Aillets & Orange sanguine, really?

Aillet is a typical southern French vegetable, possibly falling into the category of an aromatic. It’s akin to green onions or Spring onions or scallions [Allium cepa, Allioideae] but based on tender garlic shoots [Allium sativum, Allioideae] sometimes called “green garlic”. I don’t know if they are available in the Americas, but aillets are being sold all across our produce market stalls here in Saintes lately.

I was perambulating through the market on Saturday morning, enjoying the near-Spring sunshine while hoping for inspirations for our weekend dinners. Watching one of the fishmongers rapidly shucking coquilles Saint-Jacques for his customers, a menu began to take shape in my mind.

At a stall dedicated to citrus fruit, I picked up blood oranges and at another stall two heads of lettuce, to last through Monday, a small fennel, one red pepper, some flat parsley, a half-a-kilo of Brussels sprouts, and two bundles of aillets. Inside the Market Hall, I went to the beef butcher to buy 500 g of bavette which translates to flank steak, followed by a trip to a dairy counter to get locally produced sweet butter and three varieties of cheese. A section of brie from a nearby farm, one nice wedge of cheese made from raw sheep milk in the Basque country, my favorite, and a chunk of Savoie Emmental. And yes, I also stopped at a bakery counter to buy two Rosinenschnecken – you work out yourselves what that is 😎 Lastly, I bought eight coquilles Saint-Jacques before heading home with my treasures.

As is my want, I took pictures of all the stages of the preparation and cooking processes to create a record of the proceedings. But a funny thing happened on the way to the table, actually after dinner. I discovered that my camera hadn’t recorded a single picture. The card contained one solitary image taken two days earlier. That day, I had changed several camera setting and subsequently took a number of shots to compare these new parameters against the previous settings. I transferred the test images to my computer immediately and, satisfied with the results, kept the new camera settings. Ominously, every picture I took subsequently did not record. Oh well, I’ll work it out! But sadly, I have nothing with which to document my newest kitchen endeavor:

Scallops with Blood Orange Confit

  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 stalks aillets [green garlic] finely sliced
  • 1 small fennel, roughly diced
  • chopped flat-leave parsley for decoration
  • 2 blood oranges: zest of one orange plus its juice, the second orange peeled and sectioned, the sections skinned; they will separate into uneven bits, all of it collected in the same bowl
  • 2 – 3 Tbls of Vermouth
  • salt, pepper, powdered ginger to taste
  • 8* freshly chucked and cleaned coquilles Saint-Jacques, or similar sea scallops. If you have to buy them from a supermarket, make sure they’re “dry” scallops. So-called “wet” scallops were injected with a phosphate solution that plumps them up to bright-white splendor. And a slightly soapy flavor. And it makes them heavier (!) And they will be impossible to pan-sear because they’re filled with fluid.
  • Ghee or clarified butter; sweet butter; olive oil
  • A side dish of your choice, like mashed root vegetables or potatoes, rice, etc.

*  I bought only 8 scallops because I was planning to use them for our appetizer. If you want the scallops as your main dish, adjust the number of scallops up and the amount of the other ingredients accordingly. Also, the very best and most costly are diver’s scallops, definitely worth the expense for a special occasion.

Keep the scallops dry on paper towels and let them come to room temperature before cooking. Prep all the vegetables and have ghee & butter at room temperature & your chosen side dish ready to go.

Heat some ghee and olive oil to medium in a frying pan, add onions, turn down the heat to low and cook gently, stirring often for about 10 min. Add the aillets, cook for another 5 mins before adding the fennel. Add a little salt and a dusting of ginger. Total cooking time roughly 20 minutes.

Turn up the heat to medium-high and pour the Vermouth over the veggies. creating a satisfying sizzle. After a minute, add the blood orange juice and meat all at once, stirring vigorously before turning down the heat to medium-low. Allow the witches cauldron to bubble and burp for a few minutes before adding a few chunks of butter to thicken the melange. Turn the heat off and transfer the blood orange confit to a bowl to keep warm while you cook the scallops.

For the scallops, simplicity rules. In a frying pan, heat ghee to almost smoking hot. With tongues add the scallops to the hot ghee quickly, making sure to leave spaces between the bivalves. Once the underside is golden brown, about 2 minutes, turn the scallops over one by one, turn down the heat a fraction and let them fry another minute. That’s all.

