Blame it on Covid-Stir-Craziness, maybe. But back in…uh, March 2022 we drove across Germany to scope out some wines (some famous, some recommendations) and landscapes and stuff. It was a short trip — just a four day weekend — but we covered a fair amount of ground: from Regensburg to Zurich (just a pitstop to visit a pal), from there to Colmar (our home base), and back to Regensburg with a stop in Heidelberg (another pal to visit). Continue reading Oops, forgot we went to Alsace
Morbiflette (French Mountain Potato Gratin)
A couple of years ago, on a trip to France, we ended up poking around a Christmas market in Dijon. It was lunchtime and we were staring at a giant skillet (a poêle, linguistically related to paella) with potatoes and onions and bacon and cheese, all being stirred by strapping French country men. It was love at first sight. Chunks of Morbier cheese with its signature dark vein running through the center were on display, being tossed in as the cooks saw fit. We got a portion and split it. That was dumb; should’ve each gotten our own. After cross referencing multiple recipes, we FINALLY hit on a good reproduction.
The method is based on that of tartiflette, a potato dish developed in the 80s to promote Reblochon cheese. Reblochon is a much softer, brie-like cheese, as opposed Morbier, which you can slice. The firmer texture of Morbier is why I’ve upped the crème fraîche; runnier Reblochon made for a creamier finished product.
A note: you guys, it is SO EASY to mess up a gratin. Believe it or not, a pile of cheese and starch will be sad and bland if you don’t do the detail work. Think “eh, I don’t need to boil the potatoes, they’re going in the oven,” or “ew, I don’t want to cook the onions in bacon grease! I’ll use olive oil instead,” and you will ruin all your hard work. The potatoes need to be boiled in salted water or they’ll be gummy and bland. The onions need the bacon grease because of the smoky saltiness it imparts. The salt levels need to be checked and adjusted throughout the process to keep the flavors balanced. If you’re worried about this not being healthy, make something else. Cutting corners on this dish will render it inedible. A salad with a tart vinaigrette is the perfect accompaniment.
1 k or 2.2 lbs large waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into halves or thirds
2/3 t salt
200 g or 1/2 lb bacon
2 large onions, sliced into ribbons
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
100 mL or 1/2 c white wine (we forgot this, so we drank it with)
1/2 t dried thyme
75 g or 1/3 c crème fraîche
3 T heavy cream (forgot this too, but the texture would benefit)
300 g or 2/3 lb Morbier cheese, rind trimmed and sliced thickly (1/2 cm or 1/4 in)
In a large pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, add salt, stir and lower heat to a steady simmer. Cook potatoes for 15-20 minutes, or until easily pierced with a sharp knife. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool. Do not rinse potatoes!
Heat a large skillet to medium high and cook the bacon until browned and crispy. Set on paper-towel lined plate to cool. Turn heat down to medium and add onions to the skillet to cook in the bacon drippings (if there are a lot of drippings, remove all but 2 T and set aside to add in case pan starts to look dry). Cook until softened and starting to caramelize, stirring only occasionally. Add a pinch or two of salt if needed (onions shouldn’t taste salty, just very oniony) and chopped garlic for last 2-3 minutes of cooking. Remove onions to deep bowl.
Preheat oven to 220° C or 425° F. Lightly but thoroughly butter a medium to medium-large baking dish (several individual deep crocks would also be great for a crowd). Chop cooled bacon into bits and add to onions. Add thyme, crème fraîche and cream to onion mixture and stir until well distributed. Slice cooled potatoes into generous 1/2 cm or 1/4 in pieces.
Layer half of potatoes on bottom of buttered dish, using broken bits to fill in gaps. Top with half of onion mixture, spread evenly. Top onions with half of Morbier slices (try to leave small margin around sides of pan). Repeat sequence until all ingredients used up.
Put pan in oven and lower heat to 200° C or 400° F. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until top is browned and bubbly. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
Hôtel Aux Trois Roses
The location of this hotel is pretty great – right across one of the myriad bridges leading into the heart of the old town. The gentleman at reception was very patient with our questions and even let us check in early, as our rooms were already prepared. I find in French city hotels, the rooms tend to be very small, and Trois Roses lived up to my expectation. Our double room was dominated by the double bed. Affixed the wall at the foot of the bed was a set of two large shelves – one high for the TV and one low for a small suitcase. Given the tightness of the room, the suitcase shelf was an absolute necessity. My brother’s single room down the hall was similarly cramped. When I walked in, he said “It feels like an airplane.” He wasn’t wrong. Here’s the kicker – the bathrooms were of normal size!
The stay was comfortable enough and the breakfast and parking were NOT included in the room rate (69€ for the double, 51€ for the single). Which was fine – what fun is it to stay in France and not go croissant hunting? I would consider staying there again if we go back to Strasbourg due to the price – but a little more elbow room might be worth a little more cash.
Southern Germany Sampler: Day Two — Strasbourg
We got started pretty early after the Winzerfest in Neustadt/Weinstraße. We checked out of the Deutscher Kaiser after a nice breakfast spread and drove over to France. It’s really not that far to the border — it only took about 2 hours (there were a few traffic issues; it should have taken about ninety minutes). Our GPS was pretty reliable, but we still drove past the hotel at least one time — maybe twice — on our “final approach.” Strasbourg is historically contentious; sometimes it’s German, sometimes it’s French. Sure seems French to me with regard to the traffic patterns and street signs. We sort of did the “Look kids, it’s Big Ben” drive-by thing while zeroing in on our hotel.
