Pappardelle With Braised Pork Ragù

Pappardelle With Braised Pork Ragù is very much like a pasta dish you will find in Italy. If you have traveled to Tuscany, more than likely you had pappardelle al cinghiale, a wide pasta served with a rich sauce of wild boar, tomatoes and red wine. While you will find this much loved dish served all year in Tuscany and some other regions of Italy at both local trattorias and fine dining establishments, it is most popular during the fall hunting season and into the winter.

Braised Pork Ragù With Pappardelle Pasta

Since I don’t had access to wild boar in our small seaside town in Florida, although it can be ordered online from suppliers such as D’Artagnan, I made my version of this classic Tuscan recipe with pork shoulder which is also known as pork butt or Boston butt depending on where you live.

The best way to cook either wild boar or the pork shoulder is by slowly braising the meat in wine and stock in the oven or on the stove top until it is tender. It can also be prepared in a slow cooker and I’ve given directions for it as well.

Pappardelle With Braised Pork Ragù

Serves 6 to 8, generously

  • 1 boneless pork shoulder also known as pork butt or Boston butt, fat trimmed if necessary (approx. 3 – 4 lb.)
  • 1/2 tsp. each of salt, freshly ground black pepper, onion powder and garlic powder
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c. red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 2 c. beef or chicken stock, or as needed
  • 1 large can whole Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
  • 4 oz. of dried pappardelle per person, cooked according to package directions
  • Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, optional
  • Fresh chopped parsley or basil, optional for a garnish

Heat the oil in a large heavy bottom Dutch oven or oven proof pot over medium high heat. Season the meat with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder, add to the pot and brown on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic and cook a minute more. Add the wine, scrape the bottom to loosen the browned bits and let cook until reduced by half. Add the herbs, stock and tomatoes. Add the meat back to the pot, it should be immersed in the braising liquid, if not add a little more stock or water, if necessary. Lower the heat, cover the pot and cook at a gentle simmer for about three and a half to four hours, stirring now and then. If the sauce is gets dry, add a little stock or water. If the sauce is a little too thin, crack the lid a little for the last 30 minutes of cooking. The meat is done when it is fork tender.

Remove the meat from the sauce and let cool enough to handle. Pull the pork apart with a fork, discarding any fat. Skim any accumulated fat from the sauce, remove the bay leaf and sprigs of herbs and return the pork to the sauce and reheat.

When ready to serve your meal, cook the pasta according to directions on the box. When done, save about a cup of the water and drain the pasta and then return it to the pot. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss carefully. If it seems too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water. Serve, topped with cheese and parsley or basil, if desired.  Any additional sauce can be served on the side.

Optional Slow Cooker Instructions: Place onions and garlic in the bottom of a slow cooker. Season the pork with the spices. Heat oil in a sauté pan and sear the pork on all sides.  Place pork on the bed of onions in the slow cooker. Deglaze the sauté pan with the wine, pour over the pork, then add the remaining ingredients. Cover with lid and start the slow cooker. It will probably take 6 hours on high or 8 hours on low, depending on your slow cooker and the size of the pork. When done, it should be tender enough to pull apart with a fork.

Recipe Notes:

  • The meat sauce can be braised on the stove top, in the oven at 350 degrees or in a slow cooker. The time will vary on the method used but you will know the meat is done when you can pull it apart with a fork.
  • The sauce can be prepared with white wine, if you prefer.
  • If you have access to wild boar, use it in place of the pork. If so, the cooking time may be longer.
  • If you would like, additional seasonings such as oregano, basil, and sage can be added as well as chopped carrots or celery.
  • The meat sauce can be prepared a couple of days in advance and refrigerated.
  • The dish can also be made with beef, lamb or venison. Adjust times as necessary.
  • The pork can also be served with another thick pasta, polenta or even mashed potatoes.

Pappardelle With Braised Pork Ragù

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This classic Tuscan pasta dish is perfect anytime of the year but it is especially good in the fall and winter. Like most meats that are braised, the longer this dish is simmered, the better the flavor. This is one of those recipes that seems to get better after it sits so it is perfect for when you want to cook a meal for friends. The braised pork ragù can be made a day or two in advance, refrigerated then reheated right before you cook the pasta for your guests…perfect no hassle entertaining.

