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

 

 

Cornbread & Sunday Sunshine

As I record my cornbread recipe, it has become increasingly overcast and a light drizzle moistens the air. Not so earlier this morning. When I looked out an upstairs window, the day was delightfully bright, crisp, and shiny.

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April 7, 07h57

With my first cup of coffee, I processed yesterday’s cooking pictures. Going downstairs to fetch another cup, I took my camera with me for a delightful stroll among our newly sprouting green stuff. That gave me the opportunity to mingle pictures of sauteed onions with those of delicate vine leaves to make my recipe a little more adventurous.

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Saturday’s kitchen session revolved around Southwest flavors which we miss over here in France quite a bit. That is until we discovered a French online business called “My American Market” where we now order things like creamed corn and Rotel chile&tomatoes, not to mention pancake mix and, yes, Cheetos.

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The 13 ingredients for my cornbread, 14 if you count the eggs individually 🤓

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Firstly, combine the dry ingredients:

  1. 1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix
  2. 1 rounded cup cornmeal
  3. 2 tsp baking soda
  4. 1/2 tsp salt
  5. 1 rounded Tbl crushed, toasted cumin seeds
  6. 1 tsp powdered cumin seeds
  7. 1/2 tsp piment d’Espelette

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Then add the moist ingredients:

  1. 10 oz of the creamed corn
  2. 4 Tbl Rotel tomato-and-chile bits without the liquid
  3. 2 eggs, lightly beaten with 1 Tbl of Rotel liquid & some freshly ground nutmeg
  4. 2 Tbl honey
  5. 2 Tbl olive oil
  6. 1/4 cup finely shredded cheese [Comté in my case]

Blend well and pour into the baking dish of your choice. I decorated the top with the remaining creamed corn and coarsely chopped cheddar cheese.

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Using a convection oven, I baked the cornbread at 180ºC/350ºF for 10 min, lowered the temperature to 150ºC/300ºF and continued to back for another 30 min. The bread wasn’t quite done, so I added a few more minutes at 180ºC to finish the center and get a nicely browned top.

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While the bread was in the oven, the skirt steak for our fajitas needs to be marinated. Some good quality olive oil, fajita seasoning, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, dried herbs, piment d’Espelette – or whatever comes to mind or happens to be laying around your pantry.

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We brought that olive oil back from San Sebastián in January, it’s delicious.

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Looks like we might have some figs this year!

Meanwhile, it was time to slice and dice the vegetables, green and red bell peppers, yellow and red onions, and a little garlic for the fun of it.

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As usual, I sautéed my onions first by themselves at a low temperature to let them gently caramelize, before I added the peppers, garlic, and flavoring.

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When all the veggies were pretty much ready, I turned up the heat and added the juice of the zested lemon for a fruity finish. Truth be told, this kitchen version of fajitas, both the meat and the vegetables, is pretty much a lame second choice. Real fajitas should be charcoal grilled, nicely charred, and dripping with Tex-Mex flavor!!

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Our Clematis growing steadily over the pergola support.

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With a little avocado and a drizzle of Balsamico, it was pretty tasty, nevertheless.

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A Roasted [temporary] Swansong

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As the glowing colors of Fall inevitably turn into the more muted tableaux of Winter, our longing for rich, savory, and warming food increases. Instead of imbibing refreshing cocktails on a sun-flooded terrace, we tend to focus on root vegetables and steaming broth slurped in a cozy inglenook, until once again, the earth’ axis is tilted more favorably for al fresco fun.

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In our kitchen, carrot, fennel, onion, and their brethren are usually slated to find themselves swimming in a bubbling bouillon. This time, though, I thought let’s switch it up a little. All scrubbed and trimmed, they looked so nice and orderly, why not roast them, for a change?

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So, I invented the following oven-roasted vegetable medley & steamed cod dinner:

Dos de Cabillaud Citron en Papillote avec ses légume rôtis et sa sauce yaourt

The inspiration for this dish proved to be a fairly shriveled and sadly abandoned little lemon in the fridge. I skinned the poor thing and soaked the pieces of desiccated rind in olive oil, heating it now and then in the oven when an opportunity arose, for example during the pre-heating phase.

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Later on, I used this lemon infused oil to marinate the cod filets, as well as adding the rind to the papillotes for additional flavoring.

The huge and wonderful head of garlic below wasn’t part of the recipe. I simply used the activation of the oven to turn it into an absolutely marvelously creamy delight.

