Beans, Beans, Beans, it’s the Season!

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I love beans. Don’t you?

Three days ago, we received our order of 3 Kg of Haricots Tarbais. The one and only bean with which one may hope to prepare an acceptable Cassoulet. Not being ready yet for a full-fletched cassoulet production, I just took a handful of beans and invented a Saturday Night Bean Dinner.

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Before going to bed, you start by putting the beans in cold water to soak overnight.

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Crushed.Coriander-Diced.Onion-Chopped.Garlic – that’s how it starts!

I hadn’t really prepared or specifically shopped for this meal, so I assembled this and that from the larder, fridge, and freezer which might make a good fit with the Tarbais beans. Onions, of course, and garlic, lots of garlic! In the freezer, I found a package of mystery meat from this past July. Before our butcher took his summer vacation, he advertised a “mixed bag special” of cold cuts, salads, and grillades, which are a sort of Pökelfleisch [salt meat] I believe of a bovine nature, for the grill. I just wrapped it and put it in the freezer, till now.

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All in all, we collected the usual suspects, plus dill I had recently received as a gift.

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Ingredients with measurements:

  • 2 coarsely chopped yellow onions
  • juice & zest of 1 lemon
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped dill
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of dried coriander seeds, crushed
  • coarsely chopped mystery meat, more or less 1.5 cups [absolutely optional]
  • 2 bell peppers, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Espelette peppers, whole
  • Turkey-leg container: 4 peeled, whole garlic cloves, some dried thyme, and 2 or 3 laurel leaves
  • 2 Tbs duck fat
  • 250 g pre-soaked dried beans
  • 500 g baby potatoes [optional]
  • dried marjoram
  • freshly ground pepper & salt
  • 1 cube poultry bouillon
  • 2 – 3 twigs of fresh mint
  • anchovy paste
  • tomato paste
  • olive oil & duck fat
  • a little honey
  • some olive oil

The cooking process for our bean casserole is quite similar to other one-pot dishes you have seen me cook here in this blog and in my Home Exchange travel blog as well.

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Dry-toast the coriander seeds, add the fat and slowly sauté the onions over low heat. Some lemon zest adds a nice citrus aroma.

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Add the garlic bits and keep cooking for another 10 mins until everything is nicely softened.

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Incorporate the dill …

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… and the drip-dried beans into the onion-garlic-lemon.zest-dill melange. Let them sweat while you stir vigorously, but gently, to properly distribute the duck fat over all ’em beans!

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Meanwhile, dissolve a flavor cube of your choice [I used chicken bouillon] and add the hot liquid to the bean pot.

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After adding the flavorings and chiles, put a lid over it and bring the soup to a strong boil for 15 min. before turning down the heat to cook the beans for about 45 min.

Since it is unlikely for most of you to be able to get your hot little hands on Haricots Tarbais, you have to adjust your own dish to whichever type bean you’re using. I do especially like the Tarbais beans because they have such a nice, nutty bite while retaining their creamy centers.

While the beans were quietly bubbling away in their pot, I prepared a few things to serve with our lovely Tarbais. Namely a small sack of grenaille potatoes I found in the pantry. “Grenaille” are very small potatoes – the name refers to lead shot. They’re usually boiled or baked in their skins. Before baking them, they were pre-boiled for 10 min.

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Halved baby potatoes in olive oil and dusted with dried marjoram and salt

After pre-boiling them, I cut them in half and lined them up on an oiled baking sheet to be baked at 160ºC in a convection oven for 45 mins or so. After 30 min, I added the mystery meat pieces to reheat and a small left-over portion of breaded Spätzle.

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At that point, the beans were pretty much finished, but I felt the need to boost the flavor a smidgen. My standard flavor enhancer has always been anchovy paste. This time, too, I added a spoonful of anchovy paste plus another spoonful of tomato paste.

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Eventually, I also added the bell pepper pieces to the beans and some chopped mint. Shortly thereafter I found an elderly zucchini which promptly made its way into the pot as well.

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Before we get ready to sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labor, let’s take a closer look at those two Espelette chiles which were submerged among the beans. And we shouldn’t forget about the garlic cloves cooked in our fancy rubber turkey leg. It seemed fun to experiment with them somehow. But first, the seeds had to be picked off and discarded.

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Then, with the back of our little IKEA paring knife, I scrapped the thin layer of fruit flesh from the tough, brittle skin and combined that chile essence with the soft nuggets of garlic, some olive oil, salt, honey, and a little lemon juice.

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This somewhat tedious effort resulted in a small amount of a dense, peppery-sweet condiment with a decided kick. Definitely worth trying to produce a larger volume sometime soon!

For now, though, we settled at the kitchen table – no formal dining room meal tonight,  as the Longhorns are playing – in front of the TV and enjoyed our beans.

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Tarbais Bean Casserole topped with grated cheese and a dollop of Espelette & Honey condiment.

Husband’s comment: you created another entirely monochrome dish! He’s correct, monochrome is my specialty 😜

 

 

Figs, Figs, Figs, and 7 Pears in Three Chapters

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The other day, my friend Liesel came over bearing gifts, late summer presents from her garden, pears and figs. Two pears have since been consumed, but the ripe figs required a little more detailed attention. What do you do with a kilo of figs, if you’re not really interested in making jam? Easy, you make chutney!