Like so many fruits de mer, for example, squid and octopus, our scallops turn rubbery either when overcooked or left sitting around for too long after cooking. It is, therefore, imperative to have everything ready to serve – and your guests ready to enjoy – before dumping the little devils in the hot ghee. Proper planning is the key to an amazing dish! We had a little left-over Risotto Milanese from the previous night, revived with a dollop of butter & freshly ground Parmigiano, to go with our scallops and confit, perfect in size and flavor composition …

… except for the vanished pictures. Désolée mes amis ! Tomorrow night, it’s the turn of the bavette, the red pepper, and the Brussels sprouts. Are you curious?

 

 

 

 

 

SHAKSHUKA!

Shakshuka may look like a well-wish after someone sneezes, but it doesn’t mean “Zay Gezunt”. Far from it, it means a mixture of things tossed together. As such, it’s a North African dish, sometimes spelled the Frenchy way as Shakshouka. Shakshuka seems to be one of those recipes that are based on a small number of key ingredients, but the execution differs slightly from region to region and even from family to family. According to Wiki, the dish originated in Tunisia – or possibly the Ottoman Empire, or possibly Yemen. We do know that it is a popular dish all across the Arab world and especially in Israel. It may be served either as breakfast or as dinner, often with bread to sop up the juices.

My cousin Andreas recently published a shakshuka recipe on Facebook that he gleaned from the Student Nutrition Association of Bastyr University in Seattle, WA, USA, published in 2016. The recipe had been adopted by Alyssa Siegel and it looked nice and easy. Andreas’ maternal grandfather was Tunisian so it would be very special to think his grandpa dipped his chunk of bread in a shakshuka that his mother prepared. On the other hand, his grandfather grew up quite privileged so his mom may not have cooked the family shakshuka herself ☺️

Either way, I cooked my version last Sunday. I do have to say ‘my version’ because I omitted the main protein providing ingredient, the eggs. Instead, I prepared a duck breast we happened to have in the fridge. Therefore, my Shakshuka was more a Shakshoucanard. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any cayenne pepper in the house, so I substituted the cayenne with piment d’Espelelette, the Basque chili pepper used in the South of France. And to addle things even further, I added garlic, lemon juice, and coriander seeds to the list of flavorings. My lineup of ingredients looked like this:

Fresh ingredients

  • 2 medium onion, halved then sliced very thinly
  • 3 very large garlic cloves, peeled, crushed & diced
  • 1 large red sweet pepper, seeds & white ribs removed, sliced
  • a heap of spinach, stalks & mid-ribs removed, torn into pieces, washed, spin-dried
  • juice of 1 small lemon

cooked separately: 1 boneless duck breast with skin, 410 g or 14.5 oz

Processed ingredients

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 400 g/14 oz [drained net weight] of canned, peeled whole tomatoes, juices reserved
  • 2 tsp honey
  • ‘Maille’ Velours Balsamique, a very thick balsamic vinegar syrup
  • Confit d’oignons [onion jam]

Seasonings

  • salt to taste
  • 1 heaped teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon crushed cumin seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon smoked paprika powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered piment d’Espelette chili pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

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After slicing, dicing, draining and washing my ingredients, I had to dash to the window for a quick shot across the river because it was the last evening of the season with twinkling Christmas lights and the early evening atmosphere was altogether too eerie to pass up.

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Back in the kitchen, it was time to gently toast the coriander and the cumin seeds in a dry pan to release their aromas.

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Coriander develops a warm, citrusy bouquet, while cumin adds a darker, more earthy scent. Once you can smell the heated seeds, add the oil to create a fragrant bath,

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not for the enjoyment of the Queen of Sheba, but in which to sauté the onions.

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Sautéing onions takes patience and very low temperatures, lest they burn. The same wisdom applies to garlic, added next.

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Followed by the red peppers.

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This melange should be slightly softened before the distribution of aromatic powders, the paprika, piment d’Espelette, the cinnamon, and some salt.

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After the spices have had a chance to heat up and distribute their flavors through the vegetables, it’s time to let the tomatoes join the fun.

Whilst these guys got to know each other, I had the leisure to crisp the scored duck skin at a low-medium setting in a dry pan. The rendered fat was collected into a small jar for other uses.