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The preparations for our meal broke down into three stages. Firstly, the vegetables had to be roasted during which time the fish packages were to be prepared. While those baked in the oven, there was ample time to beat the yogurt sauce into submission.

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On the vegetable tray, we had sweet potatoes and pommes de terre grenaille [immature baby potatoes], baby carrots, leeks, fennel, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, red & yellow onions, and, a little belatedly, some parsley.

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Meanwhile, creating the papillotes proved to be a pain in the neck. Assembling the flavorings wasn’t the issue and they looked quite pretty, however …

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Preparing a bed for our fish with finely diced fennel, fennel greens, lemon zest, marinated lemon rind, lemon slices, and capers, plus coriander & cucurma powder.

 

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Cod, marinated in warm lemon oil, then flavored with mustard, salt, and cucurma powder.

 

… closing the darn parchment packages turned into a farce. My plan to staple the paper together fell apart rather quickly when our one and only stapler failed to staple. Utterly and completely. Not a single staple made it through the paper, let alone fasten it. Neither did the dimensions of the parchment sheets allow for tying it with Ficelle de Cuisine, kitchen yarn. Ultimately, all I could do was crimp the parchment as firmly as possible, shove the loose bundles in the oven and hope for the best.

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The yogurt dip, one the other hand, was quickly blended and provided a fresh and creamy complement for the roasted vegetables and the fish.

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Dinner’s served, with a nicely chilled glass of Clairet de Bordeaux!

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Regarding the roasted vegetables:

The washed and dried vegetables were rubbed with olive oil. I pre-roasted the huge sweet potato while the oven came to temperature to be able to cut it into 3 pieces. During this time, I also roasted the head of garlic. Once the oven had reached 240ºC/220ºC convection, I placed the baking sheet with 2 sweet potato ends, the grenailles, and the leek & onion pieces in the oven to roast for 10 min. After that, the other veggies joint in the fun, all of which I dusted with freshly ground pepper, coarse salt, a little dry marjoram, and ground coriander. The total roasting time was about 30 min, it could’ve been less for the carrots and fennel pieces.

The ingredients for each fish package consisted of:

  • ~ 200 g skinless Cod filet, marinated for 15 min at room temperature in the preserved warm [not hot!] lemony olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice drizzled on the fish
  • 1 tsp of stone-ground or sweet mustard shmeared over the fish
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • finely diced fennel & greens
  • some of the lemon rind pieces from the small lemon, previously incubated in warm olive oil
  • a few slices of the now rindless small lemon
  • a dusting of ground coriander
  • a dusting of ground cucurma
  • coarse salt to taste
  • finely diced parsley
  • fresh dill
  • a splash of olive oil
  • Capers to taste
  • Cherry tomatoes for color

Tightly close the parchment paper packages and bake at 200ºC/180ºC convection for 20 min. Let the fish rest in the unopened package till serving.

The ingredients for the yogurt dip were:

  • 125 g un-flavored yogurt [I used Greek-style]
  • 1 heaped Tbl honey
  • 1 heaped Tbl mustard of choice
  • 1 heaped tsp fresh lemon zest
  • juice of 1 lemon, amount to taste
  • white pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cucurma
  • 3 Tbl olive oil

Beat with a hand mixer until well blended and creamy. Adjust amounts of ingredients and seasoning to your taste.

Allow me to add a personal remark to conclude this post. As it happens, dodgy spinal columns and their associated troubles are a sad trademark in my family. After having done reasonably well for some time, including weathering our extensive travels last year and our move to Cognac earlier this year, I’m currently going through an “episode”. My exceedingly charming doctor has issued stern orders, condemning me to a period of utterly boring inactivity. No driving, no marketing, no housework [Yes!], but also no cooking [😱] until further notice. Consequently, there won’t be any cooking posts for a while in this blog! However, I couldn’t bear for you to feel abandoned and rejected. Therefore I’d like to suggest you check out some of my Travel Posts at Photolera Claudinha’s other blog.

Under the search function “Home cooking” there are quite a number of cooking posts thrown in with my travel posts, not to mention stories about our former Costa Rican and Central Texas places. You might even enjoy some of my food-free Travel-through-Home-Exchanges posts from across the world, well, some small areas of our globe, anyway.  I hope, this will keep you entertained for a while 😁

A bientôt, mes amis !

