Thursday, April 27, 2006

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Reference: Spanish Iberian Ham

The way a pig is raised and what they eat makes a huge difference in the quality of the ham coming from the animal. Spanish Iberian hams are produced from a protected breed of pig descending from wild boars. These pigs are raised in herds instead of pens, out in the open, running free, grazing on the wild chestnuts and acorns, products of the wild forest environment, and herbs that are available to them. In the winter they forage for acorns from the cork oak with their long black snouts, in season and plentiful in the Iberian forest, and during that season, they put on their final weight.

There are three different types of Iberian ham, depending on the time of year the pig is born, August, Christmas, or Spring. The pigs have dark colored skin, they are brown or black in color, and have very little hair. They are slaugtered, depending on the time of year that they are born, between 8 and 13 months of age. The hams coming from pigs that have spent their last months out running in the forest, fattening up on foraged acorns are the ones that have the best flavor.

The Spanish Iberian ham has become a reference for the best cured ham in Europe. Here in Lyon, we are lucky to have a direct source for this type of ham at Les Halles.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Morning at the Market

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

L'Ail est Arrivé! - Soupe au Pistou

Soupe au Pistou is a dish I usually associate with sunburn. After a long hard day on that secret uncrowded stone beach we have to hike a mile over a steep hill to get to (no wonder we've got it to ourselves from time to time), we'd drag our tired sun soaked bones home and Brigitte would bring it out to the terrace in a big white ceramic bowl. The cicadas would hum as she ladled it into our soup plates, and the pink evening twighlight set in as we soothed our raging appetites with that and a chilled local rosé to match the sunset.

The weather here has been so nice this weekend that this morning when I caught a whiff bright and early of the witchy ladies' fresh garlic I thought of this soup at once. We're seeing the fixings for it now, even in April, and there's no reason not to serve it up and ride this wave.

The fresh first garlic really does smell great even from far away. It is milder and juicier than the garlic we have been using all winter, and it's way too young to have a germ to have to fish out of the center! Toss the bitter and sad old leftover garlic pits sprouting green you have swimming in your onion basket! Take a head of this and roast it whole!

The following recipe comes from my mother-in-law Brigitte's kitchen notebook. She was born and raised on the French Cote d'Azur, and her mother gave her this recipe. The soup's origins are actually across the border and down the coast a bit in Genoa Italy, but it has been adopted and embraced as a local soup along the French eastern Med coast.

There really is no need to 'soup up' the traditional Pistou, which is a celebration of simplicity, really. It is a soup that hovers around the theme of a thickened garlic and fresh basil paste which is placed on the pedestal of a simple wholesome bean and potato soup. Don't fall for the fancy Parisian versions calling for 8 different vegetables or a rainbow display of imported hard to find beans in the stock. Forget the idea of drab winter tubers like leeks or onions in this light and uplifting soup! Please don't fall for posers calling for saffron, and don't feel like you need to go on a long shopping spree to make this soup. Remember what the goal is, keep it simple, and use what you have.

Soupe au Pistou

Take a pound of green beans cut into little pieces, a handful or more of freshly hulled feves or even peas if you have them, three or four potatoes cut into cubes, and two peeled and chopped tomatoes, and put them in a soup pot. Add 2 liters or a half gallon of water and add more to cover what you've got in the pot by at least one inch, if necessary. Season with sea salt, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes and the feves are soft. Add a cup of vermincelli or macaroni and continue to cook at a low simmer for another 15 minutes, making sure it does not burn on the bottom. The soup should be rather thick, the pasta soft.

About 5 minutes before serving, thoroughly mash (mash this to a pulp and do it by hand) 4 cloves of garlic with a few branches of basil (for the those who don't know pesto, I'll say 10 fresh basil leaves - for those who know pistou/pesto and have some experience with fresh basil and its strength variations, use your judgement), and add 3 or 4 tablespoons of good fruity olive oil one spoon at a time - whisking briskly like you're raising a mayonnaise (this means whisk it until it thickens up). Take a ladle of the soup and mix it into the pistou (garlic and basil mixture), and then mix all of that gently into the soup with a wooden spoon. Serve hot.