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Now the spinach needed to be added to the shakshoucanard, to wilt quietly while the duck breast browned in the oven.

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Just before serving, I added the juice of half a small lemon to the stew and had more lemon juice at the table, together with the confit d’oignons and the balsamic velours.

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Slices of roasted duck breast over radicchio with shakshoucanard on the side …

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… enhanced with some Velours Balsamique, lemon juice, and confit d’oignons.

Lessons learned:

  • Buy cayenne pepper! The shakshoucanard was not spicy enough. I actually had harissa paste in the fridge but didn’t think of it at the time. This mild version was a tasty companion for the duck, however, I would prefer a lot more oomph preparing it with eggs, as it is intended.
  • Make at least twice the amount listed. We had pathetically few leftovers and this dish is perfect to freeze in portions before you add the lemon juice.

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Flavorful and tasty, I highly recommend this dish. Thanks, cuz!!

 

 

 

Our 40th Anniversary

In France, an anniversary, true to its linguistic roots, means an annual celebration independent of the nature of the event. Therefore, our anniversary would be called an “anniversaire de mariage” or Hochzeitstag, if you prefer.

For the past few years, we’ve made a point of celebrating our wedding anniversary with a meal in a Michelin starred restaurant. Since this year’s anniversary was definitely a biggy, signifying that we had been together since the dark ages, a two-star restaurant was in order, don’t you agree?

The husband did all the research to find just the right place for this year’s jubilee. Our wedding date of December 28th, however, posed a challenge in his selection process because many French restaurants are closed from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve or Saint-Sylvestre which is a huge night out for French adults after the largely family-oriented celebration of noël. Most restaurants in our town, for example, close for a few days for family time and in preparation for their extravagant St-Sylvestre menus, reservations only [well in advance], often with live music and dancing. But my guy is an accomplished internet researcher, and he found just the place for our very own special night out.

A serious concern, however, was the upper respiratory infection I contracted mid-December. Although I felt much better by Christmas, we were holding our collective breaths waiting if Barry would get sick also. Additionally, our heating crashed on us twice in the span of three days during Christmas week, so that we had to deal with 14ºC/57ºF in the house, not too much fun for someone with bronchitis. Fortunately, Barry didn’t get sick, the boiler was repaired and we happily packed our bags for an overnight in La Rochelle. We stayed at the Chambres d’Hôtes Eden Ouest, a B&B in the center of town. In this charmingly restored 1745 townhouse, in which we occupied a large bedroom with a comfortable bed and a huge ensuite bathroom sporting not only a wooden tub from Austria but also the most delightful steam shower. Fabulous treats for these old bones!

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In the evening, we took a cab to the restaurant since it was a rainy side, arriving at the appointed hour at the Christopher Coutanceau for a remarkable experience in fine dining.

Once we were settled at our table, we could take in our surroundings and enjoy the ambiance of the contemporary space. “Wave action” wall designs and intricate lighting systems highlighted the restaurant’s coastal location and the chef’s grounding in all things pertaining to the sea.

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While we sipped our half-bottle of Bollinger special cuvée Champagne with the amuse-gueules, we studied the menu and dove with great anticipation into the unfolding drama of a performance designed, it seemed, uniquely for us.

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We discussed our options and choices comparing the menus presented to us in two different languages. It was pretty funny to read how certain foods or preparations were worded in either French or English. Another, equally important decision related to the wine selection. After consulting the sommelier, we selected a bottle of Côte de Beaune, a southern Bourgogne Chardonnay, an aromatic wine of character which we were assured would stand up well to the strong flavors of our seafood dishes, followed by a half-bottle of the Provençal Bandol AOC for the meat course. We enjoyed Bandol Rosé all through the summer months and were curious about the red Bandol, with its four grape varieties of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault, and a smidgen of Carignan. Both wine selections turned out to be delicious.

Our first course was a type of seafood which, as highly praised as it is in Asturia and Galicia, we had never tasted before. Gooseneck barnacles.