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Coal Fish without Capers

When we moved into our new home in April, our green space, a courtyard garden between the house and the street had been maintained only in minimal fashion for some time. The previous owners had long moved to Spain and stayed in Cognac only sporadically. It fell to a neighbor and avid gardener to do the most urgent tasks whenever he could. Since he knew the garden so well, we had arranged with him to become our gardener of record. But soon after we moved in, he fell ill and outside of two brief sessions, he was never again able to continue the necessary work.

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Throughout the summer, always hoping he might be able to return, we watched the already unruly plants get completely out of hand. the vines grew over the barn shutters and invaded gutters and soffits, threatening the integrity of the tiled roofs of the barns. The poor cypresses drooped every which way with heavy loads of cones, and the mushrooming rosemary population proliferated beyond reason. It was high time to take action!

On the dot of eight on a greyish morning, a three-man crew of the “Thomas Espaces Verts” garden maintenance company arrived with their heavy equipment.

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Some of the work was quite precarious, especially at the laurel hedge along the wall to our neighbors. It had grown through the mesh cover of the pergola by several feet.

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Trying to scrape the vine tentacles off the white façade – with partial success only.

By 16 hrs, the job was nearly done and the agile monitor lizard went back on its trailer pad.

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That left only the clean-up of bits and pieces which the guys accomplished with the same professionalism they had shown all day, aided by leaf blowers and rakes, before driving off into the sunset.

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They were actually driving in an easterly direction, but that just doesn’t sound right, does it?

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Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Thomas et son équipe !

Meanwhile, in the house, some cooking was going on. Since we both like hearty soups and I am a smidgen lazy, I usually steam fish with fennel and capers as the last step of preparing a stew. For some unknown reason, this time, I decided to bread the fish and pan fry it. I don’t like breaded food, mostly owing to the unnecessary calories, but I have to admit that it can be delicious. When I was much more slender and so young that I naturally believed I would remain slender forever, I used to get a bagful of those deep-fried breading tidbits that the Long John Silver chain used to sell. Oh, those frivolous days of yonder!

The recipe I was planning to use for the breading called for the egg dip between the flour and the crumbs to incorporated crème fraîche. Talk about calories!! What most intrigued me, though, was the idea to mix the breadcrumbs with fresh dill. A great starting point for a flavorful breading, I thought.

So, what are we cooking, then? Pollock or saithe or coalfish, that’s what we’re cooking. Pollachius virens, Gadidae, called lieu noir here in France. We’re also going to have skinny green beans with red onion & garlic & ginger confit, plus some peppers & dried tomatoes for color.  And, an accidental side dish, satiny mashed potatoes.

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Here we have the potatoes which, after being started in cold water with a vegetable bouillon cube & salt, will be boiled for 20 min with a Tbl of the diced garlic.

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Dill & lemon zest will become part of the breading

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clockwise from top: nutmeg [for the potatoes], lemon zest [for the breading], marinated dried tomatoes [for the green beans]

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Breadcrumbs with salt, white pepper, powdered coriander, dried sage mixed with 2 Tbl of fresh, chopped dill and the zest of a smallish lemon.

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Before stirring 2 heaped Tbl (!) of crème fraîche in the egg, I added a little anchovy paste to enhance the overall flavor

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The breaded lieu noir should rest in the fridge for 15 min [or longer] to let the breading adhere to the fish for frying. Meanwhile, one can look after the beans and their aromatic confit.

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Our other side dish, the mashed potatoes truly were an accident. My original intent was to mash the boiled potatoes with the “stick” attachment of a hand-held mixer, a weak immersion blender, as I believe they’re called. Only, the darn thing wouldn’t work. Well, the mixer worked perfectly fine, but I couldn’t open the sliding shutter covering the stick attachment site. The stubborn plastic thingy plain refused to slide further than halfway. Neither could I find the mixer manual in the drawer specifically designated to hold the manuals of all our large and small appliances. All of them, except the Bosch hand mixer, apparently. Lengthy search-and-rescue missions for operating instructions while hot potatoes wait for action, any action, and another dish awaits stirring, isn’t such a hot idea. So I tossed the mixer back in the cupboard in disgust and poured the potato pieces with a little cooking liquid including the garlic bits, the nutmeg, a dollop of cream & butter, and some crème fraîche in the blender, where it turned into this incredibly smooth and silky potato cream. Sort of like soft serve ice cream, only hot and potatoey.

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At least, nobody can say it’s monochromatic 😇

 

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 😜