Friday, September 29, 2006

Regarding the Quince

The coing, or quince, is kind of a strange fruit. Sort of a cross between a pear and an enormous crab apple, its flesh, even when ripe, is often hard and difficult to cut in the center. My experiences with the coing have been rather marked, the first ever having taken place in China.

I had just arrived in Beijing and the moments there were swirling around me in a fantastical joyous chorale. The colors were bright, and all of the new adventures to come were just laid out before me like the wide stately avenues crossing the capital. I had so many choices. They were like ripe fruits just waiting for the taking, and each choice I made was to determine simply and directly what would happen thereafter.

Everything was riding on everything. It was precarious but true. I had all of the essentials covered. I had arrived after a strange hop-started slightly melancholy 12 days in Turkey visiting an old friend, I had a single bed to sleep on in a safe place, and I had a job. A small job, but with possibilities. When you are 24 years old, these things are really all you need.

I was relieved to see that I could actually speak in the language I had studied so long just to come to that moment. Looking back on that time, I am so glad that I was able to breathe and stay calm, because only after a person lets go and trusts their surroundings can they truly live to their potential.

In celebration of my arrival, I had been invited to dine with Mr. Ma. We had just finished a lovely dinner. He was a curious man. Chinese, extremely soft spoken and his face never showed his power. He smiled light heartedly with his entire visage except for one small place inside his eyes which to me was curiously attractive. He looked as if he had very soft skin but I didn’t dare touch. His hair was cut in a businessman’s style and he had lovely classic gold round rimmed glasses.

Some men sparkle like crystal, solidly emanating facets of their power as they move from one task to the next, from subject to subject. Mr. Ma sparkled like a diamond, unpredictably, and at moments with a fleeting gorgeous intensity. In fact, the whole idea of Mr. Ma in my 24 year old mind was sublime, out of my reach. I could not fathom who he was. I was taking him at the highest face value I could.

He had ordered an amazing array of special regional dishes which he pronounced slowly and with emphasis, looking into my eyes to be sure I understood their significance. I understood nothing with my book smarts, but didn’t realize it. In fact I had absolutely no knowledge of the incredible world of Chinese cuisine that was to unfold to me in the years to come. That night I walked the tightrope of learning and living. At the same time I was like a cat lapping milk, my back warmed by the sun.

We came out of the underground regional restaurant near the Jian Guo Men Wai, and I had just tried many silky and beautiful and also staid and satisfying things to eat. The lamps were lit, and we decided to go walking. It was then that I discovered that Mr. Ma was an antique collector, a quality I admire in a person. In fact, he had a shop. We decided to walk there. I talked about Vienna bronzes assuming he knew about them and he talked about the ancient Chinese bronzes he sought and collected, as if I knew all about them too.

We were headed down the big wide stately avenue and the evening light and the dry city breeze swept us along, hints of summer evenings still in it. He asked me if I knew what the fruits on the trees were. I did not. I was unable to understand the Chinese word, I had studied fruits and flowers somewhere around the halfway mark in my Chinese language studies, and the only word I remembered from those lessons was Hua Ping. Vase. He struggled to get the word out in English. His mouth got small like a little kiss and he said, Quince. The fruit is called a quince. I watched his mouth and vowed I would never forget that image, ever. I have memorized it from the last low sun’s beam of twilight imprinted in a streak across his cheek to the sound of the taxi driving by.

The Quince should always be chosen as ripe as possible. A ripe quince is yellow and has a strong odor of the fruit. It is commonly covered with a fungus that protects it naturally from insect invasion, and those with the discriminating eye choose the ones featuring this dusty coat. The coating looks like sawdust, and its presence is a good indication of the fruit’s freshness. The quince is very good peeled, seeded, sectioned, and poached in spiced wine and syrup, made into jam, put in chutneys, or cooked in plain sugar to bring out the best in its unique flavor. The flesh of the quince will brown in contact with air, so if you’re mincing it for compote or cutting it into wedges for conserves, you should immerse the cut pieces in water/lemon juice mixture, and any conserve liquid should also have some lemon juice. Some French recipes call for the quince to release its flavor into syrup by long poaching the fruit and then as a last step, discarding the pulp of the fruit. The resulting syrup is used to flavor crèmes, flans, mousses, and blanc-mangers. About this time of year, George Blanc, in Vonnas, not far from Lyon, serves a dessert composé of corn meal sablés with fresh figs and fig raspberry jam surrounded on the plate with a line of quince syrup.