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Granted, pretty they are not, but they are tasty, particularly in this preparation. There is a funny story in Wikipedia telling about the origin of the barnacle’s common name. Goose or Gooseneck barnacles are sessile crustaceans in the Order Pedunculata living on driftwood, rocks, boat hulls, whales, and so forth. The well-known cleric and historian Gerald of Wales [1146 – 1223 more or less], living during an age when the avian habit of seasonal migration was not yet widely known, postulated that the brant goose [Branta leucopsis, Anatidae] derived from barnacles because no-one had hitherto seen these geese hatch in the British Isles. This unfounded wisdom found its way into common lore so that to this day the bird is called barnacle goose and the crustacean goose barnacle. Nonetheless, there was one medieval detractor of the cleric’s hypothesis, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II [1194 – 1250]. The emperor dissected innumerable barnacles and never once found a goose embryo within. Not surprisingly, being the scientifically minded scholar he was, he declared the goose-from-barnacle story balderdash. It is not known if he ever ate a goose barnacle. I’m sure you understand, why this biologist emerita regards Frederic II as her favorite emperor.

We were a whole lot more familiar with the seafood served subsequently, featuring two different preparations of Coquilles St-Jacques or scallops, lobster, and John Dory. Without any doubt, the star of our first scallop dish was the highly prized seasoning called a truffle.

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Our plates arrived displaying a circle of sliced scallop carpaccio, decorated with little dots of truffle essence. The white-gloved Master of Truffles then shaved a generous amount of truffle, burying the delicate scallop slices under the fragrant aroma of winter truffles.

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After the truffle shaving action, our waiters poured some more truffle essence in a circular motion around the scallop and truffle arrangement.

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Comparatively speaking, the second scallop dish lacked preparatory drama – but certainly not any flavor! Seared diver’s scallops are among my most favorite foods.

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Drama returned in full force with the presentation of our next plate, presented to us in concert by two waiters like a synchronized water ballet performance.

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Without a doubt, this was the unbearable lightness of being lobster. May Kundera forgive me for borrowing his and Nietzsche’s theme, but this dish had the flavorful weightiness and density in texture, as well as a delicate lightness in the form of a foamy, enveloping cloud pulling together the sublime arrangement of textures and aromas upon which this dish depends and these gentlemen expounded so eloquently – if not necessarily in regard to food.

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The four bottles we consumed, champagne, white, red and bubbly water

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Even the bread service turned into a performance. A waiter came around with a pushcart laden with baked goods. There were individual buns in a variety of flavors and loaves of yeasty, crusty creations fresh from the oven. The Bread cart was followed by the butter maid – actually it was a guy, but, heck – offering a choice of sweet butter, demi-sel, or salted, plus a selection of herbed butter.

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And speaking of salt, this was the salt cellar on our table. I had to ask what it was because its function was not readily apparent. At first, I thought it was just a tchotchke, but the iridescent globe hid an indentation with a small opening in its bottom through which the salt was dispensed as you shake the pretty glass bowl. Clever!

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John Dory with a roasted octopus arm, an artichoke, and a squid-ink noodle thingy.

After the fish courses, we switched to the Bandol to accompany the meat course, venison from the Alsace region. The deer meat had been marinated in red wine for 24 hrs and was rich and tender.

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Venison backstrap in quince and hazelnut reduction, chestnut and crosnes sides

Of course, the venison, being a typical winter dish, was enhanced with the ultimate winter flavor, truffle.

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This venison dish was not just flavorful and tender, but also reminiscent of our years on El Rancho Leon in Central Texas. Living in the heart of Texas for ten years, we never consumed store-bought meat. We only ate what our land provided. Since I didn’t trust my markswoman’s skill beyond rattlesnakes and feral pigs, we asked our bow-hunting friend and neighbor to harvest deer for us, splitting the meat between our families. Even though quite frankly, there is nothing tastier than Axis [Axis axis] backstrap, this was darn good!

We concluded our meal with a succession of desserts, beginning with the most beautiful little caramelly concoction. It was a Caramel and Cognac sorbet with Jonchée [local Saintonge “Quark” or fromage blanc]. You see jonchée in market stall around Saintes, so I was familiar with this fresh cheese specialty, albeit not in this unique transformation!

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The creamy-rich caramel sorbet was followed by a thyme flavored lemony lemon sorbet with a crackling lemon shell.

 

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Oh, my!

After more than three hours of indulgence and debauchery, we eschewed a taxi, bravely walking back to the hotel through the gentle mist of the late December night.

