Saturday, March 25, 2017

Learn to Cook at Cuisine de Provence

We have just returned from a wonderful time in Sablet. Windsor neighbors Ed and Gwen and Bob and Darlene traveled with us. We were on the go every day but spent most evenings at home. We took day trips, hiked through villages, visited with French family, shopped the markets, caught up with friends and ate a lot of great food accompanied by excellent wines and of course took lots of pictures.

We were very pleased some years back when a fellow blogger invited us for aperitifs at the beautiful home she shares with her husband Robert in nearby Vaison-la-Romaine. I met Barbara Schurenberg through her wonderful Cuisine de Provence blog where she wrote about food and life in Provence. While she is no longer writing new posts, you can still read all of the posts she wrote over the 5 plus years she maintained the blog.

Barbara is a contemporary art critic turned chef/cooking instructor at the Cuisine de Provence cooking school she runs out of her home. While quite a few of our guests have taken classes and she is recommended in Rick Steves' guide to "Provence and the French Riviera" I had never taken a class myself.

While Barbara doesn't normally offer classes during February and March, I emailed her to see if she would be willing to do a class for my friends and me. She said absolutely yes, but that it would have to be limited to 3 people since it was still cold, we couldn't work outside and her kitchen can only accommodate she and 3 students.

After chatting with our friends during our planning get together for our trip to Sablet, we decided that Ed, Darlene and I, the true foodies of the group, would take the class and Shirley would lead Gwen and Bob on a hike from Gigondas to the top of the Dentelles de Montmirail.

Shirley dropped us off at 9:30 and headed off to Gigondas. The foodies walked up to the house where we were greeted by Barbara and Robert. After chatting a few minutes, Barbara presented each of us with a personalized Cuisine de Provence apron and packet of six recipes we were going to be cooking that day.

Cuisine de Provence's Barbara Schurenberg

We were each assigned various tasks to perform as Barbara guided us through the menu of dishes we were going to prepare that day.

Our instructor Barbara Schuerenberg and students Darlene Brown and Ed Kinney

We started with the tapenade since it was going to be used in a second recipe. Tapenade is a Provençal dish consisting of puréed or finely chopped olives, anchovies, olive oil and other ingredients. It is a popular dish in Provence, where it is generally eaten as an hors d'œuvre spread on bread, but it is also used as a component for other dishes. Barbara's recipe includes black and green olives and sun dried tomatoes.


The next recipe we tackled was Mini Onion Tarte Tatins. Tarte Tatin is an upside-down tart, historically made with butter, sugar, apples and a pastry crust — but it doesn’t have to be. Creative cooks like Barbara have found interesting ways to reinvent the classic French dish with vegetables instead of fruit, making what was once a sweet treat a savory indulgence such as the onion Tarte Tatins we were making that day.

Mini Onion Tarte Tatins

The Tomato Puff recipe consisted of slightly caramelized cherry tomatoes, puff pastry and the tapenade we had made earlier. I was assigned responsibility for assembling the Tomato Puffs. Barbara warned us that you have to really indent the puff pastry or the tapenade will slide off when the puff pastry rises during baking. I didn't indent the puff pastry enough for the tapenade and sure enough some slid off during baking.

Tomato Puffs

A Tian is an earthenware vessel of Provence used both for cooking and serving. It is also the name of the dish prepared in it and baked in an oven. The next dish that we made with Barbara was a Lamb Tian. Her recipe included sliced onions, herbs de Provence, diced zucchini, cubed lamb, and tomato sauce mixed together and topped with slices of fresh tomato in the Tian, which is baked in the oven. It smelled wonderful and tasted even better.

Lamb Tian

For dessert, Barbara taught us how to make a raspberry clafoutis. Clafoutis is a baked dessert of fruit, often cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. The clafoutis is dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm. The clafoutis comes from the Limousin region of France, and while black cherries are traditional, there are numerous variations using other fruits, including raspberries like Barbara's recipe.

Clafoutis aux Framboises

While dishes were finishing in the oven, Barbara invited us to sit in her beautiful parlor and enjoy some wine and the hors d'oeuvres we had made together under her guidance. After nibbling on the Mini Onion Tarte Tatins and Tomato Puffs between sips of white wine, we moved to the dining room.

Students enjoying l'apero in Barbara's beautiful home

There we found a long table set with a bowl of the bright yellow Velouté de Butternut soup we had made at the beginning of our class. The term velouté is from the French adjective form of velour, meaning velvet, which is how the soup felt in the mouth and can also refer to one of the five sauces of French cuisine that were designated the "mother sauces" by Auguste Escoffier in the 19th century. Barbara's recipe included a roasted head of garlic.

Beautifully set table with bowls of Velouté de Butternut

By the time we finished our delicious meal and petit cafes, it was 2:00 and the door bell rang signaling that Shirley and the other hikers were back to pick us up. The class with Barbara was a thoroughly delightful and delicious experience and I understand why our guests give her rave reviews.

The "foodies" are planning to replicate this meal for the Vanessa Court neighbors who were not along with us for our trip to Provence. It won't be the same without our gracious instructor and hostess but I am sure the food will be delicious.

If you like to cook and are interested in learning how to make some traditional Provencal dishes, reserve a cooking date at Cuisine de Provence. I am sure that during the summer when she has access to her kitchen garden and the class can move outdoors, it is even more special.

Thank you Barbara for making time for us to come and cook with you. It was a very special experience. If you want to schedule a class, here is her contact information:

Barbara Schurenberg
Tel: 011 33 4 90 35 68 43