Pate de coings, stewed until a thick paste that hardens like gum drops is spread out on parchment on kitchen tables throughout the country of France. Last year a magazine had a recipe for quince prepared somewhat like pears poached in wine. I was not satisfied with the result of that recipe, but was happy that I was attracted by the idea. It was extremely pretty, with the wine soaking in increments from outside to in. I ended up recycling it into a tarte with a sweet crust. With these two fruits I am going to make a little batch of jelly for Loïc.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday's Soupe Auvergnate

This morning, Loïc and I took a Sunday stroll through the neighborhood and had a cup of coffee at an outdoor café on the riverside near the booksellers. It looked like it might rain, and as we finished our coffee, he asked me if I needed anything from the market. I didn’t think so, I’d already planned to prepare a nice soup using some of the things I already had in the larder. We stopped by the bakery, and once we were home, as the raindrops began to fall, I put together a soup that we often see on the country tables in the Auvergne. I had the pleasure of discovering the cuisine of the region last year as part of my culinary research.

In principal, this type of soup begins with cabbage. Along with whatever meats you have available, you make a stuffing with a panade of garlic, demi-glace, and day-old bread, add scraps like sautéed vegetables, eggs, plenty of herbs and enriching spices: a loaf of Sunday goodness representing the labors of the week wrapped in cabbage and poached au torchon in mixed poultry stock.

Just before serving this soup in the minutes while it poached today, I set the table and cleaned the kitchen. I was taking the kitchen waste-basket down, and ran into Monsieur Maugère coming up from the cave. He had a bottle of wine in his hand and greeted me with a cheery bon appetit. He proceeded up the elevator while I walked up the stairs. I suspect that there were several families enjoying Sunday dinner in our neighborhood today at the same time, a meal that in France typically takes place at noon time. Through the back window that opens to the courtyard, echoes of kitchen and cooking sounds filled the air.

Please don't feel bound by the kinds of meats or vegetables I used today. The spirit of this dish lies in knowing how to save bits and pieces throughout the week and to assemble them together with the key components of this kind of soup when you have the fixings.

Soupe Auvergnate
serves 4 as an entrée, 2 as a meal.

Ingredients (all pictured above):
4 large leaves of fresh green leaf cabbage, the kind with the veins
1 cup mixed cooked poultry wing meat from stock (duck, guinea hen, and chicken today)
1 cup vegetable saute from a previous meal - (celery root, zucchini, white button mushroom and pepper today)
2 slices of leftover pain de noix or thick country bread
1/3 cup demi-glace
1/2 a bunch of chives
4 sprigs of flat leafed parsley
4 sprigs of thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon brined green peppercorns
1 rounded teaspoon duck fat
1 onion
2 pink shallots
2 cloves of garlic
3/4 cup cubed pumkin type squash
2 eggs
1.5 liters of unsalted poultry stock
2 French bay leaves

Equipment: large stewing pot for parboiling the cabbage leaves, a large breakfast bowl that holds approximately 2 1/2 cups, a clean linen poaching cloth which has been thoroughly rinsed of all traces of perfumes and detergent, small sauté pan, a small heavy cast iron casserole type soup pot with a heavy lid, wire mesh strainer, soup terrine type bowl and ladle.

- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and immerse four large cabbage leaves in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove from the water, and set the water aside for possible future use. When the leaves are cool enough to handle, cut out the heavy stem, using a paring knife.

- Ensure that your linen poaching cloth is absolutely clean. Lay it over a breakfast bowl that holds about 2 1/2 cups, and press two or three of the cabbage leaves into the bowl over the linen, with the edges overlapping.

- Grind your day old bread in a food processor and transfer to a deep bowl where you will mix your stuffing. Cut the mixed poultry meats into a dice and add them to the stuffing bowl. Add any leftover sauteed vegetbles from the week (this week it was celery root, zuchinni, button mushrooms, and spicy peppers). Wash the herbs, remove the leaves from the thyme stems, and mince the parsley leaves and chives. Add to the stuffing bowl. Add the seasonings: salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
- Heat the teaspoon of duck fat in a small saute pan and add the minced garlic, onion, shallots, and pumpkin type squash. Lower the heat to medium and saute the vegetables, pushing them around in the pan, for 5 minutes or until they are soft but not brown over medium low heat.

- Add the sauteed onion / squash mix to the stuffing bowl. Mix thoroughly, allowing the onions to cool slightly in the mix, then add the brined green peppercorns, poultry demi-glace and the 2 eggs, and mix the stuffing thoroughly.

- Press the stuffing into bowl which has been lined with the poaching linen and the cabbage leaves. Fold the leaves over the stuffing, and fit the last cabbage leaf over the folded leaves.