 

 

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Happy New Year

HAPPNEYEAR

Firework Celebration

 

Let’s celebrate

With midnight fireworks and Champagne toasts

Here is to you my friends, both far and near

Have a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year

****

All the best, Karen

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My Christmas Wish

Warmest Christmas Wishes

May I extend my warmest wishes

for a Christmas Day filled with

the love of family

and the company of good friends

May the joy of Christmas 

be with you and yours

and may it be filled with happiness and peace

With warmest wishes, Karen

 

 

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Jerez de la Frontera, The Home Of Sherry

Jerez de la Frontera, is the home of sherry. An unplanned visit to Jerez, only a 30 minute drive from Cádiz, in the Andalusia region of Spain was a pleasant discovery. It is well known for its Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian riding and its dancing horses which is second only to the world famous riding school in Vienna. It also has a long tradition of flamenco dancing but it is mostly known as being the sherry capital of the world. While it is not my favorite apéritif, I am a big fan of Jerez sherry vinegar, Spain’s most famous vinegar, so that is how a last minute decision was made to visit Jerez.

Ciecos Street Jerez de la Frontera

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Now tell me, would you visit a city because you happen to like the vinegar that is produced there? Well I’m very happy I did as the city is everything you think a Spanish city should be. Wander the narrow cobblestone streets of the old quarter and you can’t help but fall in love with Jerez. The city is known for its wonderful architecture of whitewashed buildings with wrought iron balconies filled with pots of jasmine and geraniums, baroque churches, quaint shops, restaurants and sherry bars.

Jerez’s 12th century Alcazar, a Moorish fortress, is the oldest structure in the city. The Moors held Jerez for almost 400 years until Alfonso of Castile retook it in 1264.

Across from the Alcazar and seen from many parts of the city, the splendid Cathedral of San Salvador was built between the 16th and 18th centuries above a former mosque. 

Beyond the fortress walls and the cathedral, large squares and pedestrian streets are lined with palms and orange trees. Plaza del Arenal is the heart of the city, the town meeting place since the time of the Moors.

At the convergence of several large streets there is a building where a restaurant called  El Gallo Azul has been for many years. The almost circular building is one of the most photographed and has become an unmistakable landmark in Jerez de la Frontera. From there  you can walk down Calle Larga which is the main shopping promenade.

Just north is Plaza Esteve, where the colorful food market, Mercado de Abastos, is located. It is an impressive building of stone with stained glass windows and wrought iron gates and is the oldest market in Jerez.

Inside there are over a hundred stalls that sell local produce, bread, meat and some of the best fresh seafood I’ve ever seen. From what I observed, locals seem to have their favorite stalls where they make their purchases for the freshest ingredients.

While on our tour of Jerez de la Frontera, we visited González Byass. Located in the very center of town, it is devoted to the making and selling of sherry.  It was founded in 1835 and is the most visited of the city’s 36 bodegas or what we would refer to as aging rooms.

In 1862, for a visit by Queen Isabel II, the company built a new bodega called La Concha that was designed by engineer Gustav Eiffel. On our tour though several of the aging  bodegas, we saw barrels of wine that had been signed by countless celebrities and world figures from around the world. On one bodega, there are 12 casks that hold 6,000 liters and one that holds 16,500 liters. 

You may be familiar with their brand of fino sherry called Tío Pepe. Its famous logo is a wine bottle dressed in a red Andalusian hat, matching bolero and guitar. Not only does the company produce sherry, they also produce sherry vinegar. It has a tawny flavor that is more complex than apple cider vinegar, more rounded than red wine vinegar and not as sweet as balsamic vinegar. I can say I am happy to have visited the town where my favorite vinegar is made.