Note: Some like to serve their soup with Parmesean. Go ahead if that floats your boat! In my opinion, the cheese is best passed around and sprinkled onto the soup at the table.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Getting the Grapefruit Spoons

Something that made eating grapefruit fun when I was growing up were the silver grapefruit spoons we were granted permission to use. In the dark hour of morning, with the nimbus of gauzy diningroom curtains just barely aglow before sunrise, I would go into the formal dining room, face the buffet, and pull with all of my weight to get the silver drawer open. The silver drawer was a sacred kind of drawer. It seemed there were movable panels and secret compartments. In one place where you had to lift up a cover, was a stack of velvety thick cards with my full name engraved on them. The silver drawer had a special pretty smell. The wood was old and dry, and the felt lined grooves to stack each implement were the perfect size. The grapefruit spoons were off to the right, they were after the coffee spoons and they had a pointed tip. They made eating a grapefruit a breezy gentle affair, kind of like spooning sherbet from a natural bowl. When I was a kid, I hated eating grapefruit any other way.

At some point we obtained a set of less formal grapefruit spoons, with bamboo handles and serrated edges. I think the idea was that they were less dangerous than the pointy silver ones, and their home was in the regular kitchen drawer. I adopted them readily enough but I don't really have special memories of using them except of when we needed a spoon and the only ones left in my 5 kid household were the grapefruit spoons. Scraping ice cream from the bottom of a bowl with a serrated grapefruit spoon is an exercise in futility. You might as well just lick the bowl.

I enjoyed using the silver ones to eat the fruit mainly because I was attracted to the silver drawer, and the ceremony of using the precious spoons. I remember the white pithy stuff being almost impossible to remove from the meat of the fruit when I was growing up. I think the fruit has changed somehow.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Bouquet Breadsticks

Last night since I had a rather large herb bouquet
leftover from the market this weekend, I decided to fool around with some of phyllo dough, called brick in France, and herbs. I have enveloped goat cheese and sprigs of thyme before with success, and an idea came from a recipe in Régal, which uses a technique to make a quasi mille feuille using layers of this type of dough which has sprigs of dill appliquéd between two circles of the dough with clarified butter. The home cook is instructed to fastiduously cut the dough into 36 perfect circles. I skipped that, not being the perfect circle type. But I did like the pretty effect of applying the herb to dough.

First thing: Pure butter is just too greasy. I started cutting it down with some dry white wine, making an emulsion of wine and butter, testing each time in the oven. I found that about a 1:3 butter wine ratio did quite nicely and I still think that I could have cut way down on the butter. I finally ended up with some crispy light bread sticks by taking a rectangular sheet of dough, spreading a thin layer of the wine and butter mixture over 1/2 of it, lining up the edge of the sticky side with herbs up the edge, sprinkling the sticky side with sea salt, folding the dry half over and smoothing it, and then rolling the whole thing loosely into a cigar shape. These go together very quickly. I popped them into a hot oven, herb side down for about 3 minutes, and then flipped them over and baked for another 3 minutes.

They were crispy all the way through and entertaining to eat, and since they had different kinds of herbs: dill, chervil, soft spring thyme shoots, and chives, they tasted different with every crunch. I can imagine heaping a whole bunch into a big basket for a party. Another idea would be apply herbs under a transparent filo feuille to bread dough before baking. Rolls, a loaf of bread, or maybe even some kind of savory cake might be nice with this type of applied decoration. I'll try something like that very soon.



Sunday, April 16, 2006

Marché St. Antoine, yesterday, just before the rain.



Saturday, April 15, 2006

Lake Trout with Spring Fennel Sorrel Sauté

It's really all because of the baby fennel. I have had my eyes peeled for weeks and it has finally arrived.

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Asparagus Sorrel Soup

The Asparagus producer will be on the Quai St. Antoine for the next several weeks. Asparagus is just too delicious to hold back from buying. However much I love to pick up a long tender delicious tendril of freshly steamed asparagus and delicately eat it with my fingers, we can't really afford to do that at the moment. In order to still fully enjoy the taste of asparagus, I took advantage of the producers bargain bin, and bought some of the scraggly stems that cost 2€ a kilo. No need to worry, I know from experience that this will make a divine soup. We got some of the bottom rung asparagus, and I made sure to pick up a bunch of sorrel for 80 cents, among the other fresh new spring roots.

