Tomato Pie

This past weekend gave us a great taste of summer with bright sunshine, cheerful birdsong and a mini-harvest of strawberries from our rather pathetic strawberry bush that lives in a flowerpot on the patio.

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Tomatoes are currently a bestseller both in the local produces markets and in the supermarket chains, and they are very well priced. When I went shopping early Saturday morning, two other items caught my eye. Firstly, and especially interesting to me because I like sheep’s milk yogurt, I noticed crème fraîche au lait de brebis, the American equivalent of which would be sour cream made from sheep’s milk. I had never noticed crème fraîche based on anything other than cow’s milk, so naturally, I had to try it. Secondly, there was an excellent special on Italian Mozzarella di Latte di Bufalo. That clinched the deal, we would have a tomato pie for our light and summery dinner!

Being lazy by nature, I used a ready-made, store-bought shortcrust pastry dough for my pie. The only slight effort I invested was a blind-bake with ceramic beads to make the pie a little crisper.

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While that was going on, I sat comfortably at the kitchen table slicing a small mountain of ripe tomatoes and letting myself be distracted by a British TV program on home renovations. The tomato slices also had a brief pre-bake in a 110ºC/225ºF oven, seasoned with a few grinds of a pepper mill, some coarse sea salt, plus ground coriander seeds, dried marjoram, a little brown sugar, and a few drops of olive oil.

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The purpose of that extra little bit of heat was simply to bring out the tomato aroma more strongly. Meanwhile, the pie assembly commenced on the kitchen counter by spreading the sheeply sour cream all over the bottom of the pre-baked pie case and sprinkling it with lemon zest, salt & pepper, ground coriander, powdered parmesan cheese, and some left-over shredded Emmental cheese. I also distributed teaspoon size dots of tomato pesto here and there. That’s a flavorful base for our Tomato Pie! After the tomato slices were placed in concentric circles, I just added the Mozarallo bits, shredded fresh basil, some yellow cherry tomato-halves, and another dusting of parmesan – we were ready to go in the oven.

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This pie would be as easy as, well, pie if you omit the pre-backing altogether. With juicy tomatoes, it will come out soggier than ours, though. Lay the dough in a pie tin, smudge sour cream and some mustard in the bottom, followed by shredded cheese(s), and salt & pepper. Slice a bunch of ripe tomatoes and put them on top of the cheese in overlapping circles. Finish with more seasoning and cheese and the pie is ready to be baked as per package instructions. That’s all there is to it and it’s very tasty on a warm evening, maybe with a glass of chilled white wine. Our dish wasn’t any more difficult, just a little more time consuming. For once😎, I used mostly store-bought and processed ingredients, for example, the tomato & basil pesto was a commercial item and the grated parmesan cheese came in an envelop. I love freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, of course, who doesn’t? But it’s prohibitively expensive which makes it a rare treat for special occasions. For cooking, I think, the powdered stuff is quite sufficient. I look for the best freshness date and buy the most expensive-by-weight small pouch.

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Our dinner included the Tomato Pie with a slice of cold-smoked wild Alaskan salmon from the fish counter in the supermarket, some frisée with fake crab salad from the deli counter, and a cup of yellow pepper and mango gazpacho from the cooled dairy section, where I also found the mozzarella and the sour cream. See, I told you I’m lazy! The wine, by the way, is a chilled Bordeaux Clairet. A dry yet fruity, light red wine mostly based on Merlot grapes. It is a very popular summer wine in the Bordelais region. Have a great week!

P.S. Here’s an update: In response to my Tomato Pie post tonight, my dear friend T. Michael Jackson of Traverse City, Michigan allowed me the use of his recent and completely incidental “Tomatoes in Colander” painting for my little story. Thank you so much, Mike, I love it! So much more apropos than roses!!

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“Tomatoes in Colander” by T. Michael Jackson, 2019

 

 

Fischsuppe, once again

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t cooked much lately, but when I recently received the medical advice to eat less raw vegetables in favor of the cooked variety, I went straight to the market and stocked up on root veggies, greens, and two lovely pieces of dos de cabillaud otherwise known as cod.