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Jerez de la Frontera was not one of the cities my husband and I had planned to visit on our recent tour of Spain. We were originally going to tour the beautiful city of Seville but because of record heat we made last minute plans to visit Jerez de la Frontera. We are so glad that we visited this lovely Spanish city. Even if you are not a fan of sherry, I encourage you to visit Jerez if you get a chance. It is a charming city filled with a rich history and influences of different cultures. Hopefully we will get a chance to visit Seville in the future. If so, we would probably make a day trip back to Jerez as it is just a short hour’s drive away.

 

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Portugal, A Top Travel Destination

Portugal, with its two biggest cities of Lisbon and Porto, its colorful old villages and quaint seaside towns along the dramatic coastline, all make the country a top travel destination. Add that it is one of the most affordable countries in Western Europe and Portugal tempts travelers to put the country on their travel “bucket list”.

Stand in one of the central squares in Lisbon, walk along the riverside promenade in Porto, climb the steep cobbled streets up to an ancient church, a romantic palace or the ruins of a Moorish fortress in one of the small towns and you will find that the varied architectural styles reveal the history and culture of this fascinating country.

Douro River, Porto, Portugal

Porto is a hilly town which is divided by the Douro River and has a feel of two different cities. In the modern city center, Liberty Square with beautiful architecture and monuments, restaurants and hotels connects the newer part to the old town with its slopping, cobbled streets lined with blue tile covered buildings. Porto, known for its fortified port wine, has many of its famous port houses lined up along its riverfront. There are lots of bars and restaurants, many with outside patios, where you can enjoy a glass of port wine and try some of the city’s traditional foods. During our visit, we toured the Sandeman’s cellar to learn about and taste their fine ruby and tawny ports.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and was the starting point for dozens of voyages around the world. There was a taxi strike when we visited Lisbon making travel difficult there. We didn’t walk through the city, but instead took a scenic bus trip before heading out to the hillside town Sintra and seaside town of Cascais.

My favorite spot that we visited during our time in Portugal was the fairytale town of Sintra which is only 15 miles outside the city of Lisbon. It is home to many wonderful villas, castles and palaces. On top of a peak in the Sintra hills is the most famous and colorful palace that you can imagine, the Pena Palace which is a destination in itself.

If you had to describe Portugal in one word, I would probably say “colorful” as there is an explosion of colors everywhere you look. There are beautiful ornate churches, brightly painted houses, entire buildings covered with intricate hand painted blue and white Portuguese (azulejos) tile, and town squares and sidewalks paved in patterns of black and white stones, which are art in themselves.

Outside of the towns and villages, the natural beauty of Portugal’s rugged coastline is a big draw. The stunning landscape at Cabo de Roca lighthouse offers some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the country. Perched on a high bluff at the edge of the windswept Atlantic, it is the most western point of mainland Europe. Looking out to sea where the ocean and sky meet, you can easily understand why it was once thought to be the edge of the world.

Not all is perfect with Portugal, there is a faded grandeur that is slowly disappearing as  many beautiful buildings have been left to ruin. Explore the hilly back streets and you see reminders of the economic downturn from previous years. Historic ruins are coated in lichen and overgrown with vines. Graffiti decorates the walls of once grand buildings and shops. Dilapidated houses with broken windows have been abandoned and slowly crumble from neglect and time. This is because of Portugal’s strict preservation laws that prevent property owners from altering or destroying the fronts of historic buildings. Many poor property owners have no choice but to let them slowly crumble.

While people have moved out of some of these historic neighborhoods, others continue to live and work in these surroundings as seen by laundry hanging from balconies. Palms and olive trees still grow among the graffitied landscape. On a bright note, with more tourists visiting Portugal, buildings are slowly being bought and renovated and hopefully will bring life back to these once thriving ancient neighborhoods.

Historical Buildings In Sintra

The colorful world of Portugal seems to be a land of  wonderful contradictions. Dramatic coastlines and tranquil beaches, fairytale palaces rise above small villages. Large churches and monuments can be found in the smallest of towns. As a first time visitor to Portugal, I was pleasantly surprised that the charming cities and towns were not filled with crowds of tourists.

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After my brief two day introduction, I can see why Portugal has become a top tourist destination in Europe. I know I would love to return and explore more of the picturesque towns with their interesting architecture and the scenic countryside. It would be wonderful to visit the country’s famous vineyards and perhaps stay in one of the historic Portuguese pousadas in the Douro Valley.