Asparagus Sorrel Soup

1/2 pound of asparagus
1 old potato
1 spring onion
1 small new carrot
1 tablespoon butter
a pinch of fresh thyme
2 european bay leaves or 1/2 california bay
sea salt
1/2 a bunch of sorrel, about 16 leaves
about 2 cups chicken stock (optional)

Wash your vegetables and herbs, and put the thyme and sorrel aside. Cut the ends off the asparagus but don't bother to remove any rough spots from the stems. Slice them into 1 inch lengths. Roughly slice your spring onion, including the green part, if it's fresh enough, peeled potato, and carrot into chunks. In a two quart saucepan, melt the tablespoon of butter, and once the foam subsides, add add the chopped asaparagus, onions, potato, & carrot. Over medium heat, sweat the vegetables until they begin to soften, about 5 mintues, stirring regularly. Toss in the thyme and the bay leaves. Add liquid to cover. If you don't have home made chicken stock, use water. (we used water today - don't be tempted to add bouillon powder or canned stock!) Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and keep at a rather lively simmer for 15 mintues. At the end of the 15 minutes, remove the thyme and bay leaves. Use the blender to puree the soup thoroughly. Strain the soup through the chinois to remove any rough fibers. Rinse the pan right quick and return the puree to the pan and put it over the heat again. Roll your sorrel leaves into a cigar and quickly slice them thinly into ribbons. Bring the asparagus puree to a simmer over medium heat and stir in the sorrel leaves. When the leaves soften and lighten in color (about a minute), puree the soup again, taste, and season with sea salt only. Serve with crusty bread. This goes well with a simple wine like a Macon on the dry side or petit Chablis.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Chez Voisin

Our first apartment was above the Cours Lafayette Voisin chocolate shop and I spent a good deal of time freaking out the old lady who ran it. I parked myself in front of the cases and stared for inordinate amounts of time at each kind of chocolate specialty and rarely bought anything. One thing you'll notice is that here in this country, if you go into a small shop, at some point in time you're going to get called onto the carpet to state what you plan to purchase. Here instead of an unobtrusive service oriented "May I help you?", the greeting is more of a thundering imperative: "Madame!"

What does it mean when one is confronted with such a greeting? There are probably a million theories but let me tell you what it means to me: "Madame, you have crossed the threshold into my shop, and now the time has come. You must tell me what you intend to buy, or move along." Back in the Cours Lafayette days, I would usually just respond with a timid and somewhat feigned oblivious "Bonjour" and get started on my rampant looking spree. She had an impatient quality about her but eventually I broke her in. For awhile she came to ignore me completely, not even responding to my greeting when I entered the shop.

Voisin coffee and chocolate shops are scattered across the city of Lyon, with shops also in Grenoble and Nice. All of the shop's chocolates are produced in one central Lyon production plant, although some of the individual branches do roast coffee beans on location at the shops. They don't roast their own cocoa beans. In fact there are really very few that do. The one thing that makes me hesitate to really call this a chain is that even though Voisin has been in activity for over a hundred years, they only have 16 shops. Each of the shops is individually owned, although they really are a family of shops from the same roots. In every shop you'll find the same chocolate and coffee products, but local branch owners do their own displays and exercise their creative license with their lines of draget boxes, accesories, gift basket ideas and so on. They each have their own personality.

Anyway, on Cours Lafayette, the lady eventually realized I would come to her when I had a gift to buy, so she warmed up to me. Once I had gotten to know her better, she told me that Voisin had invented the "Papillotes", chocolates wrapped in pretty sparkly paper with a message inside, the kind they sell all over France now at Christmas time. I proudly carried this lore with me down to my in-laws one Christmas holiday, with bags of papillotes for all, but I got the impression that they didn't believe me. Oh well. But it's true!

I have a special place in my heart for the Lyon Voisin shops, their individuality and the real personalities of their owners. For Easter, in addition to the usual large chocolate eggs, bells, fish, rabbits, cartoon characters and hens, they also sell little flavored fishies and treats by weight for a price you can imagine paying for a kid's basket. Their flavors are geared somewhat for kids and the masses, with orange and fruit in milk and white chocolate mixes. They still taste much better than the store bought chocolates. Voisin chocolates, coussins, etc. are a nice souvenier of Lyon. This basket is lined with beigy soft fake fur! I thought that was cute.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bernachon - Chocolatier Extraordinaire

With Easter weekend coming up, I felt it necessary to take a stroll down Cours Franklin Roosevelt and take in the display at Bernachon. Every year they have an enormous molded chocolate sculpture in the window, and every year I am astounded at its monumental proportions. Who gets to eat that chocolate egg? I wondered, as I tried in my mind to calculate the weight of the enormous single edifice of chocolate before me. Knowing Bernachon, the thing might actually be solid, I thought, as I pushed the door in and allowed the heady, rich and deep aroma of cocoa everywhere to envelope me and permeate my senses.

