Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cassoulete? Was it real?

I ended my last post mentioning making a cassoulete with Louise. Now given my persinikityness about cassoulete I have to ask if this effort was a real cassoulete or just a fancy bean stew. I'm going to describe how Louise & I made it and let you be the judge.

First, Louise went shopping for ingredients. She got a nice ham hock, 3 lamb shanks and a pound of local sausage. (The local sausage seemed to have quite a bit of filler in it & wasn't as good as an all meat Toulouse sausage.) We had brought over a large can of duck confit from France. (I actually prefer to use the canned confit even though I can buy individual pieces or easily make my own when at home in France. Normally the canned stuff is nice & tender and you get quite a lot of extra high quality dick fat.) Louise found some nice dry white beans, not lingots or tarbais, but they were fine. We had the rest of the ingredients available; vegetables for the mirepoix, tomato puree and our herbs. Not to mention a bit of strong red wine.

So, we browned all of the meats, boiled the beans in lots of water for 15 minutes then added garlic (1 head) and the puree to that pot. We sweated the mirepoix for about 20 minutes then added it and the herbs (juniper berries, thyme & herbs de provence) to the bean pot. We let everything rest for half an hour then started our assembly.

Now here was a problem. We didn't have a cassole or other large crock. We also were limited by the oven height of Louise's AGA cooker. The solution was a deep stock pot that just fit the oven with it's lid off. We covered it with foil fot the first cooking. We built up the layers of meat & beans finishing off with the confit. We'd got the bean liquid abour right & only had to add about 1/3 bottle of wine to cover. Into the oven it went for about 3 hours.

The 'cassoulete' then came out & rested for a few hours. It then went back into the oven, uncovered. After about 45 minutes it came out & got its first bread crumb topping. After another half hour, when the crumbs were browned nicely, we pushed the crumbs down into the pot and added the second crumb layer. When this was nicely browned we were ready to eat.

The dish was delicious, all 8 of us throughly enjoyed it. Was it a cassoulete? Well, the ingredients were all there for a classic dish. We could have used a better sausage and the bean to meat ratio was a bit off; we needed more beans. It turned out that the lack of a big earthen ware pot didn't seem to matter from a taste point of view. Of course the presentation wasn't nearly as nice, but it looked good once on the plate.

You be the judge. Sorry that I didn't take any pictures, but you can use your imagination.

I'll be interested to hear any opinions.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Travel Tales & a bit of cooking

We started our journey to England for the holidays on Thursday morning. We had great weather for the trip; sunny & crisp. The car was packed to the gills what with us, Rupert, lots of wine, Christmas presents and What seemed to me to be Linda's entire wardrobe. Off we went.

Near Chateauroux we decided to take a Western route via Rouen instead of our normal route via Paris. Mistake! All went well until we hit Rouen at rush hour. It turns out that the route wasn't all auroroute as we thought, but went through an industrial area with lots of traffic lights. Very very slow. It was 18:30 by the time we got out of the congestion. We stopped so Roop could do his stuff & Linda could call the hotel to tell thm we're running late. The room was fine, but she was told the the dining room closed at 20:30. Gulp! we were 228 kilometers from the hotel & very hungry and fog patches were developing. OK, off we went at a great rate of knots (I hit 160 kph quite a lot of the time) fortunately the traffic by now was very light. We took our autoroute exit for the hotel at 3 minutes to eight. We'd travelled just over 1,000 kilometers. Safe for dinner we thought.

Mistake! I'd printed off detailed maps of exactly where the hotel was, but we still couldn't find it. After wandering a bit we called the hotel again & got directions. Turns out that Google maps had it wrong. The street address for the hotel came up in the wrong village. Even though by now we were really late the hotel had saved a meal for us. A cold meat plate folowed by a sauteed chicken dish followed by a nice cheese plate followed by an excellent creme caramel. Not haute cusine, but good & satisfying.

After a good sleep & breakfast we're off to the channel tunnel. Now, as you may know the English have a thing about dogs. Thus we had to report to the Animal Control Center building with Rupert and his passport. (before we left home he'd been examined by our vet, given worming pills and a shot) So, he gets his chip read Ok, but on his passport it turns out that although the vet has stamped it for his rabies booster shot she hasn't signed it. Big problem. On his vaccination record she has both signed & stamped the shot. The French official says he will FAX copies of both documents to England and then get permission to let him in even though his paperwor is not quite right. He does this then starts calling his collegue in England & calling & calling. The guy is not answering. Nearly an hour goes by. What if they won't let him in? Disaster! Finally the French official (who by the way has been very friendly, encouraging & helpfull throughout) sends the guy a fax asking him to call him immediately. This works and much to our relief we're cleared and off. In the end we were only 20 mnutes late, because originally we were very early. You've just got love this bureaucracy?