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With rain-soaked hair and moisture-dripping glasses, it is no wonder that this good-night selfie turned out a bit fuzzy 😎

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SweetPotatoSoup with a Secret Ingredient

Since it’s a little cooler this weekend, it’s definitely soup time again. As a means of recalling which combination of veggies, mostly, I’ve used to make this soup, I’ll just string some pictures in the sequence of use, adding a comment here or there.

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The sweet potatoes were Honduran, while all the other veggies, as well as the bacon, were French-born.

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Here we have the line-up of ingredients and the prep waste. Clockwise from top left: leeks and the thick ends of the carrots, some elderly potatoes, and the sweet potatoes [in cold water], olive oil, carrots and cubed celery root, garbage in a bio-degradable pseudo-plastic bag [merchants are no longer allowed to use actual plastic bags in our community. We don’t have a garden, so we can’t compost], bacon, seasonings, chopped garlic, and chopped onion.

The bacon is the first candidate to jump into the hot olive oil, closely followed by onions and garlic to be gently sautéed.

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Next up are the celery and carrot pieces to be browned for a little while with the onion base, before I turn up the heat just so that I can dampen it with a splash of red Bordeaux, scraping up any brown bits, stirring vigorously before turning down the heat again. Now it’s time to add the secret ingredient I prepared earlier, Haricot Tarbais, white runner beans from Tarbes, Hautes-Pyrénées. This is the type of bean I usually use for my cassoulet.

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Truth be told, these particular beans were leftovers from the 2016 harvest and I’ve used them a few time as weights to “blind-bake” dough. Nevertheless, they are Tarbais beans and as such, even pre-owned, cook to a perfect al dente and are exceptionally flavorful.

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All that’s left to do now is adding the remaining fresh ingredients, the seasoning, and water.

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Maille brand balsamic vinegar syrup adds sweetness

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I’m lazy, so commercial bouillon work just fine for me

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In addition to freshly grated nutmeg, I used ground coriander seeds and powdered ginger

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Water as needed, about 750 ml

And 30 – 45 minutes later, we’re ready to slurp!

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Ingredients:

  • 100 g of poitrine fumée [smoked pork belly], diced
  • 2 skinny leeks, sliced into 2 to 3 cm rings, white and light green parts only
  • 4 carrots, cut into triangular pieces
  • half a celery root, peeled, brown parts cut off then roughly diced
  • a few peeled potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • ditto for sweet potatoes
  • 3 large, fresh cloves of garlic – not the dried out Chinese crap!
  • 2 small yellow onion, diced, more is great
  • 1 cube of court-bouillon, 1 unit of chicken bouillon [if I were in the US, I would use a quart of chicken broth instead. I loved the convenience of broth in handy tetra packs. Unfortunately, they’re not available here]
  • nutmeg, ground coriander seeds, powdered ginger [or fresh, of course], salt if desired
  • a little red wine, a little Velours Balsamique [thick syrup of balsamic vinegar]
  • enough hot water to comfortably cook the veggies at hand

Note to self: next time, double the amount of sweet potato and use goose fat instead of olive oil.

 

Spontaneous​ Lunch

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On Friday the 13th, our weather was so gorgeous, so fabulous that a lunch excursion to La Tremblade was simply unavoidable. It takes about 45 minutes to drive to this seaside community forming the northern tip of the Gironde Estuary, where the waters of two mighty rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne, spill into the Atlantic Ocean. Thus La Tromblade is bordered by the Estuary to the South, the Atlantic Ocean to the West and North, and the river La Seudre to the East. Along both banks of La Seudre, the coastal salt marshes are crisscrossed by a dense network of creeks and canals. This is one of the world’s foremost oyster farming area, where the La Seudre oyster parks merge with the Île d’Oléron-Marenne oyster farming basin, to form one of the best known ostreiculture regions of France!

For our lunch date, we drove along the La Tremblade canal to the restaurant Chez Gaby and settled on the terrace extending over the bank of the canal.

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While contemplating the menu, we noshed on warm razor clams, Enis arcuatus, in a buttery persillade. Followed by, respectively, an oyster and smoked salmon entrée.

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For our main course, we both chose the grilled fillet of Bar Sauvage, which in the Languedoc is called Loup de Mer, Seawolf, otherwise known as European Sea Bass, Dicentrarchus labrax, with its velouté vin blanc, risotto, and vegetables.