Outside, the window was shining glitz and glass, with stately polished bronze letters spelling out the family name mounted on the marble shop front. Indeed Bernachon is an institution worthy of the pomp, but one that has held on to its humble beginnings, remaining a family run private business for the last 48 years. They sell from their shop only. Any chocolates you find outside of the shop are from re-sellers eager to capitalize on their reputation. You won't ever see a Bernachon boutique outside of the Lyon shop on Cours Franklin Roosevelt (although you can purchase by mail order), because they firmly made the decision to control their quality this way - to maintain their impeccable reputation.

I entered the shop, where on a Wednesday afternoon there were no less than a dozen well heeled clients, thoughtfully working their way around the indoor display windows all containing seasonal molded chocolates dressed with ribbons and bows along the outer periphery. Dear plaid winter-woollen clad Mamies were making their decisions and calculating numbers, plotting the candy hunt for Sunday, followed by obedient shop keepers with silver trays and tongs. The Mamies indicated with their determined stodgy gestures which pieces they desired, the shop keepers delicately placed the required pieces on the trays, following behind them as they knocked along. I turned to the counter and gazed longingly at the beautiful cool blue and rich brown retro fabric cushioned boxes that just screamed “I’m full of gorgeous chocolates!” and ran my gaze down the case over the amazingly diverse selection of chocolates to choose from.

Since 1958, the Bernachon family has conducted on site torrefaction in their workshop, roasting specially blended formulas of raw directly imported cocoa beans from 8 different countries to produce 62 different kinds of chocolate on site. For their base chocolate, they have a simple recipe, it's no secret. Pure roasted cocoa beans, sugar, and whole vanilla beans where vanilla is required.

They only supply one chef in the city, Mr. Paul Bocuse, since Jean-Jacques is married to his daughter, Françoise. This legendary chef is known for taking his breakfast often in Bernachon's tea salon, which boasts in addition to the full array of chocolates, a full spread of the highest quality house made pastries and brioche. He was a good friend of Maurice Bernachon, father and founder of the business, who passed away at the ripe old age of 80 in 1998, and chef Bocuse maintains his close relationship with their mutual grandchildren, who are being carefully prepared to continue in the family tradition.
Artisanal torrefaction is overseen by Jean-Jacques Bernachon, and the boutique and tea room where the public can relax and enjoy the pastries and chocolates on site is managed by Françoise. Today Bernachon chocolate enjoys legendary status as one of the best chocolatiers in France and their reputation for impeccable quality rings throughout the world. Members of the family are present at every point of the business. In fact I was greeted by Stephanie Bernachon today, graciously received, and allowed to open cases and snap my way through the shop like paparazzi, despite the din and busy Easter preparations underway. As I left the shop and passed by the bustling tea room, I already had plans to return - once I've made my decision about what the bells of Easter will bring to our house.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Les Trois Cornes

Les Trois Cornes is said to be inspired by a story told by the legendary M. Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) who was mentor to many of the great names of French literature of his time. He was one of the first artists of his day to embrace the work of and defend the Impressionists, a true writer of the modern era. The story is told within the framework of a supposed letter to an young poet who has refused a job at a top Paris circular. I translate the story that gave the fromage Les Trois Cornes a name for your pleasure here.


What? Grignoire! You, young poet, have been offered a post to write a column in a good Paris paper and you have the gall to refuse? See here sad boy! Take a look at your sorry state of existence, the holes in your shoes. You look like you're about to starve! Look at where your determination to write your pretty rhymes is going to take you. Look at what little you have to show for yourself after 10 long years of service to Apollo! Aren't you ashamed? Write your column, silly boy! Write the column! Your life will improve!

No, you don't want to do it? You prefer to stay free to the very end. Alright then, listen here, to the story of the goat of M. Seguin.