- Lift 2 edges of the linen and tie them once over, as tight as you can pull it. Lift the moulded ball out of the bowl and twist or tie it closed. I usually just twist it but you may also get a good effect if you tie it tightly around the neck with string.
- Heat 1.5 liters of mixed poultry stock with the two bay leaves to a boil, and reduce the heat to medium. Place the linen ball into the hot soup, holding the edges out of the soup. Place the cover on the soup pot, holding the poaching ball in place. Smooth the edge of the poaching linen up on top of the lid of the soup pot to keep it out of the heat of the fire.
- If your cooking pot is too wide around to allow for the stuffed cabbage to adequately submerged in 1.5 quarts or liters of stock, do two things: 1) add as much as 2 cups of the cabbage parboiling liquid to raise the liquid level somewhat, and 2) if the liquid still does not submerge the stuffed cabbage, turn it over once during cooking at the 10 minute mark, and add 5 minutes to your cooking time.
- Poach the stuffed cabbage in the soup for 20-25 minutes, disturbing it as little as possible. The steam inside the covered casserole will also cook the cabbage, so don't lift the lid unless you need to.
- Remove the poached stuffed cabbage to a cutting board, and carefully unwrap it. Slice it into 4 pieces with a sharp knife and place the pieces carefully into a warmed serving bowl. Carefully strain the poaching liquid though a mesh strainer into the serving bowl around the stuffed cabbage.

Serve hot with fresh bread and a sturdy white table wine, followed by the cheese plate.

Enjoy your Sunday dinner!
Remember you can click on any image on the blog to see a larger version.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Fond de Volaille

Shall we talk about stock? I know that sometimes fresh homemade stock can be the make or break factor in a decision to cook a certain dish. Have you ever discarded the idea of a recipe because it called for homemade stock (and referred you to yet another page number)? Now is the time to consider that with a very small weekly expense and effort, you can always have that stock on hand. The more you use it, the more you’ll see the difference it makes in your cooking.

Having stock of various concentrations on hand is not a luxury. It is a necessity for anyone who takes cooking seriously and wants to make the difference between just dabbling from time to time and being a good cook. It takes no special skill or innovation, in fact it is one of the easiest ways you can appreciably improve your cooking.

Some cooks recommend using high end poultry cuts or whole birds in stock making, but I have found through experience that I get a more flavorful stock with a better viscosity by using only wings and necks, which are also cheaper. Due to the high level of cartilage in these parts, they give a more gelatinous, rich, and flavorful stock. That is good news, isn’t it?

In French, the word for stock is fond, alluding to its role as a foundation upon which good cooking will take form. The primary goal of stock is of course to provide a backdrop to a soup or a sauce, like priming a canvas for painting. Another important use for reduced stock which is sometimes called glaze or glace in French, is to provide a certain finish - like a painter uses the glaze technique to allow a painting’s many applied layers to catch the light. If you have ever been mesmerized by the depth and purity of color in a Rothko color field or even felt inspired by the luminescence radiating in the shadows of a Rembrandt, you have appreciated the use of the glaze technique in painting. If you have ever finished a sauce with veal or poultry demi-glace or glace, you can understand that it takes the quality and richness of your sauce to a higher plane of expression.

I choose my ingredients for stock with the idea of keeping the flavor balanced. It is the secret to good cooking. A poultry stock should not have a strong flavor of any one particular ingredient other than that of poultry. I don’t hesitate to add carrots, and onions and the occasional pink shallot to my stock because they are great team players that enrich the flavor in general. I also believe that a judiciously assembled herb bouquet also has a place in a mixed poultry stock.

Certain flavorful aromatics, tubers and vegetables in the onion family with strong personalities like tarragon, turnips, parsnips, grey shallots, garlic and leeks do not have a place in my basic stock. If I want to add the flavors of these vegetables to a soup or make a dish that puts them in the leading role, they are certainly welcome in my kitchen, just not in my basic weekly stock.

Every week I head down to my volailler on the riverside and pick up the poultry. These days I use chicken wings, duck wings, and guinea hen (pintade) necks, which are her cheap cuts. I rarely spend more than €5 on my mixed poultry stock. For example today, 2 kilos of duck wings, a kilo of chicken wings, a duck neck and 2 pintade necks cost me about €4. I am going to make a batch of regular stock and a batch of demi-glace to use during the week, so I am doubling my normal batch of stock. Here is my recipe for one batch:

Fond de volaille & demi-glace (mixed poultry stock and glaze)
Yields 2 ½ to 3 liters of stock.