 

 

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“The Ultimate Barbecue and Dance Party”

I’ve been to some nice backyard barbecues but I think I can now safely say that I attended “The Ultimate Barbecue and Dance Party”, while on a cruise no less. The  party was held on the beautiful pool deck of the Seven Seas Explorer while on a 12 night cruise along the coast of France, Portugal and Spain. We had been onboard for 6 days and knew the ship offered wonderful menus in all of its restaurants and thought that a barbecue on the pool deck would be nice but we were not expecting to be amazed.

Setting Up For The Grand Deck BBQ And Dance Party

My husband and I arrived a little early to have a cocktail at the pool bar, just as the finishing touches were being put into place. Colorful flags stretched above the deck, white table linens covered tables surrounding the pool and were laid with polished crystal and silver. Musicians were setting up their instruments and within hours after serving lunch, the crew had transformed the pool deck into a gorgeous outdoor restaurant.  As people slowly gathered to find a table, Champagne, wine and cocktails were being offered. This was the scene for a very nice barbecue, very nice indeed.

Click on any photo in the article to enlarge and see a slide show.

I decided to stroll over to the Pool Grill and see what was going to be offered. On one side there was a fresh seafood buffet with chilled Alaskan King Crab legs, shrimp and mussels piled high on ice. A chef was grilling lobster tails and shrimp kebabs. This alone let me know that it was going to be a special party, actually very special.

About this time my husband commented, “well if it was a really good barbecue, there would be a whole roasted pig”. Guess what, he was right. Just one thing though, there was not one but two whole roasted pigs just waiting to be pulled apart. Pulled pork, now we are talking about a real barbecue as far as this Texas girl is concerned.

Whole Roasted Pig At The BBQ

Of course that wasn’t all, there was more, much more. On the other side of the Pool Grill, cooked to order pasta and risotto was being prepared along with sautéed Mediterranean vegetables. In another area, there were sliced cured meats and over a dozen different, perfectly ripe, European cheeses, a large assortment of salads as well as fresh baked breads, cakes and pastries. Last but not least, there was an ice cream sundae bar with sauces and sprinkles.

I have to take my foodie hat off to Senior Executive Chef Sean Emsile and his entire galley team for pulling off “the ultimate barbecue”. The highly skilled and imaginative chefs not only prepared the freshest of ingredients, they were prepared to perfection and beautifully presented.

But wait, I did mention a dance party didn’t I. Yes, there was an orchestra and the ship’s production cast of singers and dancers, everything necessary to “Rock the Boat” as the dance party was being called.  As the sun went down, the outdoor lights came on, the music went from mellow to hot and it was time to party.

Rock The Boat Dance Party

While I never felt the Explorer rocking that night, I can guarantee you that there was a lot of swinging and rocking happening on the pool deck. A cool breeze and a starry  night sky was the “icing on the cake” so to speak.

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If  you are ever invited to a party on the pool deck of the Seven Seas Explorer, make sure you go. If it is anything like the one we experienced, I know you will have a great time and you will be saying the same thing. It was the “ultimate barbecue and dance party” that you ever had the pleasure to attend.

I thought that an evening barbecue outside on the pool deck would be nice event but was not expecting to be amazed with how nice it was. Have you ever gone to a barbecue and dance party that was memorable like this one? I’d love to hear about it.

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Spanish Basque Country

The Spanish Basque Country will delight any visitor. It is famous for its colorful fishing villages, sandy beaches and dramatic scenery along its coast as well as for cities such as Bilbao, with Frank Gehry’s striking architectural landmark, the Guggenheim Modern Art Museum. With its own flag, language and culture, the Basque Country has a different feel than the rest of Spain and should be put on your “must see” travel list.

The Colorful Fishing Village Of Bermeo

The rugged Basque coastline on the Bay of Biscay in Northeast Spain, with cliffs that plunge into the pounding surf, is dotted with traditional small villages as well as resort towns known for their spectacular beaches and some of the best surfing in Europe. During our cruise aboard the Seven Seas Explorer, we had an over night stay in the port city of Getxo, a lovely seaside town about 15 minutes from Bilbao, Spain. Over the course of a day and a half, we visited Bilbao and several other nearby towns in the Spanish Basque Country.