M. Seguin never had much luck with goats. He always lost them the same way - they chewed their cord, ran up into the mountains, and were eaten there by the big bad wolf. Neither the loving care of the master nor fear of the wolf ever stopped them. It seemed to him that the goats would pay any price to prance in the fresh air, free. M. Seguin, who couldn't understand this nature in his goats, was completely stumped. "I've had it!" - he cried, "Goats get restless on my farm, I'll never be able to keep them!"

This didn't stop him from trying, however. One after the next they dissapeared the same way, and after losing six goats he got a seventh - only this time, he took the care to buy a really young one, in hopes that it would get used to him and his farm before it wanted to get away.

And oh what a beauty this kid was! With her beard like a petty officer, her eyes big and green, shiny black boot-like hooves, her striped horns and pretty white fur that curled up around the edges! Such a lovely little kid!

M. Seguin had a little patch surrounded by delicious hawthorn which is where he put his new goat. He attached her by a chord to a post, making sure to leave lots of rope to let her wander just so far, and from time to time, he checked on her to make sure she was alright. The little goat seemed so content to graze on the herbs in her little patch that M. Seguin was simply delighted. "At last!" he exclaimed, "I've got one that isn't bored here!" Unfortunately he was wrong, the goat was getting restless.

One day, the little goat, while gazing up to the mountain, said "Oh it must be so very nice up there in the mountains! How I long to have the chance to prance around freely in the fog without this scratchy rope so tight around my neck! It's fine for a cow or a donkey to be all closed up in a pen, but goats, they need to be free."

From that moment on, the goat was clutched with ennui. She lost interest in the herbs, she lost weight, she didn't give any milk. It was pitiful to see her all the day long laying as far as she could from the post, the rope stretched taut, her muzzle stretched out toward the mountain, sadly bleating.

M. Seguin knew that something was wrong, but he couldn't say what. One day as he came to take care of the goat, she bleated to him in his language: "Look at me, Mr. Seguin. I am languishing here at the end of this rope. Won't you let me go up into the mountain?"

"My God!" cried M. Seguin. "Not again!" This time he tried to talk some sense into the goat, and sat down next to her. "What? You want to leave me, Blanquette?"
"Yes, M. Seguin" she replied.
"Are you missing certain greens, my dear?"
"Oh no, M. Seguin!"
"Can I lengthen your rope?"
"No, it's not that."
"Then what can I do? What do you want?"
"I want to go into the mountain, M. Seguin."
"But my sad one, you don't know that there is a ferocious wolf up there. What will you do when he comes?"
"I'll pierce him with my horns, Mr. Seguin."
"The wolf doesn't care about your horns, my Blanquette. He's devoured creatures with much bigger horns than yours, my dear. Do you remember poor old Renaude, the massive mother of all goats that was here last year? She battled with the wolf all night long, and in the morning, he ate her."
"Oh poor Renaude!" Blanquette paused. "That doesn't mean anything, M. Seguin. Please let me go up to the mountain!"

M. Seguin was at a loss for words. Yet another one of his cherished goats was going to be devoured by the wolf. He put some thought into the love he felt for his dear Blanquette and said - "Good, now I know and I am determined to save you, despite that terrible force that's pulling you to the mountain. I know you'll try and chew your chord, so I'm closing you up into a pen, so you will stay with me forever!"

With that, M. Seguin put the litle goat into a pen in the dark stable, and closed the door with two turns of the key. Unfortunately, he forgot the little window, through which the little goat squirmed through and escaped.

What? You're laughing, Grignoire?
You think this is funny? You know very well that you too are a goat, against good M. Seguin. We'll see if you're laughing in a little while!

The little goat felt like she was walking into paradise once she got to the mountain. Never had the old pines looked so beautiful. The forest gave her a royal welcome as well, with ancient chestnut trees stopping to caress her gently all along her procession into the woods. The yellow flowers joyously swayed in the wind to make a welcoming path as she marched into the sunny fields, in fact the whole mountain celebrated her arrival.

Think about her joy, Grignoire! No more prickly rope, nothing more to prevent her from running free! It's there that the herbs were growing right up to her horns. And what glorious herb it was! Delicious, fine, lacy and made from a thousand plants. This was a far cry from the stumpy Hawthorn at the end of her rope at the farm. The flowers! Bulbous blossoms with violet stems, all kinds, brimming with sweet nectar.

