  • 2/3 cup canned light coconut milk
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1-1/4 cups sliced almonds, toasted
  • Store-bought almond Paste, such as the kind from Ikea

How to:

To prepare the cake:

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

  1. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper, generously grease the paper and sides of the pan with coconut oil or margarine.
  2.  Heat the coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat, until it just boils. Lower the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until smooth . Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the rum and almond meal.
  3. Using a hand mixer, beat the eggs and truvia  until the mixture has doubled in volume.
  4. Fold the eggs into the chocolate mixture until just incorporated.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a dry crust forms on top but the center is still slightly soft, 20 to 22 minutes.
  6. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow the cake to cool completely, about 1-1/2 hours. The cake will fall as it cools.
  7. Before removing the cake from the pan, lightly press down on the top of the cake to compact it further and to even out the crusty top.
  8. Remove the sides of the pan. Using the cake pan as a guide, cut out a 9-inch cardboard round and place it on top of the cake. Invert the cake onto the round, cleaning up the crumbs as you go.
  9. To finish the cake: Roll the almond paste between 2 sheets of plastic wrap until quite thin, enough to cover the whole cake. Cut out a 9-inch circle, using the bottom of the cake pan as a guide. Place the almond circle atop the cake. Transfer the cake to a wire rack.
    To prepare the glaze and decorate the cake:

    1. Set a small saucepan over low heat and melt the coconut milk and chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and cool until the glaze is almost set but still spreadable.
    2. Spread the sides of the cake with just enough glaze to cover any crumbs. Reheat the glaze over low heat until barely pourable, so still pretty thick.
    3. Pour the remaining glaze into the center of the cake and, quickly, spread it over the top of the cake and around the sides, working the glaze as little as possible. Allow the glaze to cool slightly.
    4. Sprinkle the almonds around the outer edge of the top of the cake, forming a  11/2-inch border. Press the almonds to the side of the cake, transfer cake to a platter and refrigerate until served.

Eating Healthy in Paris

Paris is no doubt a city of indescribable decadence. Every street will have at least three boulangeries and a couple patisseries, not to mention specialty chocolate shops, artisan cheese stores and millions of small cafes boasting foie gras, bistec and duck confit to be served with, usually, if not always, white fluffy bread and butter. So, in short, a health nut’s worst nightmare? not necessarily.

Yes, health nuts, vegetarians, vegans and anyone with an intolerance may be looked upon strangely sometimes and even told that their dietary needs were just figments of their imagination, but Paris does actually have a healthy food scene, including several vegan and vegetarian restaurants and even one specializing in superfoods! You just have to dig a little deeper and travel a little farther to find them.

Here are some of my favorites:

First of all, Carrefour as well as Monoprix, both French chains, have “bio” aisles in all their stores, which contain all the organic foods you could possibly need! There are also several organic grocery stores  in Paris, with locations in every neighborhood: Naturalia, also by monoprix, Biocoop  and  La Vie Claire.

As for eating out:

Gentle Gourmet: 24 Boulevard de la Bastille  75012 Paris,- Just a little farther from la place de la bastille, this homey yet elegant restaurant boasts haute vegan cuisine  at a moderate cost (9-18 euro), serving both lunch and dinner as well as a special sunday brunch for 14 or 19 euros, the former containing a hot drink, a juice, a savory dish usually containing tofu and vegetables, as well as fresh bread with vegan butter and jam. The latter contains all that, plus french toast ( I would get the french toast, last time I didn’t and I deeply regret it!) I did however, adore the cinnamon hot chocolate that i chose as my ‘hot drink’, which can be made with any plant based milk you desire! I would definitely recommend going with a friend and sharing several things.http://www.gentlegourmetcafe.com/

Tugalik: 4 Rue Toullier  75005 Paris – a deux pas de la sorbonne (literally just by the Sorbonne!), Tugalik isn’t vegan or completely vegetarian, but it is organic and largely gluten free, with a menu that clearly states what does and doesn’t contain gluten. It is also largely lactose-free. The food is also cheaper than that at Gentle Gourmet, with meal plans (formules) at 15euro sur place (eating in) and 10 euro for takeout. I would go for the quinoa salads, the gluten free pasta with pesto and zucchini and the buckwheat chocolate cake. Maybe the lactose and gluten free carrot cake as well. Delish. http://www.tugalik.com/