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At this point in the meal, we were already seriously overstuffed but dessert was still to come. Fortunately, service was very slow which made it possible to not only consume but survive a lovely slice of fresh fig tart.

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It wasn’t easy to walk off this two-hour lunch!! While we indulged, the outgoing tide exposed large patches of mud, stranding many vessels along the canal.

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Shadow-selfie with oyster shells

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Almost as if to deliberately contrast the mud left by nature, humans added many colorful accents along the canal, which is quite typical for all the regional oyster shacks and tourism facilities as well.

Here we have the same boot shown from three different angles.

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Eventually, the canal meets the river La Seudre, which in turn flows into the Atlantic Ocean in a protected bay formed to the South of the Île d’Oléron.

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Oyster farming country in the salt marshes

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The Charente river has had a busy tourist day, too!

 

Soup

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I haven’t cooked anything new and exciting for some time, except maybe that recent tomato tart that worked out so well for us the first time I baked it, but when I made it again for a party at our house, it turned out all soggy. Such is life! Nevertheless, I felt inspired to dice and slice last weekend, so I made some soup.

I invented a new fish soup, rather a vegetable soup with fish and, lucky us, it turned out quite tasty. Since my dear husband claims I can never repeat a dish, the proof of the pudding being my recent tart, I shall endeavor to record the making of this delectable little soup right here and now when the workings are still fresh in my mind – as far as that goes!

Firstly, you visit the market of a Saturday morn’ and purchase leeks and yellow onions, carrots, and fennel, also potatoes and rustic apples.  Then you meander over to the fishmongers in Les Halles where you buy dos de cabillaud which are very thick and juicy pieces of cod from the northern Atlantic. Oh, a Chinese cabbage landed in my pull cart as well before I headed back home.

Except for the cabbage, the potatoes, and the apples, I prepped the veggies ahead of time on Saturday. I cleaned, trimmed and chopped the vegetables into larger-than-bite-size pieces and stored them in ziplock bags in the fridge for the following day’s cooking. I like to separate my ingredients into their personal little baggies, that way I can line up everything according to the cooking sequence when the time comes:

Bacon bits – onion – leeks/fennel/carrots – potatoes – cabbage – apples – fish

An organized kitchen is half the battle! In the largest bag, I layered leeks, fennel, and carrots in that order, with the carrots on top. I’ll explain later why I like my carrots close to the zipper 😎

When it’s time to cook the soup, boil some water in your electric kettle and use 500 ml of boiling water to dissolve one cube of Court-Bouillon. Keep the rest of the water on standby if you need more fluids. Equally on standby should be a glass of dry white wine [in addition to the one you might be drinking while cooking the soup] and the juice of one-half of a large lemon.

In the spice department, I used salt, pepper – very little, freshly ground black pepper, ground coriander from a supermarket spice rack, ditto for ginger powder, freshly grated nutmeg, and a heaped teaspoon of crushed, dried marjoram. I’m incapable of cooking any savory dish without coriander and marjoram, it’s a personal choice as I love the bare hint of a Mediterranean citrus aroma they lend to a dish. Others might prefer to use tarragon with fish which I dislike. Sadly, I forgot to buy parsley. It should have been part of the soup.

As mentioned before, I like to have everything ready at hand, so I line up my bags, squeeze the lemon juice, pour the wine [both glasses], dissolve the court-bouillon, and marinate the fish before I fire up the largest gas ring on the cooktop. For the cod brine, I spread a little olive oil on a plate and sparingly grind some pepper over the oil, before placing the fish in the oil puddle. With a brush, I collect some of the oil and moisten the surface of the cod pieces with it, adding a little more oil as I go. Then I sprinkle ginger powder and grind some fresh nutmeg over the oily surfaces. In the picture, you can see that my piece of fish received a larger amount of spices than my husband’s who likes it better au natural. My piece is also a little thicker, but shorter, than his because he likes his fish a smidgen further “done” than I do. These pieces, by the way, weigh a little over 600 g total, so we had some leftover for another meal.