She was giddy with happiness and leapt high in the air, among the scrub and the brush, one moment looking out from a glorious peak, the next lolling in a rocky canyon, here, there, everywhere! You might have said that M. Seguin had ten goats running through the mountains instead of one.

Pretty Blanquette was afraid of nothing! She leapt over torrential currents spraying clouds of watery mist. Completely soaked, she spread out on a sunny rock to dry. At a certain moment she saw through a break in the rocks, the farm of M. Seguin far down below, with a faint image of the dark circle of trampled sorry ground surrounding the post that once imprisoned her. Tears streamed down her delicate muzzle as she laughed with joy. "but it's so small." she wondered. "How could that place have held me?"

The poor thing. High up on her perch, she thought she was bigger than the world. In all, it was a grand day for our little Blanquette. In hopping from left to right, she ran across a herd of chamois deer chewing in a patch of wild vine, and made quite a sensation. She was given a place of honor among the vines to chew, and all of the males were gallant with her. In fact, this will rest between us, Grignoire, but one of the chamois had the luck for a turn in the vine with our lovely Blanquette. The two amoureux spent a heavenly hour or two in the forest, and if you really want to know what happened, you'll have to check with those sources unseen that dwell in the moss there.

Suddenly, a cold wind blew over the mountains. The vista turned a rosy purple - and then, it was night. "Already!" said the little goat, a little bit suprised. Down below, the fields were drowned in heavy fog, and all she could see of M. Seguin's farm was the roof of his farmhouse with a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney. She heard the bells of a troop returning to bed down for the night and felt a little sad in her heart. A swallow returning home made a flapping with his wings. She began to shiver.

Then there was a terrible howl echoing in the mountain! She thought of the wolf. All day long she didn't think of him but now... At the same time a horn sounded from way down in the valley. It was M. Seguin making one last effort to save her!

The wolf howled, owiooo!
The trumpet called: Come back my little Blanquette!

Blanquette wanted to return but she remembered that lonely post, the rope, the horrible darkness of the pen. Even though she was afraid she felt that it would be better to stay where she was. The horn finally ceased.

Suddenly she froze in fear as she heard footsteps behind her in the leaves. She made out in the darkness two straight ears, and two glittering eyes. Huge, still, crouching on his haunches, he watched the delicate little goat. He could already taste his dinner. Knowing that he was going to eat her, he took his time, and just watched her. When she turned to see him he let out a horrible laugh. "Ah, M. Seguin has sent me another little goat", he growled, licking his chops.

Little Blanquette didn't know what to do. She remembered the story of the poor old goat Renaude, who battled all night long just to be eaten in the morning, and she thought that perhaps it would be better after all to be eaten right away. Then she lowered her horns to protect herself, like the brave little kid she was. She could never hope to kill the wolf. Goats don't kill wolves. But only to see if she could hold him off until dawn as her dear friend Renaude had done.

The beast advanced, and engaged in a dance with the little goat's horns. Oh the poor little Blanquette, she fought with a clean and brave heart. More than ten times, and I'm telling the truth, the wolf was forced to retreat and take his breath. Each time she fell back into the herb and the little gourmande recharged with some fresh greens and then went right back into battle. This went on all night, and from time to time the little kid glanced up at the twinkling stars and said "Oh if only I can last 'till daylight!" One by one the stars extinguished in the sky and she kept returning with her horns, and the wolf with his teeth.

A gleam appeared in the horizon, and the rooster's call rose from the farmland below. "Finally!" called Blanquette, having lasted all the night. She streched out on a patch of grass, her pretty white fur stained with blood. With that, the wolf pounced and ate her.

Adieu, Gringoire! The story you have heard is true. If you come to Provence, everyone will tell you the tale of M. Seguin's goat who battled all night with the evil wolf, who ate her at daybreak.

You understand me, Grignoire.


Moral of the story, my friends? Gee I'm not sure but if I ever get offered a post at a big city Magazine, I'll be sure to take it. Danger from the big bad wolf does lurk in the shadows when we embark on creative projects. Reflecting on this story, I suppose if Mr. Seguin had bought his seven goats at once and hired a young boy with some dogs to take them for a stroll in the mountain (and encourage them, play their muse, and maybe help edit) each day, he wouldn't have lost them all and they would have grown in number and today his progeny would have a huge chevre milk cooperative from which he could produce tons of AOC cheese each year. One day at a time, one day at a time, ma Blanquette. 2,000 polished words a day is all I am asking from this majestic wonderland. One thing is for sure, I have fought long and hard to get out that little stable window. I must march proudly into the flowered field and leap the torrential currents as much as my livelihood will allow. Every single day.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

şalgam suyu istiyorum!