4 pounds or 2 kilos of chicken or mixed poultry parts: backs, wings, necks, and feet if available.
1 basic bouquet garni – celery, bay, thyme, parsley, using chives to tie.
2 carrots
1 onion
4 black peppercorns
cold tap water

- Rinse and clean the poultry parts, and place them in a large stock pot.
- Peel and chop the carrot and onion into chunks and place them into the pot with the chicken. Tie your bouquet garni. Add the peppercorns, and the bouquet garni, which you should tuck in between pieces of meat to keep it from floating to the top.

Remember to take that bouquet and tuck it under a piece of meat.
- Add enough cold water to cover the meat by an inch or two (5cm) and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Let the soup boil at a rolling boil for 4 minutes, and use a wire skimmer to remove any foam and sediment that comes to the top during that time. During the initial boiling, the meat releases blood and marrow. It coagulates and floats to the top. It should be removed from the top to allow for a clear final stock. Once you reduce the heat, it will generally stop producing sediment.
- Reduce the heat to low. Partially cover the pot to leave an opening of about 2 inches to let steam to escape. Allow the soup to just barely simmer for 1.5 hours. Don’t let the soup boil on and on at a rolling boil, it will cloud and take on a livery taste. The top surface of the soup should slightly tremble. Don’t ever completely cover and seal a simmering stock. If you do let it simmer longer than usual, turn the heat way down. Don’t let it simmer much longer than 2 hours while it still contains the meat, since it will take on a bitter stale flavor from the bones if it cooks too long.
- Remove the long poached meat, bouquet, carrot, and onion from the stockpot, using a slotted spoon. Set the meat aside to cool. You will remove the good meat from the bones for use in other dishes.

Think salads, pot pies, poultry and dumpling dishes, stuffed ravioli, rillettes, spreads, and more.

- Strain the stock into a tempered glass jar (meaning that the jar can handle sudden heat), and leave it to cool down to room temperature. I find that 1.5 liter jelly jars do very well.

- Once the stock is cool enough, place the jars in the refrigerator, to chill until the fat on top has set. (I leave mine overnight). You can easily degrease (remove the fat from) the stock by scraping it off the surface when it is chilled. The poultry fat you remove from the chilled stock can be used in cooking.
- Add salt to the stock to taste once you are certain of its final use. Waiting to salt the stock avoids over-salting should a soup or sauce be reduced.

To make demi-glace or glace de volaille
: Place one quart of carefully degreased stock into a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Boil to evaporate it down to 1 cup. Salt to taste, if desired. Strain it into a jar to keep in the refrigerator for use. It will form a hard jelly that can be spooned out and used as needed in enriching the taste of savory tarte and tourte fillings, in sauces, egg dishes such as soufflés and omlettes, and as a flavor booster in any savory dish.

To make clear consommé: Blend one 3 oz. Or 100 grams raw skinless chicken breast with fat and sinews removed, one egg white, and 1 quart completely degreased cold stock together in the food processor or blender until smooth and homogenous. Pour mixture into a saucepan and bring to a simmer but not to a boil. Move the pan so that the fire is heating up one side of the pan, and let it simmer that way, the stock circulating slowly up and through the crust that forms from the egg white & chicken mixture. It is a complex filtering system that will completely remove the impurities and sediment from the stock. Simmer for 15 minutes, rotating the pan periodically to ensure that all of the liquid filters, but do not touch or stir the egg white and chicken filter. Before serving, line a chinois or colander with a clean linen which has been rinsed with water to ensure that absolutely no trace of perfume from detergent remains in the fabric. Strain the soup through the lined chinois for the ultimate clear sparkling broth. You may enrich this with a few spoonfuls of cognac before salting to taste, and serving. This consommé is ideal for aspics.

This is a Consommé de poule de Bresse with home made foie gras ravioli. I like to start the meal at Thanksgiving with this soup.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Pérail des Cabasses

From time to time we head in the direction of the Massif Central to take in the sights in the Aveyron. But even when we can't get away, I can take in a bit of the gorgeous scenery in the form of a cheese called the Pérail des Cabasses. In the warm months, Rosine and Jean-François Dombre’s 600 milking ewes are pastured in the wind and sun at an altitude of 850m on fields of wild grass & flowers pushing through on the high plateaus there. They produce this cheese à la louche, which means scooping the curds by hand with a ladle into moulds, and turning it by hand during the 12 days before going to maket, respecting ancestral methods. Fromageres all over France and also abroad apply their own affinage methods to this cheese, so the expertise and loving care with which your fromagere treats this cheese will have an effect on your final experience. In speaking briefly to M. Dombre this afternoon on the telephone, his kind soft spoken farmer's way melded in a certain way right through the line as a warm contrast into this afternoon's cool city light. On tasting a wedge and allowing the brief bristling flavor of the ewe's cheese crust to melt through to a gorgeous depth of pastroral finish, I was reminded that I can have a soft gentle creamy mountain summer day encapsulated into 150 perfect grams from the limestone plains of the Aveyron 190 miles southwest of Lyon, even when big raindrops fall. Thank you, M. Dombre.