Click on any photo in the article to enlarge and see a slide show. 

Riding along the coast, our first stop was to see San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a small chapel perched on top of a tiny island. For the physically fit, you can reach the chapel by crossing a long stone footbridge and then climbing a couple hundred steep steps up the rocky island. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you might recognize it as “Dragonstone”.

Bermeo is one of the Basque Country’s most important fishing ports. The picturesque  old port has colorful narrow houses that overlook the boats in the harbor. Many are now bars where the locals stop for a drink and a pintxo (similar to tapas). In the main square, there is a pretty gazebo, the town hall and the Santa Maria Church. At the top of town, you find the Ercilla Tower which is now the Fisherman’s Museum.

The former capital of ancient Vizcaya, Gernika/Guernica was our next stop. Unfortunately it is best known for a tragic bombing event that destroyed a large portion of the town during the Spanish Civil War. Casa de Juntas, its assembly house, and an oak tree survived the bombing and are now symbols of Basque’s political history. The bombing was later immortalized by Pablo Picasso in one of his most famous paintings, the huge black and white mural called “Guernica”.  

Typical Basque Pintxos

After our tour, we visited 1000 Kolorau, a restaurant that specializes in fresh fish. We sat outside on the shaded terrace and enjoyed glasses of Txakoli de Vizcaya, the most popular white wine in the Basque region along with pintxos of grilled octopus, bread topped with potatoes, bacalao and jamón and delicious olive rolls stuffed with jamón. While tapas are common in other parts of Spain, pintxos, which are generally smaller, are traditional snacks in the Spanish Basque Country.

The following day we toured Bilbao. Our first stop was the Great Biscay Transporter Bridge built in 1893 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, the construction of which my husband found to be very interesting. It was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War but was rebuilt. It  carries people and cars, across the river in an open gondola that hangs  suspended from the bridge.

From there we drove up to Mount Artxanda, one of the two mountains within the city limits, that offers wonderful views of Bilbao from its park. There is a huge fingerprint sculpture called “Huella Dactilar” which honors the many victims that were killed during the Spanish Civil War.

Then it was on to the celebrated Guggenheim Modern Art Museum which is constructed of shimmering titanium, stone and glass. The museum is the most photographed structure in Bilbao. Outside the museum, the other popular spots for a photo is the enormous sculpture of “Puppy” which is covered in living flowers and  the giant spider “Maman”.

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Although the Spanish Basque Country is not visited as much as other regions of Spain, it should be. With spectacular scenery of lush green mountains, rolling countryside and pristine beaches, good wine and delicious food found at both small pintxos bars and world famous Michelin starred restaurants, there is something for everyone. We loved the Basque Country and would love to return for a longer visit. The resort town of San Sebastian is at the top of our list as we missed it on this trip to Spain due to a last minute port change and it is a favorite of visitors to this region.

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Simple French Dinner Party Cooking Class

You can’t keep a foodie out of the kitchen, even while on a cruise along the coast of France, Spain and Portugal. Who could resist participating in a cooking class, creating five classic French recipes that can be served at a simple French dinner party in your own home.

Simple French Dinner Party

After sailing out of the port of Bordeaux, France, my husband and I joined 16 other participants in the Culinary Arts Kitchen on the Seven Seas Explorer for a fun afternoon of cooking. We were greeted by Chef Kathryn Kelly and Chef Instructor Kellie and told to head to a cooking station and put on our aprons. Glasses of wine were poured and the fun began.

The ship’s state of the art kitchen is impressive with floor to ceiling windows looking out to the ocean, quartz countertops, and lots of stainless steel. The room has eighteen individual cooking stations built in three long curved rows. Each station has an induction cooktop, stainless steel sink, wooden knife block and pullout drawer full of necessary utensils. I’ve attended many cooking classes over the years, even given by Michelin starred chefs from France, and this wonderful kitchen is a real dream. Cutting boards and knifes were carefully laid out along with prepped ingredients just waiting for us to start cooking.

