Friday, February 22, 2008

Sunday, Sunday, so good to.....

Sunday in France. Busy mornings, quiet afternoons & evenings. I think its been that way for a long time and long may it remain so. Truly a day of relaxation; a time to think and a time to be with friends & family.

It seems quiet in the morning, but only if you don't know the score. Sunday morning is for church and/or the market or a last minute trip to the local shop and, for sure a trip to the bakery for bread and, perhaps, a fancy dessert. Its also a time in the summer when brocantes (flea markets) and vide greniers (garage sales) are held. The Sunday markets are particularly important as they're where you catch up on all the latest gossip.

Thus the local shops, bakeries and markets are open, but not much else. The local gas station will be open if there's a market, but not if not. We do have one of the large supermarkets over in Villefranche opening on Sunday morning, but they're the only one. This Sunday morning opening by the way is a main reason why most of these same shops are closed on Monday. Everybody needs a full day off.

Sunday afternoons are for eating and spending time with family and/or friends. Mostly this is done at home, but in our area almost every restaurant puts on a special Sunday lunch. Many of the local families go out to eat on Sunday about once a month. Its a treat for everybody & gives 'the cook' a Sunday off. If you want Sunday lunch at one of the better places then you'd better make a reservation otherwise you'll be lucky to get in. On the other hand you'd better eat lunch or have food to hand Sunday evening as you certainly won't find an open restaurant anywhere around here.

I'm afraid that the above is part of "old" France;the way it used to be all over. These days I think that the French who live in cities & larger towns are going the way of the states. Sunday is just another day with most things open. A pity, I think.

If Sunday lunch is at home as it most often is then its a long drawn out affair. Many small courses served with plenty of time between each one. The Sunday lunch I described a couple of posts ago took over 4 hours and was pretty typical. Contrary to popular opinion not a lot will be drunk at these lunches. Most French women we know drink very little; an apero & a glass of wine with the meal - that's it. The men drink more, but still not a lot. An eau de vie or digestif to finish is traditional.

Its a nice way to spend Sunday and reminds me of my childhood when we did much the same. Its nice that many of the French are keeping up the tradition as are the Italians and the Germans. The British, unfortunately, seem to be going the way the states have.

C'est la vie I'm afraid.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Spring? I wish, but.....

We've been having 'spring' weather. So far two weeks of sunny days with temperatures in the 60's and with a forecast of at least another week to come. Has spring arrived? I wish it had, but I sincerely doubt it. Its just too early global warming or not.

Those false prophets, the almond trees, are out in blossom, but being a native Northern Californian I don't trust them. They used to fool me - no more! I'll rely on more reliable signs. The snow drops have been out for couple of weeks. That's about right. The crocus's have also been out for a while.

Pretty aren't they? The daffodils only came out 2-3 days ago. Again, about right.

Look at these guys, however, we have a ways to go I think.

The bud is from our nectarine tree, hopefully this year we'll get more than two fruits, but maybe not as the tree's new.

So, all in all I don't think Spring has sprung as of yet. Its on the way for sure, but don't pay any attention to mensongere prophets. (untrue or false that is.)

Cook some more winter meals & don't put away your warm clothes just yet. Here's a reminder a picture taken about this time of the year two years ago.

French for lunch - the rest of the meal

Sorry I'm so slow about posting. After the terrine near disaster the rest of the meal went well as I was cooking old favorites & comfort food.

Here's the table all ready to go with the entrée in place.

Linda does this really well. Note her pretty flower arrangements. Not easy at this time of year.

Here are the main course dished ready for the oven. Tunnel boned leg of lamb with rosemary, garlic & anchovies. Roasted roots (carrot, parsnip, garlic cloves, shallots & turnip) Oven roasted potatoes with duck fat
and fresh thyme.)

This all seemed to go down well. The lamb was nice & pink and the potatoes browned & crisp, the roots were their usual delicious self.

After a suitable interval we had a simple salad to cleanse our pallets ready for the cheese. The salad was just gem lettuce and a creamy vinaigrette.

Next came the cheese

We had laguiole, St Felicien, St Augur and Blue de brebis. A nice simple selection.

I didn't take a picture of dessert which was a carrot cake because I forgot to. Suffice it to say that it was a good cheese cake and it disappeared rapidly. We drank a nice bottle of champagne that Patrick had brought with it. That went down well as well.

I did, however, remember to take a picture of the bread which is a very important part of any French meal. There were three kinds from our favorite shop in Villefranche; campagne (white), Rye and multi-grain.

We finished with coffee and a long discussion which solved all the problems of the world including our upcoming local elections, Sarkozy's marriage and the state of French & English rugby.

We slept well that night contented that we'd both improved our French and our friendship with our neighbors.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

We live & learn - Terrine making

As explained in my last post I was concerned to make a good impression food wise on our French friends. Thus I thought that a pork terrine with cornichons & shallots would properly impress. Only problem was that I haven't made a terrine in years; pate yes, but terrine no. I was, however, using a recipe from 'The Cook's Book' so I should have been OK.

Things went well at first. I soaked my pork hocks for 24 hours.

They came out looking fine.

Then they went into the stock pot for about 3 hours at a slow simmer.

So far so good. After the hocks cooled I shredded the meat and added chopped cornichons and shallots. I also dissolved some gelatin leaves into about a pint of the stock.

The mix looked & tasted good. At this point things looked OK.

The recipe calls
for lining the terrine pan with multiple layers of cling film. I did this with no problem, but there didn't seem to be neatly as much overlap as the recipe indicated.

