Miss Maggie’s French country fare

Childhood stays in France left an indelible mark on Héloïse Brion, who turned her back on fashion to concentrate on food adventures. Here she reveals her journey and chooses three favourite recipes.

1 April 2020
By Connexion journalist

I grew up between two countries: the United States and France.

Throughout each school year in Florida, life followed the rhythm of regular holidays and celebrations like Thanksgiving, Easter, and birthdays.

For these festive events, my mother and I would decorate our home with care to fit the occasion.

During my summer vacations in France, the rhythm shifted, and daily family meals in the French tradition set the pace of each passing day.

In our family’s old mountain farmhouse tucked away in the Pyrenees, spontaneity was the norm.

Between friends passing through, neighbours from nearby villages dropping by, and lost hikers, it was not unusual to find twenty of us gathered around the table. Every meal was a party!

With no electricity, we cooked over a wood-burning fire, and everyone took part in preparing the meals.

We would source our ingredients locally, like the best peaches and tomatoes from a local farmer friend and goat cheese from a farmhouse on the mountain opposite our home.

Memories from these summer days are deeply etched in my mind – the fragrant bread, peach-apricot jam bubbling away over the flames, honey from my great-grandfather’s hives, old hand-embroidered table linens, candlelight, crackling fires, and all the dishes we made together, with their indelible aromas and flavours.

In 2015, when I was pregnant with my second son, my husband and I fell in love with an old hunting lodge in Normandy with a distinctly British look.

We purchased the lodge and christened it “Miss Maggie.”

I had always loved cooking and having people over, but this house was a real turning point for me, and a true source of inspiration.

In the fall of 2016 – the year I turned forty and after fifteen years in the fashion industry – I sensed the need for a change. I wanted to expand my horizons and feel more fulfilled.

So Christophe, my husband, encouraged me to self-publish a recipe journal for family and friends, who often asked me to share my culinary secrets.

I published the first issue in December 2016 as a holiday gift, with the title “Miss Maggie’s Kitchen” printed on the cover.

Following the success of this first issue, a second – still printed in limited quantities – was published in March, for family and friends but also for a few other people who had heard about it.

Requests just kept growing, and so I decided to dedicate myself more fully to Miss Maggie’s Kitchen, launching the company and website on – coincidentally – July 4, 2017.

The name has stuck, and this serendipitous project that combines all of my passions has become my main pursuit.

Since this shift, I have cherished sharing and exchanging recipes and ideas with people around the world. In this time, I have also realised that many women (I mostly hear from women) feel insecure in the kitchen. They want to cook for themselves and others but lack the self-confidence to do so.

With this book, I hope to help readers overcome their doubts with highly doable recipes and table settings – it’s all a question of pairing! As I am a self-taught cook myself, I want to take readers by the hand and show them that everything in this book is achievable.

The most important thing is to cook with intention.

According to a popular saying, “cooking is love made visible.” More than just making a meal to feed our bodies, cooking is an act of love performed for our family, friends, and guests, and this shines through in the food we serve.

Miss Maggie’s Kitchen by Héloïse brion, will be published by Flammarion in April 2020. Photography by Christophe Roué

I do not have any set rituals or rules for the time I spend in the kitchen – it all depends on the circumstances.Sometimes I cook in silence, other times to music, and I am just as happy cooking alone as with others. I can often be found dancing in my kitchen!

We must all discover what works best to brush away our fears and trust our instincts. I am certain there is a great cook within each of us. I also believe that recipes are made to be passed along, as they have been for generations, evolving in the hands of each cook. And cookbooks are made to be written in and stained with oil or spices. That’s cooking!

So I hope my recipes will evolve in your hands, with your own creative touch – feel free to swap out the ingredients listed for something you like better or happen to have on hand, depending on the season.

Hearing from readers is one of my greatest joys. I love knowing, for instance, that guests have loved a meal, or that a family travelling around the world on a boat has adapted my recipes according to the ingredients they have found in one country or another. The chain of sharing extends far and wide

Welcome to Miss Maggie’s Kitchen!

 

PORK TENDERLOINS WITH APPLES

Ingredients, serves 4-5

  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 600g)
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened apple juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 apples, skin on, cut into 1cm slices
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, snipped into small pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

1. Season the pork with salt and pepper.

2. In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, mustard, apple juice, and garlic to make a glaze.

3. Coat the pork with the glaze, set aside the rest.

4. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the pork tenderloin and cook until golden brown all over, turning it every 2–3 minutes.

5. Place the apple slices in the pan around the pork and lower the heat to medium. Cook for 10–15 minutes, until the apples are tender and browed, occasionally turning them over.

6. Pour the remaining glaze over the pork if necessary – the meat should be deeply caramelized.

7. Sprinkle with the thyme sprigs, season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

 

PEA AND ASPARAGUS SOUP

Ingredients, serves 4

  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced and rinsed
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 250g green peas
  • 2 bunches thin green asparagus
  • 150g ricotta
  • 1 piece preserved lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp toasted almonds, finely chopped
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

1. In a skillet over low heat, cook the onion and leek in a small amount of olive oil until soft.

2. Trim off the bottom ends of the asparagus and cut all but 6 of the stalks into 2 pieces. Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil; crumble in the bouillon cube and stir until dissolved. Add the asparagus and peas, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.

3. Set aside the whole asparagus stalks for garnish and place the remaining stalks in a blender with the peas and broth (start with less broth if you want a thicker soup). Add the onion and leek and process until smooth.

4. Blend in the ricotta and season with salt and pepper.

5. Just before serving, garnish the soup with the preserved lemon slices and toasted almonds. Cut the reserved asparagus stalks in half lengthwise and add as a final flourish. Serve hot or cold.

 

ROASTED CAMEMBERT

Ingredients, serves 4-5

  • 1 wheel Camembert in a wooden box, at room temperature
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • A few sprigs fresh rosemary with flowers
  • Honey
  • 30-40g toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • White truffle oil
  • Toasted bread, for serving

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C/Gas Mark 3). Take the Camembert out of its wooden box and remove the wrapper. Nestle the base of the box into the top, line with a piece of parchment paper, and set the cheese within. Using a knife, score the cheese here and there. 

2. Tuck a slice of garlic and a piece of rosemary sprig into each incision.

3.  Drizzle the cheese with honey and bake for 15 minutes, until the rind is lightly golden.

4.  Just before serving, sprinkle the hazelnuts and a few drops of truffle oil over the cheese. Serve warm with the toasted bread.

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