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In a large conic sauteuses, I heated some olive oil at medium and cooked the bacon bits. When they were starting to brown, I added the onions and slowly softened them in mid-low heat. At that point, I added the first installment from the leeks/fennel/carrots bag. Specifically all the carrots and a few stray leek and fennel pieces. I simply like to glaze the carrots with the onion and the bacon grease to give them a nice shine and bring out a more intense sweetness before adding the main portion of the veggies to the pot. Now you know why the carrots have to be closest to the zipper!

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Turning up the fire and stirring the vegetables and the bacon frequently, I let them soak up the heat till they glisten happily, about two minutes or so. That was the perfect time to douse the sizzle with the white wine, scrape up any brown bits and turn the heat back down to mid-low, before adding the remaining fennel and leeks, closely followed by the potatoes.

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I mixed the vegetables thoroughly before seasoning with salt, coriander, and marjoram. Then I poured the hot bouillon slowly over the veggies so that salt and spices distributed their flavors across all those cut surfaces. Turning the heat up a notch, I put a lid on the sauteuse and let the bouillon come to a brisk boil. Stirring once more I put the lid back on, before turning the heat down as low as it will go and allowed the soup to bubble contentedly for ten minutes.

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This interval is a good time to check your email, make a clandestine call to the boyfriend and open the wine you want to serve with your soup, in our case a lovely Terres Ocrées Bandol.

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Grape varieties: Cinsault noir – Garnacha negra – Mourvèdre

The last couple of steps are a repeat of the previous dance. First, I added the cabbage and

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let it shrivel a bit before mixing it in, then I added the apple chunks to my soup.

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When all the vegetables were in place, I put the lid back on and turned the heat to medium. Waiting a few moments to let the heat build up nicely under the dome of the lid, I removed it just long enough to gently, ever so gently, slide the two magnificent pieces of fish into the sauteuse. Quick, quick, on with that lid! Keeping the heat at medium to restore temperature, I then turned it down to the lowest setting.

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Did you hear the sigh of contentment as the fish soaked up all those lovely vegetable flavors?

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Our Happy Kitchen

Five minutes later, I took a peek to evaluate doneness. These were thick cuts of fish, so they needed a little longer under the dome. Before replacing the lid, I drizzled some lemon juice over the cod. After another minute, I turned the burner off and let the hot soup do its magic while I heated the plates and poured the wine. By then the fish had turned to opalesque whiteness and flaked easily. Perfect!

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The reddish trim on the fish was red onion confit, a welcome leftover from yesterday’s Sweet Potato & Red Onion Tart. But that’s another recipe ….

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Soup Ingredients:

  • 75 g of commercially packaged, pre-cut bacon bits [lardons fumés]
  • 2 large yellow onion, quartered, each quarter cut in 2 or 3 pieces
  • 3 medium-sized carrots, sliced thickly at an angle
  • 2 leeks, sliced into 3 – 4 cm pieces, excluding very dark green ends
  • 1 very large fennel, sliced [or a couple smaller ones]
  • 6 smallish, thin-skinned potatoes, halved or quartered, skin on
  • 3 apples [e.g. Reine de Reinette or Cox], cored, sliced thickly, skin on
  • Per person: 200g thick filets of cold-water fish [e.g. cod, haddock or hake]
  • 1 cube of Court-Bouillon dissolved in 500 ml of water
  • more water if needed
  • 150 ml of dry white wine
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt & spices at will

 

 

 

Salmon in Parsley Cream under a Full Moon

In our town of Saintes, Charente-Maritime, we have a produce market in different locations every morning, except Mondays. On Saturdays, my wheeled shopping trolley with matching umbrella

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and I like to hike the exhausting distance of about one hundred meters [300 feet] to the market snuggling against the rugged ancient walls of the cathédrale Saint-Pierre.

This Saturday was special because we had traveled so much these past months that it was my first marketing adventure since May, our glorious asparagus season.

The stalls are lined up in a long, slightly crooked triple row in the shadow of the cathedral, their awnings forming a colorful canopy for the mingling crowd of shoppers. Interspersed with the fruit and vegetable vendors offering mostly locally grown produce, you find tables, booths and even caravans selling baked goods, fresh pasta, honey, eggs, Pineau [a local cognac product], oysters, pantoufles [warm fabric slippers for winter evenings], spices, kitchen gadgets, prepared dishes and roasted chickens and couscous, cut flowers and potted plants, and sometimes even rugs. There is also a heavenly table from which flavored salts and olives are sold. You can choose from a dozen or so different types of marinated olives for apéro, other savories like capers, or salt-cured lemons. Meanwhile, the indoor market hall houses the fishmongers, the beef, pork and horse butchers, the charcuterie, the cheesemongers and poultry vendors, several more bakeries, as well as merchants offering pastries, chocolates, and other sweets.