Before we started each course, we all gathered around Chef Kelly and her instructor to listen and watch how each dish should be prepared before we headed back to our own stations to cook the dish ourselves. As we were cooking, both chefs circulated among us, giving advice and making sure that we were doing everything properly. Their assistants made sure empty bowls were quickly carried away and our assembled dishes were taken to the ovens to bake. Wine glasses were refilled as we plated and then tasted our finished dishes before we started the next course.

Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly, Myself And Chef Instructor Kelli

The culinary classes are an hour and a half to two hours long and the time flew by. It was great fun, we learned some new cooking tips and were given the recipes so that we could prepare this simple French dinner in our own home for friends. I thought you might enjoy having one of Chef Kelly’s recipes…it is her Chicken Fines Herbes.

Fines herbes, an equal mixture of tarragon, chervil, parsley and chives, is a classic combination used in French cooking to enhance chicken, fish, veal, salads and egg dishes. Because they lose their flavor rather quickly, they should be added to a recipe like this at the last minute or used as a garnish for sauces, soups, sautés and seafood dishes.

Chicken Breast With Fines Herbes Sauce

Chicken Fines Herbes

Serves 6, adjust the recipe accordingly.

Preheat the over to 450 degrees.

  • 6 boneless chicken breast, skin on, room temperature
  • 6 Tbsp. clarified butter*
  • 1/4 c. minced shallots
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1/2 c. veal demi-glace
  • 1/4 c. minced fines herbes (tarragon, chervil, parsley and chives)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pat the chicken dry with paper towel. In a large sauté pan over high heat, warm 4 Tbsp. of the butter until searing hot. Add the chicken and sear, turning once, until both sides are golden brown. Transfer to the oven and cook to an internal temperature of 162 degrees. Remove from the oven and reserve warm.

In the same sauté pan over medium heat, melt the remaining 2 Tbsp. of butter and sweat the shallots until soft, about 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the wine and stir to deglaze the pan, allowing the alcohol to evaporate and the sauce to reduce to a syrupy consistency.

Decrease the heat to medium-low. Add the cream and warm through. Then add the demi-glace and warm through, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent simmering. Stir in half of the fines herbes. Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed.

Slice each chicken breast on the diagonal into 3 pieces and layer, shingle style, on a serving plate. Pour the sauce over the chicken and garnish with the remaining fines herbes.

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My tips for preparing this recipe:

  • Flatten the breast on the boned side, if necessary, so that it is an even thickness.
  • Thoroughly dry the room temperature chicken breasts on both sides with paper towels then season with the salt and pepper.
  • The recipe calls for clarified butter*. You can buy clarified butter or ghee in some markets, if not, you can make it yourself. It is the same as making drawn butter. Place a stick of butter in microwaveable dish and cover with plastic wrap. Cook until the butter melts and the white milk solids rise to the top and are present at the bottom, about 1 minute. Skim off the milk solids with a spoon and carefully pour the clarified liquid into a measuring cup or bowl, being careful not to mix the bottom milky solids into the clarified butter.
  • Once the chicken is in the pan, don’t try to turn the chicken for a full four or five minutes so that the skin gets golden brown.
  • Before putting the chicken in the oven to finish cooking, check with a meat  thermometer. Depending on the thickness of the breasts, the chicken may not need any addition time to cook, mine reached the proper temperature just from sautéing.

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I hope you will enjoy the Chicken Fines Herbes recipe as much as our class did. We enjoyed the dish so much that we have prepared the chicken and herb sauce at home. I agree with Chef Kelly when she wrote “When I think of elegant, I think of French…however, when I think of simple, I usually do NOT think of French.” With this recipe, she managed to do both, creating a simple dish that will impress your guests. Thank you, Chef!

 

 

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Bordeaux And Saint-Emilion, French Wine Country

If you are a wine lover, you can’t say “Bordeaux” and not think about some of the world’s finest wines like Margaux, Médoc, Pauillac, Sauternes and Saint-Emilion. The huge wine region has 62 different appellations and more than 7300 châteaux on both banks of the Garonne River in southwest France.