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After scrubbing everything, I started by separating the “good” parts of the veggies for the soup from the odds and ends to be discarded. Those I collected in a large pot of water with two cubes of Court-Bouillon heating up on the stove.

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Adding a handful of cardamom seeds and curly parsley, I let these “aromatics” simmer to extract all of their flavors while I sliced and diced the vegetables for the soup. We had, in order of cooking, potatoes, carrots, shallots, leeks, celery, and fennel.

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The dirt bits are coriander seeds

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As always, I dry-toasted crushed coriander seeds first, before adding oil in which to roast the potatoes for a good five minutes. It took about another five minutes to gently toss and turn all the other gradually added vegetables to release their flavors. Meanwhile, the bouillon was ready to be drained, so I could add it to the veggies roasting in the sauteuse.

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Put a lid on it and simmer for about ten more minutes.

When the vegetables were still al dente, I laid the fish on top of the soup, replaced the lid and simmered the concoction for another ten minutes, before checking for doneness. the fish should have just turned opaque and flake easily. I used quite thick pieces of cod that had come to room temperature to cook through more evenly. I flavored the cod with a dusting of white pepper, curcuma [turmeric], and lemon zest, plus a little sea salt. To add a twist to the simple fish soup, I made a shrimp persillade topping for the fish. In a small frying pan, I heated some butter to which I added breadcrumbs, letting them brown carefully. Next came salt, garlic paste, and finely diced curly parsley, all the while mixing the ingredients vigorously before adding tiny, pre-cooked, shelled shrimp to heat up in the persillade.

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Fresh parsley & capers add a finishing touch. Guten Appetit!

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A lot of Color & a few Beans

Fall Colors

In just a few hours, clocks will go back to standard time here in Europe. A good time, I thought, to celebrate another seasonal change, leaf color. We don’t have majestic maples nor delicate aspen around us, just vines. Vines and assorted evergreens.

Fall Colors

So let’s immerse ourselves in some crazy vines, shall we?

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

 

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Fall Colors

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

All that color made me hungry. Let’s whip up a quick and nutritious meal. Quick, that is to say, if you remembered to soak the haricots Tarbais for a few hours in the morning. Should you have forgotten, that’s alright, too. Bring the beans to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain and start again with fresh cold water. To flavor the cooking water, I like to use a small “pot” of vegetable bouillon.

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In the background, a portion of frozen chunky tomato sauce with yellow onions that I made a while ago for future use.

 

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We still had some dried Espelette chiles laying around, two of which I boiled with the beans to soften them. I could then scrape out the meat to be mixed with salt and olive oil for a spicy condiment to enliven all sorts of tame and boring foods.

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After about an hour and a half, the beans were done. I separated them into one bucket for some other time and a nice, smallish portion for our dinner. Those I pan-fried in duck fat with a few bacon bits and a lot of Curcuma and white pepper. the Curcuma [an immune system boosting root in the ginger family, also called Turmeric] turned the beans quite yellow. Such a lovely fit with our colorful post!

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Beans, sauce, and fettuccine are ready to go, let’s eat!

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Happy Autumn, my friends!

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A Poulpette and an Orchid

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As I sit at my desk of a Friday evening, I hear my better half swing his cleaver right below my room. It’s his turn to cook one of his Chinese creations for us. Tomorrow, when he will be more preoccupied with American football, I shall return to our kitchen to wrestle today’s market vegetables into submission, a potimarron, purple carrots, and a Wirsing.

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What a fascinating critter! The many species of Brassica oleracea, Gemüsekohl or cabbage, come in a multitude of natural and cultured variations. What I bought today was Wirsing (Brassica oleracea var. sabauda L.) otherwise known as savoy cabbage. One can turn this cabbage into a wide range of delicious dishes, from Kimchi to Kohlrouladen. I’m curious to find out what I’ll do with it tomorrow!

But for now, it’s Red Pepper Shrimp with rice à Chef Barry.

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Delicious!! Thank you!

And in this P.S. I shall now show you the fabulous and seriously creative dishes we enjoyed the other evening at the local restaurant called “Poulpette” – meaning, one hopes, little Octopus. It was our first meal there and we will definitely go back!

