I don’t know about you, but after a holiday weekend that included Thanksgiving with all the trimmings, Chinese food, New York pizza AND bagels, I’m ready for something a little lighter. Thankfully, Kristin Espinasse from the blog French Word-a-Day — and author of Blossoming in Provence — has come to the rescue with a simple Mediterranean meal of oven-roasted fish and potatoes.
Like so many among her legions of fans, I first discovered Kristin’s blog while daydreaming about France. At the time I lived in smog-choked Beijing where, every afternoon, I would stare out my office window and gaze at a grey sky tinged green. The sunshine and blue skies and lavender fields of Provence seemed very far away, but Kristin’s blog took me there, if only for a moment. Her stories — laced with French words — made me feel like I could speak French, even though, at the time, I couldn’t. In that smoky, open-plan office, I never imagined that I would one day live in France, or that Kristin and I would become friends. But fast forward five years and there we were on the terrasse of her Côte du Rhône farmhouse, forks and knives poised above a beautiful plate of fresh fish, both us chatting in French with Kristin’s lovely mother-in-law.
I’m so thrilled to welcome Kristin today, to learn more about her new home — a spectacular seaside region, near Cassis — to reveal her tips for cooking for her winemaker husband, Jean-Marc, and two teenage kids, and — bien sûr — to share a few photos of everyone’s favorite Golden Retrievers, Smokey and Braise!
On a regular old Tuesday night “chez les Espi”:
Tuesday is the night to manger en famille or eat together as a family. We’ll sit down at 8:30, even if, more and more, I am trying to sell my family on American dining hours (6pm would be great, but the reality is the kids are returning from school and grabbing a quick goûter, or snack, before heading to their rooms to study — or to pretend to be studying…)
On saving time in the kitchen:
When making the ubiquitous dinner salad (the French enjoy mono salads à la lettuce leaf only), make the vinegar and oil dressing directly in the salad bowl. No need to wash an extra bowl.
On what she eats when she doesn’t feel like cooking:
On “those” nights, I might declare a chacun pour soi! — each to his own! — arrangement. The kids (Jackie is 15 and Max, 17) enjoy foraging through the fridge and cupboards for whatever strikes their fancy: charcuterie, cheese, some bread and, with any luck, fruit! The risk is when they (or we…) opt for a bowl of cereal — though these days I’ve banned Chocopops!
On her favorite pantry (and fridge) staples:
–Instant couscous (ready in a minute–everyone loves it).
–Green beans (makes for a nutritious omelet).
–Angel-hair pasta and Roquefort (my husband whips up a delicious spaghetti Roquefort in minutes (one package Roquefort + one small carton of cream (a small tub of sour cream works just as well). Melt the Roquefort over low heat, along with the cream. Add pepper to taste. And, Jean-Marc says, accompany with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
–Canned lentils (I buy the kind cooked with carrots and onions. Salmon and lentils are such a delicious combination!).
On her favorite fast recipe:
Living near Bandol, on the Mediterranean sea, we are fortunate to have daurade, or sea bream. It is my favorite meal that my mother-in-law makes — I especially love how the lemon slices — layered through the dish — are caramelized. Is this possible? Isn’t that something onions do? The following daurade recipe is relatively fast and easy — and always made au pif (without precise weights and measurements)… so here goes!
From Kristin Espinasse
Note from Ann: I have to admit that a busy holiday weekend meant I didn’t have the chance to test this recipe like I usually do. But I have eaten Kristi’s roasted fish and can vouch for its delicious and beautiful simplicity — it’s especially good with a gleaming thread of grass-green extra virgin olive oil drizzled on top. Jean-Marc suggests pouring a fresh Cassis white along side it.
Slice up a few potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and lemons (leave the skin on). Layer this in an oiled casserole dish. Add salt, pepper, herbes de Provence and olive oil to taste. Next, rinse the fish and pat it dry. Add olive oil, salt and more of the herbes. Set the daurade on top of the potato layers. Bake in a preheated oven (around 355-360 degrees Fahrenheit/ 180 degrees Celsius) for 30 minutes (or until the potatoes are soft). You might need to start cooking the potatoes first and add the fish later, to avoid over-cooking it. Don’t be afraid to cook fish! Just open the oven after 20 or so minutes and poke your fork or knife in the side. If the skin comes away easily from the bone, it’s ready!
Note from Kristin: I buy the daurade on sale and freeze it. It is just as delicious as the day’s catch! Also, you can stuff the inside of the fish with sliced onion, lemon, bell peppers, and/or fennel. My mother-in-law loves to use fennel, which she collects from the fields while out for a walk. The tall wild flowers are beautiful to see. Bon appetit!
The Golden mother-son duo, Smokey and Braise, hope you like this dish!
(Center photos from Kristin Espinasse.)