Monday, January 31, 2011

Places We Love: Les Fermes de Marie – Megève, France

Megève, France
 It’s WINTER, which means ski season in many parts of the world (like France), and apparently it’s been a great year for SNOW! So for all you snow bunnies out there, here’s a tip we thought we would pass on about one of our favorite hotels in France’s très chic ski resort, Megève: Les Fermes de Marie.
Les Fermes de Marie
 Les Fermes de Maries is a cozy Savoyard chalet-style hotel and spa, nestled in the heart of France’s most exclusive ski resort in the French Alps. This virtual “village” is made up of 9 individual but interconnected chalets, century old alpine farmlands, 2 restaurants and an award-winning spa.
A chalet at les Fermes de Marie

Jocelyne and Jean-Louis Sibuet had a vision when they started refurbishing a traditional farmhouse over 20 years ago to create this enchanting, intimate, beautifully decorated and comfortable refuge for skiers and summer vacationers alike.

Guest bedroom at Les Fermes de Marie

It’s been years since our last visit, but friends and family have assured us that Les Fermes de Marie has lost nothing of its original style – if anything, its gotten better (the spa was not finished when we were there). Guests feel instantly at home, with an elegant bar, a library, cozy fireplace lounges and several inviting little nooks perfect for curling up with a book, gardens and two gastronomic restaurants. 

Fireplace Lounge at Les Fermes de Marie

The 71 luxuriously appointed and spacious rooms are decorated with charm, natural woods, old wooden beams, accented with antiques, carefully selected textiles… all tastefully done with a “French Touch”. You really do feel like you are at home, in a French chalet.

The world–famous spa, with a heated pool and 17 treatment rooms, offers custom treatments using the house line of skin care products – “Pure Altitude” – composed of local plants such as Edelweiss and Arnica.

Treatment Room at the Les Fermes de Marie Spa

And if that weren’t enough, they even have two “Chalets” that sleep 10, for family gatherings or other special occasions. Les Chalets des Fermes feature their own private spa as well.
Megève, France

Les Fermes is 5 minutes away from the center of lively Megève, which is full of bars and restaurants (3 of which are Michelin star rated) and of course, plenty of shopping for the swish clientele this town attracts. It is definitely a mountain vacation destination – winter or summer – offering a magnificent setting for sport, relaxation, fresh air and total indulgence in the art of fine living.

In the village of Megève
Bon voyage!
Les Fermes de Marie
Chemin de Riante Colline
74120 Megève
Tel: 33(0)4 50 93 03 10
Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 11:25:00 PM
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CUISINE: Cassoulet

All this cold weather has us thinking about comfort foods, and one in particular – one of our all-time French winter favorites: Cassoulet – a fabulously rich dish de terroir that is chock full of things we love, like duck confit, sausage and, of course, lots of carbs.

Cassoulet is legendary, its origins dating back to the 14th century siege of Castelnaudary in southwestern France during the Hundred Years’ War. Surrounded by enemies and impending defeat, the soldiers inside the city walls pulled together their last remaining rations to create a communal dish filling enough to outdo their invaders. The battle, sadly, was lost, but this newfound dish, Cassoulet, went on to become a quintessential ingredient to the Occitan identity and its cuisine. Indeed, perhaps no classic French dish has fared as well, attained such iconic status and attracted such passionate connoisseurs as this simple casserole of beans, meat and herbs.

The Languedoc-Roussillon region of France has since become synonymous with its reputable cuisine de terroir (cassoulet, duck confit, and foie gras, just to name a few); and several cities in the area claim to offer the best cassoulet or to be in possession of the “one true” recipe.

So if you find yourself in the region looking for an authentic dish of cassoulet, I guess it is safe to say that Toulouse, Castelnaudary and Carcassonne are three very good places to start. Le Festin Occitan, by Chef Prosper Montagne, describes these 3 cities as the “Gastronomic Holy Trinity”. According to Montagne, “Cassoulet is the God of Occitan Cuisine, A God in three persons: God the father is that of Castelnaudary, God the Son that of Carcassonne, and the Holy Spirit that of Toulouse.”

Carcassonne, France

I tasted my first “true” cassoulet in Carcassonne, and I will never forget it! It was a blisteringly cold day in January, the ground still hard from a recently melted layer of snow, newly frozen by a drop in temperatures. Our friends and us walked through the Ville Basse and then all around the ramparts of the medieval Cite de Carcassonne working up quite an appetite just trying to stay warm, our fingers and noses numb. Suddenly we found ourselves in front of a medieval looking restaurant that surely had been there for centuries. We caught site of a fire blazing in the chimney inside and hesitated no further.

Goose Rillettes

It took a good 45 minutes to get our lovely lunches, but we warmed our souls while we waited with a bottle Chateauneuf du Pape and goose rillettes they brought before us – delicious! The cassoulets came out, individually, beautifully bubbling in their earthenware dishes straight out of the oven. We took our time (you have to its so hot) and savored every morsel. By the time we left, we were so warm and satisfied, we didn’t’ even notice it had started snowing again.