For now though, I’m not referring to the great wine or the largest wine region in France but to its capital, the City of Bordeaux, a UNESCO World Heritage City. With broad boulevards, beautiful 18th century  architecture and delightful squares lined with cafés and bars, the city will remind you of Paris but on a much smaller scale.

The City Of Bordeaux

Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne river and was a two day port of call during a  cruise aboard the Seven Seas Explorer. The ship, which only carries 750 passengers, was small enough to dock right at the quayside in the city center. With its historic buildings and gardens, it is probably one of the most beautiful waterfronts I’ve seen. All my husband and I had to do was step off the gangway and much of the city was within easy walking distance. Instead of browsing this vibrant and charming city on our own, we decided to take a guided tour of Bordeaux on one day and nearby Saint-Emilion and the surrounding wine country on the other day.

Bordeaux is a compact and very walkable city. Take a leisurely stroll along the riverfront quay where the wine trade started, through narrow streets and beautiful squares of historic Bordeaux and you will pass remnants of the old city such the Grosse Cloche or the Big Bell of Bordeaux. It used to be the gateway into the medieval city, an area now full of boutiques and cafés. In stark contrast to the old gate, the ultra modern Bordeaux law courts are a striking and unusual complex.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Nearby on the main square of Pey Berland is the Cathedral of Saint André. In the 15th century a separate bell tower was built next to the cathedral. You can climb to the top of the bell tower for a wonderful view of the city.

Opposite the cathedral is the Palais Rohan which was originally built for the bishop of Bordeaux, now it is the city hall.  Nearby is the Museum of Beaux Arts, one of the largest fine art galleries in France outside Paris.

Porte Dijeaux is a decorative gate into the heart of the old city that was built in 1748 on the spot where one of the Roman gates once stood. Not far away is the Place de la Comédie with the Grand Theater and the Grand Hotel. The theater, built in 1780, it is one of the older opera houses in Europe. The square itself is where the main streets of Bordeaux converge, including the busy shopping street Rue Sainte Catherine, the longest pedestrian shopping street in France.

La Place du Parlement, ringed with pretty buildings, cafés and a central fountain was once the seat of Bordeaux’s medieval government. The beautiful square was turned into an elegant market square in 1754 and today it is a lively place in the heart of the city with charming streets leading off in all directions.

The showcase of Bordeaux is Place de la Bourse. In front of it is the Miroir d’Eau, the Water Mirror, which is the world’s largest reflecting pool. Large slabs of blue granite are covered in water and reflect the 18th century Place de la Bourse. The shallow water is timed to slowly empty then becomes a fog before the reflection pool fills again. The Bourse and its reflection pool has now become the new symbol of this elegant city.

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Saint-Emilion

Only 30 minutes from the center of Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion is a charming medieval village located in the heart of the famous Bordeaux wine region. The hilltop village is surrounded  by vineyards growing right up to its village walls.

Looking Over The Rooftops Of Saint-Emilion

Since the 9th century, blocks of local stone were excavated for buildings in the village as well as for châteaux in the area and buildings in the surrounding region. The quarrying created underground humid, dark caves that were the perfect environment for wine storage. The village as well as the vineyards of Saint-Emilion are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With its 12th century ramparts, a maze of steep winding alleyways, charming storefronts, a 14th century cloister and views over terra cotta rooftops, this tiny village is so picturesque that it reminds you of an illustration from a child’s storybook. Wander through the streets and squares of the village and you will soon discover the Eglise Monolithe, the largest underground church in Europe which was carved out of solid limestone rock in the 11th century. Its separate bell tower rises high above everything else in the village.

There are four narrow and very steep cobblestone streets known as tertres  that connect the upper and lower parts of the village. While the tertres can be daunting, they are the way to get to many of the cafés, wine bars and other attractions in the village.

There are a number of shops in both the lower and upper part of the village that sell macaroons, a specialty from a 1600’s recipe from the nuns of the Les Ursulines order.