We had great luck with the weather in Strasbourg, too &mdash, that part didn’t change with the border-crossing. We dropped off our bags into our rooms (nice of them to let us check in early) and hit the pavement on foot for the obligatory Croque-monsieur lunch, splitting a pitcher of blonde beer between me and Colin as well (all remaining travel for that day was to be done on foot). Strasbourg makes a very pretty impression, with its tree-lined canals and bridges, and sorta-German Fachwerk architecture. It also has the sleekest-looking trams I’ve ever seen.
Click a picture in the flashy thing below to embiggen it, or get your slideshow on with it too, if you like.
We made an obligatory Cathedral visit and I got some shots of the stained glass that weren’t too bad. But this wasn’t the only impressive church in town: St. Paul’s first caught our attention, because it was visible from our hotel’s street. We would have gone in, but it was under massive construction.
All this tromping around in German France (or was it French Germany?) made us work up an appétit, so we consulted our trusty Frommer’s France book (2005 edition, but this place obviously doesn’t change so fast), and came up with L’Ancienne Douane for dinner. It was a huge restaurant with plenty of capacity, which made me wary, since it was obviously geared toward groups of tourist, but it turned out to not suck completely. We tried to get all fancy on the appetizer and Colin really got more than he bargained for in trying to get something specifc to the region without renouncing his avoidance of choucroute (Sauerkraut)…but that’s a post for another day. Suffice it to say that both and quality and quantity demands were more than exceeded.
I think living and working here, perhaps in some EU capacity, would be nice.
Southern Germany Sampler: Day One — Heidelberg and Neustadt/Weinstraße
It’s been a while since we’ve had a new post here on Ye Olde Regensblogge, but that’s not without a good reason. Sarah’s brother Colin came to visit for over a week and we’ve been busy giving him the Southern Germany Sampler. Sarah planned us a route and picked great places to see / stop / eat / sleep along the way, with never more than a few hours in the car at a stretch.
Here’s the route, roughly. We started in Regensburg and made our way counter-clockwise along the path below (more or less).
View Strasbourg and back in a larger map
The first leg was from Regensburg to Heidelberg to visit our pals behind the heidelbergerin blog and get their expert advice on Weinfests in their area — they accompanied us to the big party in Neustadt an der Weinstraße. But first we had to get to our hotel in Heidelberg. We stayed in the Handschuhsheim district of Heidelberg at the Deutscher Kaiser. Note: this image is not of our hotel; it’s a neat-looking medieval castley dwelling thing called the Tiefburg) We were impressed by the friendly and helpful innkeeper (she seemed to be a one-woman show on the day shift at least). The room we rented — a triple — was generous in size and well-equipped. It could have used a touch-up job of paint in a few areas, but for 129€ for three people and a nice breakfast the next morning, I really wouldn’t complain.
We snagged a tram from the Handschuhsheim neighborhood to the Heidelberg Hbf, scooped up the Heidelberger along the way, and tried to haggle with the DB people at the Hbf about an upgrade on our group ticket. No dice. But it still was a pretty good deal to get to Neustadt an der Weinstraße, about an hour away via S-bahn. When we got there, the parade was already in full swing, and it kept going strong until a good three hours later. Much wine was sampled, along with some cheese, and the requisite Fest Food: grilled stuff. Nice way to spend an afternoon with friends.
La Terre des Lauriers
Provence July 2009
Today Sarah and I drove my parents to their airport for their departure after three action-packed weeks bopping around Europe. You already saw our pictures from the Italian leg of the trip, right? (If not, see the next most recent post.) Here’s a very brief run-down of the Provence leg of the trip, which was a solid week in Remoulins with day trips out pretty much every day to explore local stuff.
- We flew into Marseille on a Lufthansa flight from Munich. We very nearly missed the flight thanks to the rail system (not sure if it was ALX or DB’s fault…but it sure was stressful).
- We picked up our rental car, a Fiat Punto (pretty small for four adults and light luggage) at the airport in Marseille and drove out to Remoulins, where a rental cottage on the grounds of a Chambre d’Hôte awaited us. We loved the location of our lodging, but it was pretty cramped for four adults and rather poorly equipped. More on that later, perhaps.
- Every day we planned to do something new and even when we were too tired, sweaty, or hungry to follow through on our plans, something easier and more local kept us interested.
- We ate a ton of fresh fruit, stuff right off the vine, tree, etc. I’ve never had white nectarines before, but I’ll be looking for them now. Sadly, I doubt they’ll taste as good as ones from the road-side stands in Provence, but I’ll try them anyway. Most of that fruit goes great with goat cheese and another local product, wine. Yum!
- We planned to visit l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Aix-en-Provence, and Avignon and were pleased with all of those. Smaller places, like Uzès and Gordes and Castillon-du-Gard were complete (and welcome) surprises – cute places we just stumbled upon in search for WiFi (not every McDonald’s offers it) or a landromat open through lunch.
Here’s the map, to give you a rough idea:
View Provence July 2009 in a larger map
Here are my favorite pictures from the past three weeks (below). You can see all the pictures we took here.
Hotel Sully Saint-Germain
Back to real life!
Here are all the pictures from the trip, organized into several sets and slideshows. Most of these are images you’ve seen in recent previous posts, but I’ve got them all together in one blog post here. Click on the individual squares below for the larger versions, or click the title of each grouping to start a slideshow for that grouping.
back from Paris
We just got back from Paris tonight. There are some more pictures to be posted later this week, but for now, check out these night shots — especially the Eiffel Tower ones.