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 😜

 

 

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]