Update: M. Dombre has left me a message that he sells his cheese in England to Neal's Yard Dairy in London. Before you make a trip, call to see if they have it in stock.
For American and Canadian cheese lovers, a pérail de brebis, which is the same type cheese, but perhaps produced by a different creamery, which is aged for the requisite 60 days to meet US cheese import regulations, can be purchased online here.

Remember you can click on any image on the blog to see a larger version.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Le Grand Marché des Saveurs Rhone Alpes

A blustery September Thursday in Lyon – and over 200 local artisan producers of foodstuff ranging from hand made sausages to genepi have amassed on the place Bellecour at the center of Lyon.

I wore my lucky necklace and rode my bike down the city streets lined with boutiques and galleries for a rendez-vous with the gourmands! Cheese, apples, pears, truffles, poultry, olive oil, fresh baked bread, walnuts, wines, freshly pressed fruit juices, honey, lavender, sausages, snails, pastry, marinated mushrooms, chestnuts, chevre and fromage de vache, eau de vie, dried herbs, and food themed crafts all presented by the people who made them. Everyone had a jolly old time handing out tastes, talking about their products, and selling their items here and there. I had some great conversations with artisan producers from the Rhone, Savoie, Isère and the Drome and have made plans to see some of these vendors again, at their farms and workshops.

These men from Bobosse have invited me for a visit to their operation! I can't wait!

If I can make it up the hill on my bike again, wine awaits me.

There were several cheese makers selling fromage fort, which I understand is made differently everywhere. Maybe I'll have to give it another try.

I will visit this honey maker this fall, or in the Spring. The woman and her son were very beautiful bee people.

This foie gras producer has invited me come to his farm during fattening season to see what the hulaballoo is all about.

I learned from this snail farmer that he is called a Héliculteur. The two people at the table were foreign students who tasted first and then asked, "Mmmm. What is it?" Here's to the adventurous palate!

The chefs and their students were out too, with a fun challenge that gave everyone a chance to participate – there was a list of local products in which the chefs were to produce a tasting dish from.

The game for the public was to taste and fill out a form with their guess as to what the four ingredients that the chefs used were. The correct guesses go into a drawing for a prize. People took this tasting quite seriously.

Needless to say the Bernachon tartlettes went fast...

What did I buy? Of course I could not resist a small bottle of Genepi, some pure cherry juice (hard to find at a good price in this town), and a little pot of duck rilettes to serve at apéro.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Conejo en Chile de Senora Maria Elena Lara

Oh it must have been about Thanksgiving time 1996. I went shopping for ‘western stuff’ in one of the specialty shops in the mall in the basement level of the China World Hotel in Beijing. Baking powder, poultry seasoning, you know, that kind of thing. There I saw a desperate woman. She was lurching most unattractively at the cake mixes, and packets of fake gravy and "stuffing mix" and grappling and stumbling and filling her shopping cart with these convenience foods, literally clearing the shelves as if a tornado was on the way and she was desperately seeking provisions to feed her family. What struck me was her desperation and the relative violence she incorporated into her actions – I didn’t see that kind of desperation ever again until I was in Paris 8 years later at the derniere démarque of a designer shoe sale in January. I admit, back in the 90s in Beijing, it was really hard to find ‘western things’. Having been taken under wing by a wonderful Chinese Ayi, I had already given up on the concept of eating western at the time, and didn’t have any real need for cake mixes, it struck me as doubly freaky to see this woman in such violent need. Being in a foreign country hits some people that way.

Ah, being in a foreign country. "Do you like living in France"? The most common question from strangers. Of course people who pose this question are just making small talk. I always come back pleasantly and briefly with a smile in return. It is my policy, on the whole. Once at a party a handsome young man thought he was being clever and asked "What's the one thing you hate most about France?" I cooly replied: "Fromage fort." And he didn't believe me, and said so and was very persistent, but didn't know him. I suppose he expected that I'd start crying and put my head on his shoulder and complain about having to re-take the drivers test or something. I stood my ground. "In fact", I added, "I think that Fromage fort is the only thing I don't like about living in France."