Never having run across the lovely refreshing drink called şalgam when I was touring through Turkey, it was a nice suprise not long ago to experience it for the first time. I was looking for interesting vinegars and this was in the same asile at my neighborhood Turkish imports shop. I read the label and thought I might be able to use it in some kind of pickle making: "Juice of carrot, partially lactic acid fermented with yeast, salted" The cashier's curiosity was piqued (as it sometimes is in that shop since I'm always rooting through everything they have in stock in search of yummy things) and he asked me if I had ever had it before. He explained to me that this is a great drink that comes at different levels of spiciness, and it is really great to have before a meal as it stimulates the appetite. I got it home and drank the whole bottle in a matter of two days. It just tastes GREAT. I think this will be a great drink on ice during the summer. A little more research and find out that it's fermented in Mulberry barrels and spiced up with turnip juice and all kinds of lovely things. It has got me thinking of the wonderful time I spent touring around Turkey.
The first time I went to Turkey, in my impetuous 20s, I chose to travel alone. I went on an impulse, it just seemed like a good hot sunny place to go. I flew down from Frankfurt straight down to the sourthern coast with my camera and not much else. By the first afternoon I was riding with some vinyard workers from town to town in minivans. I was navigating from an outdated travel guide and unfortunately picked a town, a small fishing village that was written up in the guide as a town with a clean and reasonably priced hotel. The sun was setting as I stepped off the minibus and waved goodbye to the old man who had helped me count my change. He stared past me as the minibus drove out of sight leaving a trail of dust behind it. As the dust settled I heard the siren call of the mosque and also saw a tea house with some men sitting outside, watching me very carefully. I approached the the hotel where I'd planned to stay, and saw in the twighlight that the door was missing. Indeed, the hotel was closed, it was being completely rebuilt, it was a construction site. I spoke not one word of Turkish, there was no other place in town, and darkness would fall soon. What to do?

A little boy who had been playing among the sacks of concrete jumped out and pointed at me and said something in German. I just stared at him, and he ran away. The child returned with two men, one older and one close to my age. They younger man spoke to me in German, and finally they realized that I could really only say I was looking for a place to stay. It was really just a coincedence that I was mistaken for a German at first, I was blonde and the child had no doubt heard of German tourists in the region, since the southern Turkish coast attracts them. We were near the Syrian border and this was clearly not a tourist town. I flipped through the tour guide index with the common phrases and we managed to somehow communicate. The mayor of the town (the older man, who was also the owner of the hotel) found me a place to stay for the night in one of the finished rooms.

The next day, after I'd managed to find my way down back to the place where I'd been the night before, a place that would have been the lobby in the middle of the construction site, a small table was set with clean pressed white linens and silver. I had been invited to breakfast with the mayor. A boy in a brillliant white shirt brought us a Turkish/English dictionary from the year 1918 on a tray. We had a beautiful simple meal. I drew pictures and we made hand signals and he was thoroughly amused with me, and he ended up lending me his car that day. I returned it with the gas tank full as payment. Those days will never come again, I suspect. I toured around and saw everything there was to see. It was rather stupid for a 23 year old American girl to take off to Turkey all by herself like that, but I learned about being a traveler back then. I suppose it was my high visibility that had people kindly looking after me every step of the way. I was treated very kindly in Turkey and I will never forget my experiences there.



Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Celebrating the Green Peppercorn

Poivre vert or green peppercorns smell and taste like what they are, the fresh version of black pepper. To classify this in your mind, think about the taste and aroma of fresh cracked black pepper. Apply the idea of fresh versus dried herbs to pepper. Green peppercorns are not a concentrated essence that you might find in the dried form. They are subtle, yet generous and abundant in pepper flavor. Under normal circumstances I would not pop whole dried black peppercorns into my mouth and crunch them between my teeth. However, with brined green peppercorns, I get a nice burst of peppery flavor with each one.