As I started to fill the
terrine it became obvious that my terrine was far too large for the amount of mixture. The mixture should have filled the terrine to over flowing. It actually came about two thirds of the way to the top. Well I didn't have a smaller terrine so I continued on.
First I filled the terrine with the gelled stock then I cut and put a piece of cardboard on top & pushed it down - hard. Then I wrapped the whole thing in more cling film.

This wasn't going to do what it was supposed to; namely to put pressure on the mixture to 'glue' it together. So off came the cling film & on went as much weight as I could find.

36 hours later the terrine came out of the fridge. As you can see it didn't look too bad, but there was no way the terrine could be cut into nice neat thin slices. It just sort of fell apart.

The solution was to place pieces of the terrine onto endive, add a few pieces of the cut up aspic and some mustard cream sauce with a bit of parsley for decoration.

It didn't look too bad, the French loved it and it tasted good.

There were, however, lessons to be learned from what could have ended up as a fiasco.

  1. Make sure you have the right size terrine!
  2. Shred your port hocks much more finely.
  3. Chop you cornichons & shallots more finely.
  4. In fact I think it would be best to pulse the whole mixture in a food processor. Not to a paste, but to a much finer mix than I had.
I'll try again.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Having the French for lunch

Last Sunday we had a group of French friends over for a Sunday lunch. We were, finally, returning some great meals and getting our social scales back into a better balance. Although we always look forward to doing a meal for our French friends there are two things that make me more than a bit nervous beforehand.

The first as you might expect is language. Although far from perfect my French is mostly adequate for social conversation even though my grammar stinks. No, my problem is hearing & thus comprehension. I'm hard of hearing and even though I have the latest hearing aids I still have problems; especially in noisy situations like a lunch where everybody is talking. (an unkind ignoramus recently accused me of being too stupid to program my own phone. Any of you with hearing difficulties will know that phones are exceedingly difficult. Ah well.) So, even though I literally hear what people say many times I have difficulty understanding. This is true in English and, not being my native language, even more so in French. In any case last Sunday worked well. Our friends are understanding & tolerant and we ended up having some interesting conversations. Try explaining the American primary elections system in French for example.

The second is the food. Not all of our French friends are good cooks. (I can remember one cous-cous that was ghastly!) Still they are all knowledgeable eaters and as an American I want to give them something a bit special. Sort of national & personal pride rears up. I really need not worry as the French are far too polite to say anything negative in any case, but if I'm honest I want to show off a bit. Thus I put quite a lot of thought into what to serve.

There were seven French plus us. I decided on a menu which was a combination of some old standby dishes with a couple of new things thrown in. We had:

- Various nibbles.

- A starter of pork & parsley terrine with aspic & mustard cream sauce

- A main course of tunnel boned slow roasted leg of lamb with anchovy, garlic & rosemary.

- This was accompanied by roasted roots (potatoes, carrots, shallots, turnips, parsnips and garlic cloves) and sauteed broccoli.

- A simple salad. lettuce with creamy vinaigrette.

- Cheese. Salers, St Felicien, St Augur and Blue de Brebis

- Carrot cake with fromage blanc frosting

For wines we had a Languedoc Chardonnay and a Spanish Trebillino. I brought in the Spanish wine just to keep everybody on their toes. Its a very nice wine.

In the end a very good time was had by everyone. Our friends arrived at 12:30PM and left at 17:30 PM. Five hours is pretty typical for a French Sunday lunch.

The best compliment was when our friend Jacques said that I cooked like a Frenchman. With heart. I was touched!

I'll write up some of the cooking with pictures over the next few days.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

offal - wonderful!

Yummy! We're just home from our offal outing and boy was it good.

Jean had done little starter of home cured ham , slaw with apples and a bit of her fig chutney on the side. Very nice. Then the offal. The fresh lamb liver was out of this world; the heart & kidney complimented as did the soft poached egg & caramelized onions and shoe string potatoes. I thought I'd died & gone to heaven. This meal took me back to my youth and I loved every morsel.

AND we had crepes after all! I bet we were one of the few if not the only gathering to have rice flour crepes. You see Jean is allergic to wheat & it's derivatives so she decided that to make crepes she had to use her rice flour. Thus a rice flour batter cooked in the normal way then topped with freshly squeezed lemon, yellow raisins and sugar. Pretty darn good. Not elegant, but different and eminently edible.

Can't say that I've had many more enjoyable meals recently. Great fun.

And a PS about the cooking. Our friend Jean is blind yet is one of the best & most imaginative cooks I've ever met. Good for her. We're not allowed to use the "B" word anywhere near her.

More offal

Here it comes again; more offal. We were planing a quiet evening when our friend Robert called. Would we like to come to dinner? Well thank you yes, but what's the occasion?

No, not the
La Fête de la Chandeleur that people over on eGullet are talking about. That sounds interesting if you like crepes which I do, but I'd already decided that I wasn't going to make them for our French friends tomorrow for lunch. Try making decent crepes for 10 people AND still enjoying lunch. No thank you. Wasn't going to make them tonight either.

Anyway, no no real occasion, says Robert, its just that I've slaughtered a lamb that was being rejected by it's Mother and Jean & I are going to cook the offal tonight. We'll have liver, kidneys and heart all served with frites. Well who could resist an invitation like that? So we're off shortly to the feast. Fortunately Linda had not actually seen this particular lamb so she's Ok about eating it.

Suspect that we may also drink a glass of wine or two. We really should in the spirit of the fete drink some cider, but much as I do like good French cider it doesn't go all that well with lamb offal.

Think of us as you munch your pancakes and celebrate the official end of the Christmas season.