We had walked down one of the tertres earlier on our visit to see the underground church and ventured up an even steeper one while exploring. I can tell you that two of the tertres were enough for us. Even though there is an iron handrail down the middle of the cobblestone street for pedestrians to hold on to, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to walk up or down one of them on a rainy day. What we learned while walking the steep streets of Saint-Emilion is an appreciation of the life of local villagers. While it may be a harder life than many of us are used to, they are rewarded with many sweet pleasures.

Pretty Saint-Emilion

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Our visit to Bordeaux quickly came to an end and it was time to continue on our cruise. The ship had to leave at a specific time when the water level was low enough for the Explorer to pass under the Pont Chaban Delmas bridge, the largest lift bridge built in Europe. The 384 foot middle section is raised whenever tall ships need to pass safely underneath.

This southwestern region of France has lots to keep a visitor happy and Bordeaux is a city that I would definitely return to for a longer stay. I would use it as a base and venture out into the wine region on day trips. Historical towns, châteaux and wine tastings, yes that sounds like a lovely holiday.

 

 

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Dinan, A Delightful Medieval Town In Brittany

The quaint little town of Dinan is one of the best preserved medieval villages in Brittany, France and has a completely different atmosphere from other small towns in the area. It was the first town that my husband and I visited during our recent cruise along the coasts of France, Spain and Portugal and what a delightful treat is was.

Dinan, One Of The Prettiest Towns In Brittany

Our first port of call was in Saint-Malo, France and most of the people on the Seven Seas Explorer were going to visit Mont Saint-Michel. While Mont Saint-Michel is “a must see” if you are in the area, we had already visited on several of our previous trips to France. Instead, we decided to visit the historic hilltop town of Dinan, about 15 miles south of Saint-Malo. Dinan has been called one of the “prettiest towns in Brittany” so we couldn’t pass up a chance to visit it.

View Of Dinan’s Old River Port From The Ramparts

Dinan escaped bombing in WWII and is wonderfully preserved. It has a picture postcard old town that is still surrounded by most of its thick ramparts and has almost all of its defensive towers still standing.

The walled old town is a maze of very narrow, steep cobblestone streets lined with arcaded ancient stone and overhanging half-timbered buildings.

Half-Timbered Buildings In Dinan

Place des Merciers is where you can find some of the prettiest buildings. Many of them date back to the 15th century and have been wonderfully restored although some have such a lean to them that you wonder how they don’t topple over. Lots of the old structures are now boutiques, galleries, crêperies and restaurants…the town just oozes with charm.

Click on any photo in the article to enlarge and see a slide show.

The Tour de l’Horloge, an impressive 15th century clock tower, can be seen from many parts of the old town and offers wonderful views if you climb to the top.

Nearby the Maison de la Harpe, a 16th century half-timbered house, is now the headquarters of International Celtic Harp Committee.

Behind the St. Sauveur Basilica, which is in the center of town, there is a small English garden and nearby you will find St. Catherine’s Tower. You can get a wonderful view down to the River Rance and what used to be the old port from the tower and ramparts here.

View Of The Rance River With Old Stone Houses

The Rue du Jerzual is a steep, picturesque street that leads down the hill to the river and the little port. At the bottom, there is a 15th century stone bridge that crosses the water to the other side. The river front and the streets behind are lined with pretty stone houses, many of them waterside restaurants and it is also where you can find boats that offer cruises along the river.

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It had been many years since my husband and I had been in this area of France. Somehow during our travels to Brittany and Normandy, we never visited Dinan. I have a feeling it was because we couldn’t find parking nearby for the historic walled old town. I’m so happy that we got a chance to visit on this trip.

Brittany, with its own language, Celtic traditions, music and traditional foods, almost feels like visiting some other country instead of being in the most westerly region of France. If you get the opportunity to visit Brittany, I would encourage you to visit the medieval village of Dinan. Once a mighty walled citadel, now the charming town really is one of the prettiest in Brittany. Hopefully you will be lucky enough to visit on a sunny, warm day when there is one of the numerous traditional festivals being held. While there, take time to sample a few of their crêpes, both savory and sweet, along with  a glass of cider.

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