The trip acroos England to the kids house is easy, no bad traffic, even the dreaded M25 is lear, and we arrive in good shape to a warm welcome and a nice meal. Gosh, but the Grandkids are really getting grown up.

The next day Louise & I decided to make cassoulete for dinner, but that's another post!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Frosty French morning

We woke up this morning to brilliant sunshine and frost. We've been having some much needed rain so we welcomed the sun. Also, the frost made the ground firm so we decided to take one of our favorite walks both Rupert & we love this one hour walk.

It around Causseviel a small hamlet at the end of
a dead end road. The country side is rolling and is a combination of meadows and woods. Some are lush and others are 'causse' which is very rocky & sparse. Its only a five minute drive from our house.

Off we go!
We start off a small lane with a cross & head down this track. Field on both sides. Normally there are cows, but not this morning. Expect we'll see them later in a different pasture.

Here comes Roop flying back to us. He's got his coat on just in case the "chasse" sould mistake him for a small brown bear. I think he's having fun!

We stop so Linda can photograph these beautiful leaves. Gorgeous aren't they?

Roop on guard.
Who knows what he sees? "Why are we stopped? Let's go!

More beautiful leaves. The Winter colors are superb.

Off we go again. We're working our way along the bottom of a hill. Soon we'll start up a bit.

We've just turned right & started up. I've always particularly liked this stretch of path. There's a beautiful field off to the right with a small pond for the cows and a path that leads over to La Cazoul.

Here are our regular cows. They've moved to a different field. Pretty aren't they. If you look very closely you can just see the leader's collar & bell.

More cows. Different breed; milkers these. They're getting their hay.

The view opposite the 2ond lot of cows. Lucky cows to have that. The village in the distance is Pech Bernu, population 14. 16 in the summer when our American friends are in residence.

A little abandoned barn. These dot the countryside relics of a more prosperous past. I can't help looking at them & thinking gee, I could buy that & fix it up as a summer place for next to nothing. Dream on!

And so we reach the juniper patch and we're nearly all the way around. Just a right turn past some great stone walls and down the hill to the car.

A beautiful morning, one of our favorite walks and a happy dog. A happy Linda & Dave as well. We're privileged to live in this beautiful country where walks like these abound.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Diet - No, I haven't given up

I'm stuck at my 10 pounds weight loss & have been for a while, but I'm still trying. This 190 pound barrier seems to be a tough one.

I think I'm at a point where I'm to strategise just continuing to keep the 10 pounds off over the holidays and then make a big push for the second 10 pounds in January.

Last night we went to special Greek evening at a friends restaurant, tonight we're having slow roast belly pork and Wednesday we're out for dinner. Thursday we leave for England and a round of visits with kids & grandkids, Linda's family and friends. I'm going to be hard pressed to keep the 10 pounds.

Its a tough life.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Good Deed for the day

As Rupert & I were pulling out of the drive on our way to his morning walk we had to stop for a van coming up the lane. This is a pretty rare sight as we get 5 cars a day if we're lucky. Well not only did we have to stop, but the van driver got out & waved me down! A closer look revealed that there were two vans both from Salson who are a local dealer in household appliances.

We hadn't ordered anything from them recently although they got all of our orders for major appliances when we redid our kitchen. Still, I recognized the driver as he had delivered to us back then. Hummmm... what's going on?

Turns out he's looking for a Mr Stanley. Do I know where he lives? Well, no I don't, but I do know that there are some English people who live down the road a ways. Perhaps this is Mr Stanley? Wait, I say, I'll go ask my wife. She doesn't know either. I go back out & he shows me the delivery slip. Mr Stanley, Lacaou. Ah HA! I'm pretty sure Lacaou is where I think the nameless English couple live.

Follow me I tell them I know where Lacaou is. Ok, but they decide to turn around instead of following me up the lane. Now this is dangerous as the lane is one way. (Jacques found this out to his cost, but that's another story.) Anyway I went up, turned Left, drove down the road towards Caylus & waited for them. Sure enough they appeared and then followed me for the few hundred yards to the lane on the right up to Lacaou. I waved, they waved and Rupert barked. Good deed for the day done.

This is typical of the local Gallic logic. They came to us because they knew we were English. (well I'm American, but let's not get into nuances here.) Because we're Anglais the French automatically assume that we know every other English person within a 10 mile radius. Logical isn't it? Not true of course, but virtually impossible to convince the locals otherwise.

This happens pretty frequently with the Mail lady. Any letter that has an Anglo-Saxon name on it which she doesn't know gets delivered to us in the hope that we'll know. We only recently found out that she keeps trying until she finds the addressee; if we don't know she takes them to Micheal & Ruve & if they don't know she goes to Denise & Alan and so on.

Guess what? The Gallic logic works. Most of the time the letters get delivered to the right party and people do get found. I'm sure that Mr Stanley is now enjoying his new appliances whatever they may be.