I learned, the first time living in a foreign country, that if you relax and allow yourself to experience the local culture instead of trying to create a little country of your own at home, things go much more smoothly. Second, if you really miss something, as in craving, you should go ahead and find a way to fulfill it in a relatively stress free context. For example, don’t promise someone a pecan pie for their birthday before you have the pecans, don’t try to create a completely American Thanksgiving, just keep a little list in your mind that you are looking for pecans or whatever and send out your feelers, and don’t put any sense of urgency in the matter. You will be suprised at how long you can harbor a craving without it destroying you. And learn how to make things yourself from scratch. It eventually comes.

Loïc went to Mexico for a conference, and brought me back all kinds of lovely staples for cooking Mexican because he has heard me mention on several occasions that I miss real Mexican food here in France. Especially out west where I have lived both in Monterey and Los Angeles, you can eat some really sublime Mexican food. But here in France, sadly I must say that something is dreadfully missing from what they are peddling as Mexican food. There is one restaurant in Vieux Lyon which is run by a chef coming from Mexico who also went through the Institut Paul Bocuse, but it is sadly very expensive, the Margaritas are rather small, and they serve only flour tortillas, most probably due to the unavailability of the proper ingredients for masa. So when I do have a craving, which happens every so often, I look in my compendium by Diana Kennedy, a woman who has lived and researched the local home cooking all over Mexico since 1959 and who has produced an incredibly complete opus that opens our world to the rich possibility of cooking delicious and authentic Mexican food at home.

This week I decided to prepare Conejo en Chile from Senora Maria Elena Lara which is I think most likely how a good Mexican housewife might prepare her rabbit, the Mexican version of Lapin Bonne Femme. It is beautiful and simple as a recipe. I used dried chili peppers, including guajillo peppers and those nice complex smoked chili peppers called the Pasilla de Oaxaca. We are rationing peppers, so we did not use as many as were called for in the recipe. If you are in France and have been harboring a serious craving, and are willing to plead your case, I might send you a few of these peppers, which Loïc brought to me from Mexico.

Conejo en Chile
de Senora Maria Elena Lara

The recipe that Madame Kennedy recounts in her book calls for a first rather long (45 minutes) stewing of the rabbit in a vinegar brine with a bouquet including oregano and thyme, but only if you are using a big old tough wild rabbit. If the rabbit is tender, she suggests that we omit the first step, or the rabbit will turn out too soft. I am all for omitting the first step, although when game season is in full swing, perhaps I will try it with a wild rabbit.

One rabbit, young and tender.
A morsel of pork fat (I used a morsel from a side of foraging black pig raised by a friend in the Ain, but you can use plain fat back)
2 large white onions, sliced thin

chile sauce:
15 guajillo chiles, wiped clean (due to rationing measures, we only used 7)
10 pasilla chiles (we used only 2, and we used the Pasilla de Oaxaca)
1 1/4 pounds or 500 grams tomatoes
Salt to taste
2 cups broth or water

garlic seasoning:
2 large garlic cloves
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano (we used fresh oregano since we didn't have Mexican)
6 sprigs fresh marjoram
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 Mexican bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water

Make the Chile sauce

– wash your tomatoes and fit them whole into a pan that holds them nice and snug and put into a hot oven for awhile to roast. Once they turn brown on top, take them out again.
- Transfer the whole roasted tomatoes, peels and all, into a high-sided bowl if you have a hand held blender, or a blender jar.
- Wipe off the chiles, cut them open and remove the seeds and veins, and cut them in pieces over the roasted tomatoes.
- Blend the chiles and tomatoes together with salt into a smooth sauce adding just enough water to keep it from getting too thick.

This is your sauce. You will add the broth to it later.

Brown the rabbit:
- Carve the rabbit into 6 or 8 pieces.
- Render the lard from the piece of pork in a heavy stewing pot.
- Once the fat is rendered, add the rabbit pieces and brown them in the pork fat.

While they are browning, make the garlic seasoning paste.
- Ground the garlic, cumin, oregano, fresh marjoram, fresh thyme, bay, and salt in a heavy mortar until it is a paste. (I used cumin powder and fresh local oregano since I didn’t have any Mexican).

Finish up, 1,2,3!

- Remove the meat from the hot pan, and stir in the seasoning paste letting it fry for a minute or two. Add the onions, and fry them for a minute or two. Use water in the mortar to get the last of the paste into the pan.
- Add the tomato chile sauce and continue to fry, and scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add the browned rabbit and the 2 cups stock back into the sauce, lower the heat, and stew for 20-40 minutes.