Practically every recipe we know lists salt and pepper by default and instructs you to season to your taste. There are a few types of dishes where the green peppercorn can play a more pronounced role due to the peppercorn's texture and color. They are a natural in game terrines, for instance, because they provide a nice localized pepper flavor, pretty green color, and will slice easily. Try meatloaf if you're not up to putting a terrine together.

I personally think that pepper and goat’s cheese are natural compliments and any goat’s milk product will get a sprinkling of green peppercorns if I have any say in the matter. Try chopped green peppercorns in goat cheese soufflé! The sauce poivre vert graces everything from pintade to sea bass in contemporary French recipes. I personally love the flavor that green peppercorns give to my Lapin Bonne-Femme (think Hasenpfeffer), or in a reduced sauce for seared duck breast. more ideas-->

Consider garnishing Bloody Maries with green peppercorns for variation or even speared as a replacement for the olive in a classic martini. Don't hesistate to whisk green peppercorns into mayonnaise or vinaigrettes for salads and crudités, or make a green pepper cream cheese spread to top your bagel. A fresh anchoïade or tapenade is given an interesting spin with green peppercorns.

Don’t forget beef and pepper. Instead of roughly crushing a few dried black peppercorns for a mignonette to accomapny a nice juicy steak, try a fresh mignonette instead - roughly chop the same number of green peppercorns you would crush dried. Some people pair green peppercorns with a Roquefort sauce to serve with beef. Last but not least, think Salami! Any dried or semi-dried italian style sausage is worth an accompaniment of a few green peppercorns, and this also applies for Italian-style American deli sandwiches, the kind that get topped with oozy dripping vinegar and olive oil sauce.

This week green peppercorns are in the larder and I will share a few recipes from my kitchen notebook that includes them. Doggerel and her blog got me thinking about this when I convinced her to try some green peppercorns last week.



Saturday, April 01, 2006

Dill and garlic pickled spring radishes

Constantly inspired by the abundance of vibrant bouquets found this time of year at springtime, sometimes I purchase too many radishes than we can possibly eat. They are perfect. When I was presented to my husband’s aunt in Paris for the first time, she served a nice fresh bunch of spring radishes to begin the meal with our aperitif, and to be completely honest, at that moment with everyone gazing expectantly at me, I was under a bit of pressure to eat one. Up until that time I never really thought of radishes as something that good to eat. But I bit into that little bunch of spring and it seemed to explode with life. It was the first time I actually enjoyed eating a fresh radish. Maybe I just never had a good one.

When they’re small and crispy and tender with that little whisper of spice, they are simply irresistible and I cannot pass them up now. If you are like me and suffer from radish fever every year, lose your head and just pile your market basket with them, not thinking about the fact that they only stay crisp and delicious for a day or two, you can put some up like pickles. This idea to pickle them came at just the right time from an article by Gwenaëlle Leprat in Regal, but I chose dill over tarragon to flavor the brine and made my own adjustments, increasing the garlic and aromatics because I am just like that.

About the vinegar - I had the best pickle of my life at a covered market in St. Petersburg Russia. When I was trying to decide what vinegar to use for this recipe, my mind kept wandering to those amazing pickles, and I asked myself what kind of vinegar they might use. Nothing fancy. Simple is best. The best thing to do before you make a batch of pickles is to taste the vinegar and make sure you like the way it tastes.

The recipe:
3 bunches of fresh spring radishes
a handful of grelot onions (the little white ones)
2 cloves of garlic
3 branches of dill
2 European bay leaves or 1 California bay leaf
18 coriander grains
18 black pepper grains
a tablespoon of salt
a half liter of vinegar (your choice of vinegar)

Break off the leaves from the radishes, and put them in a water bath. Agitate the bath to make the sand fall to the bottom, and work over them with your fingers to remove any dirt or sand that may be still clinging to them, paying close attention to the stem ends. Do this two or three times in a fresh bath of water each time and once you’re satisfied that they are clean, lay them out on a towel to dry. Sprinkle with the salt and let them sit for an hour. Peel the onions and garlic. Wash your dill weed. Put the radishes, onions, bay, fresh dill weed, coriander and peppercorns into a glass jar that seals tightly. Pour in the vinegar, put th elid on the jar, and let sit in the fridge for as long as you like. After even a few hours they begin to taste pretty good. Mme Leprat recommends that they sit for 2 months, but I don't think that's going to happen.