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We shared this entrée of haddock in beetroot cream with fresh almonds

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Barry’s main dish was beef cheek confit with spinach leaves & celery root velours suspended in a cloud of clam juice foam!

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Mine consisted of belly of tuna with grilled potimarron in a lobster bisque flavored with salt-cured lemon. All of it simply amazing!

P.P.S. We just discovered that one of the two orchids we inherited with the house has recovered from longterm neglect and is blooming quite prettily.

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Zygopetalum spec., Orchidaceae, I believe.

 

 

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 😜

 

 

Hello​, Ducky!

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Last night, I felt like cooking a duck breast, which we haven’t had in a while. Unless you serve it cold in a salad, it’s not really a summer dish in my opinion. But since it’s now officially Autumn… Duck breast, magret de canard, is the Frenchy equivalent of chicken breast, especially here in the SW of the country. Duck breast-halves [to be precise] are usually sold individually, weighing roughly 400 g each, so they are a perfect serving size for two hungry diners. Even though ducks are birds, their meat is largely red meat, like game meat and as such, it has twice as much cholesterol as chicken meat. On the other hand, it contains considerably less salt and is richer in vitamin A. Not to mention that duck meat is hugely more flavorful and tastier than their bland, white-fleshed cousins!

Since magret de canard is very easy and quick to prepare, I started with one of the two condiments I wanted to serve with the duck, a confit d’oignon, or, if you wish, a thick onion jam. The other one, our recent fig confit was ready-to-go in the fridge. For the onion dish, I roughly chopped two medium yellow onions and half of a large red onion. These pieces I cooked in duck fat, of course, very, very slowly over a very, very low flame for a very, very long time. The goal here is to soften the onion fibers, to melt them almost. Browning actions are forbidden. One just has to stir ever so often, the low heat does the rest thus leaving you free to do a load of laundry, finish a book, take dancing lessons online, or make Spätzle. Forty or so minutes later, I turned up the heat to medium-high and added a handful of very lean bacon bits [if you have duck lardon, all the better]. Stir, stir, stir the zizzling mess and splash some red wine vinegar into the pan while turning down the heat again. Scrape bits from the bottom, add a dollop of stone-ground mustard and another one of natural honey, and a dusting of cucurma. Stir it all to mix the flavors, turn off the heat, put a lid on the pan and forget about it till serving time.

For our side dish, I have to admit I cheated. Instead of making my Spätzle from scratch like a good Schwäbian Hausfrau should, I used a store-bought product from the Alsace, which is kind of a little bit like German made, sort of. Mea culpa! To prepare these [excellent!] Spätzle, I browned bread crumbs in duck fat [you recognize the theme here, right?] in which I then tossed the ready-made noodles until hot.

The Spätzle action happened while the duck breast was roasting in the oven. This is how it got there:

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF or convection 160ºC/325ºF with a small roasting pan inside.
  2. Unwrap duck breast, pat dry with a paper towel, cut off excess fat, and remove any remaining quill bits from the skin.
  3. Score the skin and under-laying fat in a narrow diamond pattern WITHOUT touching the meat.
  4. Place the duck breast skin side down in a COLD frying pan.
  5. Turn the heat under the ducky on low.
  6. Render as much fat as will flow freely into the pan for about 8 min or until the skin is nicely browned.
  7. Turn the breast on the meat side and fry for 1 minute in its own fat.
  8. Transfer the duck breast to the hot roasting pan in the oven and bake for 8 mins or less, depending on size.
  9. Wrap duck breast in alu and let rest for 10 mins.
  10. Sprinkle some shredded cheese on the hot Spätzle.
  11. Slice duck breast.
  12. Serve Duck & Käsespätzle with Fig & Onion Confits
  13. Enjoy!

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When Barry saw me snapping this picture, he grumbled “how come you only photograph your own cooking?”

Not true! A few days earlier, he cooked, as always, a Chinese dish. This time he prepared a fish dish he had never done before and it turned out beautiful and gorgeous and very tasty. Here’s the proof that I do not only snap my own dishes!

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And this is the delicious result

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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?