Fill that little hollow in your heart with it while it's hot. Serve with fresh hot corn tortillas. If you are in France, a very good wine to serve with this dish is Gigondas.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Chèvre Chaud

My friend is waiting for me, looking into a gift shop window. We kiss each other’s cheeks and silently admire the flourishing ivy growing in boxes in front of the teahouse. In the somber passage where the light always falls as if we are in a forest, the vines quietly and thoughtfully climb. Before we enter the teahouse, we unwrap our scarves together and check to see through the window that our regular table is ready. The handle pulls down, the door pushes in, and a bell quietly chimes. The lady who sits at the desk in the afternoons waits for us to shed our outdoor clothing, ushers us to our seats, and we are ready. I glance through the stone arched door with the curtain in the back and see a quiet movement against the creamy yellow cabinets of the kitchen. This place is not really a place for small talk. It is a place where we must discuss. Something in the stones demands it. Our salad and dessert will be followed by pot after pot of hot nourishing tea.

Salade de Chèvre Chaud avec sa Vinaigrette au Poivre Vert

Take a flavorful chèvre like the Picodon or Pélardon, and slice it into 6 wedges. Split each of the wedges in half along the center. Choose a quarter of a good round loaf of substantial bread, like Richard’s pain ligerien, pain de campagne, or a pain au noix. Slice it into flat triangles and toast the bread triangles briefly in the oven to make them crisp but not too brown. Wash & dry your lettuce or mixed greens, herbs of your choosing, wedge some garden tomatoes, thinly slice an onion, peel a shallot, and crack 8 walnuts. Make a sauce vinaigrette with the blender using one whole shallot, a rounded teaspoon of brined green peppercorns, ½ a teaspoon of salt, olive sunflower and walnut oil, and plain simple cider vinegar to taste. Place the wedges of cheese on the toast with the crust of the cheese facing up. Put them in the hot oven to slightly melt and brown the cheese. Arrange the salad ingredients in a bowl. Give the salad a first drizzle of vinaigrette. When the cheese is adequately soft on the toasts, place them on the salad, drizzle again with vinaigrette plus a light dusting of sea salt or fleur de sel, and serve.

If you have any cheese toasts leftover, offer them to your companion with a little more green peppercorn vinaigrette on top as a gesture of friendship.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Best of Both Worlds - Lyon Martinière

I live in a little quartier in the 1ere arrondissement, the neighborhood number one, in an area sometimes called St. Vincent, which is the name of the church on the riverside nearby, or sometimes called La Martinière, which is the name of the guy and the name of the halle, the school, and an avenue.

There is a geriatric population who quietly peer through crooked shutters in gorgeous belle-epoque buildings and who will pass their apartments to their sockless dock-sider wearing grandsons.

Then there is the side that wants to call the neighborhood the lower Pentes de la Croix Rousse, which means in the lower slopes of the hilly neighborhood known for voluminous headscarves, dangly earrings, loft living, budding seamstresses, yoga classes with discount for the unemployed, and a bio market by the metro stop every Saturday.

It is a very interesting mix.

In a nutshell, my neighborhood is suffering from a severe identity crisis. This can actually be a boon because such diversity breeds creativity - rich territory for good eats, and some great restaurants are really thriving here. If you’re not eating at my house, there are lots to choose from in the restaurants of my neighborhood.

For Apéro: When the weather is good, head directly to Place Sathonay. The Ambiance there can't be beat for a nice relaxed drink on one of the many outdoor café terraces surrounding the square. le Café de la Mairie is the most fashionable and those who know who is who might just be impressed.

Otherwise, any of the cafés will do, actually. You’re there to watch the pétanque matches, and just soak in the atmosphere. When it's raining or snowing, meet friends at Voxx, on the corner of quai Pecherie & rue Algerie, where they play 1980s LPs on the record player during the day and in the early evenings. It picks up after about 8. If you’re a non-smoker or looking for an older crowd you might be better off during apéro hour at the Café Bistrot Pêcherie, a block and a half down, which has a better ventilation system, more wood paneling, and the music is a bit less stylized.

For dinner
, here's the scoop. First of all, there have been some changes in the past few months.

Le Potager des Halles
, 3 rue de la Martinière, Lyon 1e,
News: The previous owner packed up his rubber chickens and the restaurant is now owned and run by chef Franck Delhoum, previously the head chef at Paul Bocuse's Brasserie de l'Ouest. Lets see how he does for 30 covers instead of 300. Sounds promising, yes?
Key Words: Petit bistrot de quartier, semi-open kitchen, open Tuesday to Saturday. Formule midi 12€, soir 28€.