Green Pizz: 8 Rue Cadet  75009 Paris, open from 2 – 10:45 and not terribly far from the Louvre (a twenty minute walk), this pizza place is one of the only restaurants in Paris with vegan pizza!!! (called tutti legumi), not to mention several other delectable, vegetarian and non-veg options that are all cheap, organic, healthy and most of all, delicious. The crust was apparantly created by a nutritionist to be as healthy as possible and is made with whole grains. They even have a page containing nutritional info if you’d like to take a peek. I would go for lunch and have a greeny pack, which can get you a mini-pizza (not so mini, i assure you), a soup or salad and a dessert for only 13,90. A very good deal for downtown Paris.Oh, and they have adorable mascots: http://www.greenpizz.com/

Sol Semilla: 23 rue des vinaigriers, enseigne Bar des Artisans dans le 10ème à Paris. Also called, ‘Bar des Artisans’, this supermarket turned restaurant that opens at noon and closes at 8 each day save monday, boasts south american superfood influenced dishes (foods that are extremely high in nutritional as well as medicinal qualities) specializing in aztec inspired drinks, soups and desserts (read: spicy&sweet), salads containing exotic ingredients and daily platters that change each day, always containing vegetables, a salad, healthy grains and fruit, all spiced well and cooked to perfection. You can eat it all and leave full, happy, healthy and blessed. Not a bad deal.http://www.sol-semilla.fr/img/cms/PDF/Menu_SOL_Semilla_04_2012.pdf

Helmut Newcake: 36 rue bichat, This hip restaurant is most known for it’s bakery, which has some of Paris’s best pastries, cakes, tarts and even french classics such as the croissant – all gluten free! https://www.facebook.com/pages/helmut-newcake/255981944449043

Lune de Miel : 100, rue de Paris 94220 Charenton Le Pont. I haven’t been, but several tell me that this is the best lactose-free and kosher bakery in Paris! They specialize in both jewish and french specialties and boast very intriguing flavor combinations for their cakes, such as ‘chestnut-whiskey’ and ‘pistachio-creme brulee’ as well as classics such as the ‘opera’ cake and ‘mile-fuille’.

As you can see, there is something for everyone!

Zucchini noodles with easy marinara & goat cheese

PhotoThis has got to be one of the fastest and easiest lunches in existence.

Simply

1) peel an entire zucchini, either with a spiralizor or a hand peeler

2) cover it with tomato sauce, a little olive oil and as much goat cheese as you’d like (or cashew cheese) 

3) chop up some fresh basil to garnish, season  with salt and pepper & serve with either bread or crackers (here i used buckwheat thins). Easy peasy!

Easy marinara sauce (for 2 or 1 very hungry person) :

1/2 can crushed tomatoes

1 tbsp olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes

2 tsp honey

Galette complète

 

  Translated literally, “galette complète” means Savory Crepe with everything on it, and by everything, the French mean ham, Gruyere & an egg. In the region of Bretagne, where these beauties originated, savory crepes are almost always made with buckwheat flour, making them both gluten free and oh so crispy when done on a flat-top! The dough is easy to make and you can fill the galettes with whatever you want. Here i served mine with just a little mache, ( arugula’s sweeter and more delicate cousin ) topped with balsamic and olive oil. Delicious, healthy and simple. 

Ingredients:

250 grams buckwheat flour

2 eggs

500 ml Ice-cold water

40 g cooled melted butter or oil

How to:

  1. Beat all ingredients together in a small bowl, in no particular order and let rest for at least two hours (You can make them thin or thick, adding more or less liquid onto either a non-stick crepe pan, a flat-top or a traditional crepe stone). 
  2. Cook on high heat until bubbles start forming on the surface of the galettes. Add your toppings, fold the sides and flip!  Cook for another 30 seconds – 1 minute.
  3. Serve with a salad and a good glass of red wine.