Searching online for a recipe, I came across the website of Traci Antonovich aka “The Kitchen Girl“. Low and behold, her most recent post was titled Serrano Spiced Fig Jam – auspicious, right? Developing my own recipe with ingredients I happened to have around, I was nevertheless heavily leaning on The Kitchen Girl’s recipe. Thank you, Traci!

First Chapter: FIGUES AIGRE-DOUX

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Let’s get the ingredient list out of the way, shall we?

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  1. 50 ml blood orange juice, freshly pressed if possible
  2. 1 Kg ripe figs, trimmed and quartered
  3. 2 Espelette chiles, seeds & ribs removed, sliced thinly
  4. 1 heaped tsp grated ginger plus 1 chunk about 2 x 2 x 1 cm
  5. 1 heaped tsp grated lemon zest
  6. 20 g light brown sugar, or less to taste
  7. 0.5 tsp of powdered cinnamon, or more to taste
  8. pinch of salt
  9. 0.5 tsp powdered Curcuma [Turmeric]
  10. 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  11. 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  12. 20 g butter

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For a spice package to be cooked with the figs, you need a Tbsp of toasted coriander seeds, 5 cloves, and a small thyme & laurel bundle.

Slicing and dicing all these ingredients is a little annoying, but once you’ve assembled everything the rest is a breeze. Start out by toasting the coriander seeds at medium-low temperature, which then go with the other aromatics in the flexible rubber turkey leg or any more boring spice satchel you have at hand. Then pour the orange juice into the still hot pan [watch for the splash!] and immediately add the figs and chiles. Now turn the heat all the way down and relax. Stir the pot lazily while incorporating ingredients 4. through 8.

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Gently simmering, let it all turn into a soupy slush, occasionally scraping the sides and bottom of the pot while excess moisture evaporates. Oh, I almost forgot, put the turkey leg in the center of the fig soup and turn it ever so often to release the aromas.

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While we’re hanging out in the kitchen, let me tell you about the Piment d’Espelette, the bright red peppers we’re using in this recipe.

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These pretty chiles are fairly spicy, but a lot milder than Serranos. They are cultivated, who da thunk it, in Espelette, a town in the Basque Country not all that far from us in the SW of France, right in the Pyrenees mountains separating France from Spain.

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The region is very beautiful

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with many small villages where one finds local specialties like yaourt au lait de brebis [incredibly creamy sheep-milk jogurt] to be enjoyed with a dollop of rich, black cherry preserve, also a regional product. As you see in the close-up above, the chiles carry the AOP label [Appellation d’Origine Protégée] which means that only the Espelette community may sell peppers under this name.

And, if you will indulge me, staying with these chiles a little while longer …

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DO NOT PROCESS THEM WITHOUT GLOVES! The scorched skin capsaicin effects are NOT pleasant.

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Once you are satisfied with the consistency of your chutney, add ingredients 9. through 12.

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Then turn off the heat and let your chutney rest for a little bit before ladling it into jars or similar.

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Second Chapter: MORNING GLORY* CHEESE PIE with FIG CHUTNEY

Now that we have all that lovely chutney, what are we going to do with it?

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As we also happen to have a large, hairy sweet potato and a nice chunk of reblochon melty cheese, we might as well bake a deep dish pie. I’m a notoriously inept baker, but as silly as my creations look, they do usually taste alright.

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We recently bought a fancy new kitchen machine and I’m still learning how to use it. Our lovely Morning Glory project thus offered both kneading and slicing teaching moments for me. The dough was just a simple bread dough of flour, water, salt, and yeast, to which I added one egg before the second proofing. It rose quite nicely but was such a sticky mess that I ultimately had dough up to my elbows. And I left the high rim in the baking dish much too thick, resulting in a lumpy skyscraper of an awkwardly towering crust, oh well. While the dough was fermenting, I ran the tuber through the slicing disk of the machine, thankfully not encountering any problems. The pie filling consisted of alternating, irregular layers of chutney, sweet potato, and cheese.

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The baking time for such a monster is considerable. I left it in the oven first for 45 mins at 180C [convection] plus another 30 mins at 160ºC, plus a few mins of broiling to brown the cheesy surface – and the sweet potato slices were still ever so slightly underdone. Better than a totally mushy mess, I hope?

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And then there was the third Chapter: PLAIN-TOMATO-PIE

As it happened, I had some dough left over. Loath to throw anything away, I made a second, very simple small pizza pie consisting of a thin base spread with mustard & olive oil, over which I layered sliced tomatoes and topped them with a little grated parmigiano and spices. Basta! That was it!

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I have to admit, I do have a great affinity for tomatoes and cheese – and the right wine to complement them 🍷 For our Double-Pie-Fiesta, I opened a bottle of nicely chilled Châteaux Penin 2017 Bordeaux Clairet. For just a second, it looked like we might enjoy an elegant dinner …

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… when we moved operations back into the kitchen to eat in front of the TV.

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It was, after all, college football night!

[* Sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas, are in the Morning Glory family of Convolvulaceae]

 

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!