Entre Mets et Vins
, 6 rue Hippolyte Flandrin, Lyon 1e,
News: That pizza place near place Sathonay has been replaced by a real restaurant. They tore off the whole front of the place and just built on the rocks. It turned out really pretty.
Key Words: Mediterranean food, Provencale, olive oil & garlic with a twist, chilled soups, crawfish, millefeuille de sardines au poivron rouge, interesting speculos tiramisu, spacious. Open Monday to Saturday. Midi: 13€, Soir 26€

Magali et Martin
: 11 rue des Augustins, Lyon 1e,
News: Magali & Martin Schmidt own and run the new restaurant which caters in a secretive way to a demanding fashionable clientele. Very chic and mysterious.
Key Words: Gorgeous small dining room. 20 covers. Cuisine du Marché. (a bit hard to find, as they have no sign, and are shuttered tight oustide business hours, as if the place is being kept secret. Effectively this draws lots of curiosity and adds to the desirability quotient. Locate the Nardonne ice cream shop and proceed down the alley across the street between the drum shop and the butcher.) Open all week except Saturday and Sunday lunch. Formule midi, 14€, dinner ??

Some things have not changed.

La Table de Hippolyte, 22 rue Hippolyte Flandrin, Lyon 1e, 04 78 27 75 59
Cuisine du Marché catering to food loving clientele with a taste for Lyonnais tradition (Magali et Martin also strive to garner this crowd), but they are have been an institution here in this neighborhood for the last 15 years. Great wine, warm but at the same time discreet service by the owners. When I go there, I am at once enveloped by a feeling of admiration for the chef, while at the same time just being coddled by the great service. It's a real mood booster, every single time. 18€ midi, 31€ soir

Sapori e Colori, 4 rue Martinière, Lyon 1e,
News: Still serving traditional Italian to discriminating palates.
Key Words: Traditional (and real) Italian featuring seasonal Italian imports, octopus linguine, carpaccio brésaola, constantly changing antipasti. Just next to the Fresque. If you’ve never been to Italy, eating here might just make you realize what real Italian food tastes like. Open Tuesdays to Saturday, menus 22€ to 25€.

Albert: 10 place Fernand Rey, Lyon 1e, This place is located in the little nook you find when you take the road towards the quai from the Café de la Mairie on Place Sathonay. For good French food, pass by the 'bouchons' and head for Albert. Pretty brocante finds line the walls. It kind of makes you sad for all of the terrine sets they must have destroyed to amass their collection, but once you taste the food everyting is alright. They serve refined traditional French, and very rarely disappoint. Magret de Canard, Carpaccio de bœuf, wine in proper glasses, correct service, a good rapport quality/price.

Bottomless terrines at Albert. Boo hoo.

If you’re on a serious budget or want a fill in between fine French meals:

La Koutoubia, 13 rue Hippolyte Flandrin, Lyon 1e,
A visit to France isn’t complete without trying couscous. Since 1985, first for couscous, the best out of 5 or 6 choices. Make the effort to locate this one. The restaurants on the same street take the spill-off from this one and aren't as good.
Open Monday to Saturday. Menu items from 4 to 17€.

Comptoir du Tandoori
, 6 r Ste Catherine, Lyon 1e. A serious hole in the wall. They turn out great sandwiches to go for 3.50€. Their plated dishes are ok but I am sending you to this place because of their sandwiches. Gorgeously spiced meats and vegetarian delights wrapped in hot thick freshly traditionally baked nan. Delicious. Better than any of the others on the street. A good picnic is to get sandwiches there to go, and then take them back out across Place des Terreaux (get off rue St. Catherine, quick, before someone asks you for a cigarette!), and go into the courtyard outside of the Musee des Beaux Artes. Listen to the birds, watch the people, and enjoy this great Indian sandwich.

Balmoral. 14 rue Lanterne, Lyon 1e, 04 78 28 72 53. Best pizza in the neighborhood. Wood fired stone oven, hand tossed crust by a serious expert. This place was a legend for decades, dark with velvet booths, candles in Chianti bottles, old Italian men playing cards at the back tables, black & white photos of the owner with movie stars and moguls. The old dudes that owned it passed it on to some young 'uns who did something horrible - they painted the place hot flourescent orange and put in Ikea lightbulbs, got some mopeds for delivery, and just messed up all of the food including the pizza. Business plummeted. Within a year, the godfathers took the restaurant back and have changed the lighting, put the original guy back by the wood stove, and got their old customers back but the electric orange paint has yet to be covered up. Don't be fooled. It's the pizza we're there for. They also do an excellent antipasti platter and the veal kidney and house tiramisu are also very good. If you do go for dessert though, you must try the house crème caramel. I think whoever prepares that dish must have sold her soul to the devil. A film crew overtook the neighborhood last month to shoot a few scenes in this restaurant.

Voila, my places to go.

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