Duck Confit

So here’s a recipe from Patricia Wells, if you’re in the mood for something rich and comforting on these cold winter nights. Bon Appetit!

Madame Mouriere’s Cassoulet

4-5 legs of duck confit
2 pounds dried white beans (Great Northern are excellent)
1 pound fresh pork rind or bacon, cubed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup goose fat (see note) or butter
2 1/2 pounds fresh all-pork garlic sausage (Polish or German sausage is fine)
1 pound medium-sized onions (about 4) thin sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 1-pound-10 3/4-ounce cans imported plum tomatoes, undrained
2 cups fresh bread crumbs, blended with
2 cloves finely minced garlic


1. The day before the cassoulet will be served prepare the beans. Rinse them well and pick them over to eliminate tiny stones. Put them in a Dutch oven or large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, cover and remove from the heat. Allow to sit 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in another large saucepan cover the fresh pork rind or bacon with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer for several minutes, rinse, drain and set aside. This is done to remove the salt, which would have a toughening effect on the beans.

3. By this time the beans should have swollen. Discard the liquid (to help make the beans more digestible), rinse the beans and cover them again with cold water. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and drained pork rind or bacon and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil vigorously for about 45 minutes to one hour, or until the beans are quite well-cooked but still a bit firm. Add the carrots and additional boiling water if necessary and cook an additional 15 minutes, or just until the carrots are cooked. The mixture should not be too dry. Remove from the heat, stir in a tablespoon salt and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

4. In a very large frying pan melt three tablespoons goose fat (or butter). Add the sausages all in a single coil, if you can, and cook them over medium heat for about 12 minutes on one side, about 6 minutes on the other side. (Remember which side was cooked for the shorter time. When the cassoulet is assembled, you will place the sausage with the less cooked side down, so the remaining fat will soak into the bean mixture.) You need not prick the sausage. Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside.

5. In the same saucepan, add an additional three tablespoons goose fat (if necessary) to cook the confit. Let it come to room temperature to soften the fat and remove all of the confit pieces, wiping off the fat as you remove them. Now saute the pieces of confit over medium-high heat until the skin is very crisp and turns a rich, deep brown. Baste off the fat as necessary. The duck should cook about five to 10 minutes on each side. Remove from the frying pan, drain and set aside.

6. Remove the bean mixture from the refrigerator to bring to room temperature.

7. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

8. In the same frying pan, add two tablespoons goose fat (if necessary) and cook the onions over high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the liquid and a clove of garlic and cook until the mixture is fairly dry, or about 30 minutes. The mixture should be a rich, deep red. Combine the bean and carrot mixture with the tomato and onion mixture.

9. Remove the bones from the duck confit and cut the duck into large chunks without removing the skin.

10. Assemble the cassoulet in a large, earthenware casserole. An oval casserole measuring 12 by 17 by 3 inches deep is a perfect size for this recipe. Rub the inside of the casserole with one clove of garlic and discard the garlic. Layer in this order: a single layer of the bean mixture, using about a third of it. Cover this with the cutup pieces of duck. Add a second layer of the bean mixture. Add the sausages in one layer with less-cooked side down. Add the last layer of beans. Finally, add the bread-crumb mixture. Be sure there is at least half an inch of growing space between the bread crumbs and the rim of the casserole.

11. Place in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the crust is golden and firm. Serve immediately.

YIELD: 10 to 12 servings

Bon Appetit!
Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 09:31:00 PM
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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Bulgari – 125 years of Italian Magnificence

For the first time on display in Paris, at the legendary Grand Palais, “125 years of Italian Magnificence” looks back at the key moments in the history of the celebrated jeweler and the development of Bulgari design, from the opening of the first boutique on Rome’s Via Sistina in 1884 to the present day.
More than 500 precious items illustrate Bulgari’s path to becoming the world’s leading creator of precious, highly colorful jewelry. Divided chronologically into periods, the retrospective begins with designs using silver and diamonds from the first part of the 20th century, Art Deco designs of the 40’s and 50’s and the creative turn taken in the 60’s with the emergence of a new style combining precious stones with rarely used original materials.

Bulgari necklace
Bulgari bracelet

Bulgari ring

 Bulgari’s designs were often inspired by ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian jewelry designs. For instance, the serpent motif was successfully reintroduced in the 20th century by way of a wristwatch.

Bulgari wristwatch worn by Elizabeth Taylor in 1962.

Elizabeth Taylor was a devoted fan of Bulgari in the 60s. She wore nothing but Bulgari and would not take her jewelry off while filming, thereby forever immortalizing the Bulgari serpent bracelet/wristwatch  she wore while filming “Cleopatra” in 1962. Her entire collection is on display in this exhibit, including a gorgeous emerald and diamond necklace given to her by Richard Burton.

BULGARI: 125 Year of Italian Magnificence
Exhibit runs through January 12, 2011
Grand Palais
1 Avenue Géneral Eisenhower

75008 Paris, France
01 44 13 17 17

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 11:01:00 PM
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