Aside from shopping, I was also looking forward to socializing, because that’s what you do on Saturdays. You buy provisions for the weekend, then you hang out with friends. Behind the market hall stretches a terrace overlooking the river. A local bar offers drinks and tidbits and one of the fishmongers supplies chucked oysters. You sit under umbrellas, drink rosé, slurp bivalves and gossip. Lovely!

Back home I unpacked my goodies. Potatoes, leeks, fennel, onions, flat parsley, butter lettuce, tomatoes, lemons, croissants, cervelat, salami, Emmental cheese and salmon steaks. The potatoes, aromatic vegetables, and the fish were to become a one-dish oven-roasted concoction, while the cervelat was destined to mix and mingle with the Emmental de Savoie, an unpasteurized semi-hard cow’s milk cheese with quite a bit more character than your average pre-packed “Swiss Cheese”! Those two were going to form the basis for my hearty Wurstsalat, whereby the translation ‘sausage salad’ simply sounds silly.

If you have chronic ‘mal au dos’, backache, like I have, any prolonged posture or activity causes trouble. By necessity, I switch back and forth between activities as much as possible. That’s a great excuse for buying croissants because one has to sit down with a snack to recuperate from dragging the heavy cart home, naturally. Cooking is also better broken up into activity sections, getting the preps out of the way before the actual cooking begins with a couple of rest periods in between. After some slicing and dicing, I took pictures of several bowls lined up for the eventual cooking orgy.

One bowl contained potato pieces in cold water, another one fennel, leek, garlic, yellow onion, red pepper, and parsley marinating in lemon juice, white pepper, coriander powder and olive oil. The smallest of the bowls contained very, very finely diced fennel heart and fennel greens mixed with a lot of very finely chopped parsley, coarse sea salt, white pepper, some powdered ginger, olive oil, a few drops of lemon juice, sheep milk yogurt/cottage cheese [Fromage blanc au lait de brebis], and a dollop of heavy cream.

I took pictures of the assembly of ingredients and seasonings so I would remember what I used for my salmon casserole.

And why am I not showing you these or other pictures I took of the finished product? Or, for that matter pictures of that brilliantly gorgeous full moon which rose over the Charente river that evening?

Because I inadvertently deleted all of them. Every single picture. Dammit!

All I have left is a picture of the leftovers. How appropriate  😦

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But the recipe is straight forward and slight variations surely won’t matter.

  • Wipe an oven proof dish with olive oil. Add the dried potato pieces. Season with black pepper, salt and rubbed dry thyme, sprinkle with olive oil. Roast the potatoes in the oven at 180ºC/350ºF for 15 mins.
  • Add the marinated vegetable mix, combine with potatoes and bake a further 15 mins.
  • Take dish from oven. Increase temperature to 200ºC/400ºF
  • Remove skin from salmon and add salmon chunks to the casserole. Snuggle the fish against the roasted vegetable mix and douse with the parsley cream, covering the fish quite thickly.
  • Shove the dish back in the oven and roast till the fish is done. The timeframe depends entirely on the thickness of the salmon steaks. We had very thick chunks and they were packed a little too closely together. Ultimately they took almost 15 minutes to be heated through. Salmon is a very fatty and dense fish, which takes a little more time than let’s say whitefish. Just don’t let the fish dry out!

Juicy fish over aromatic veggies – what could be better!!

On Sunday we had the Wurstsalat, composed of the French “Swiss” cheese, cervelat [akin to bologna], red onion, cornichons and tomatoes, dressed in an emulsion of Chardonnay vinegar, a splash of pickle juice, sweet Dijon mustard, a pinch of sugar & salt, white pepper and cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. Served over the sweet and crunchy leaves of a butter lettuce – ever so tartly delicious!

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Since my no doubt, fabulous moon pictures are gone, I’ll say goodbye with a zoom shot of an egret, whom we observed stalking his prey during our Sunday afternoon walk through La Palu, our local wetland preserve.

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