Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Boss is Away!

The Boss is away and an old man's fancy turns to..... food! Linda is off in England visiting her sister this week so I've taken the opportunity to make a dish that she doesn't like, but that I love.

Namely Choucroute. This famous dish from the Alsace region of France has been one of my favorites every since I first had it many years ago at Brasserie Lipp. I won't pretend that my version is 100% authentic, but it is delicious and very easy to make if you have access to a decent charcouterie (or a good deli will do nicely)

Here's a shot of the bag everything I purchased came in, plus some Chef's lubricant.

As you can see the price came to 6.87 Euros. I'm not used to shopping for one so these ingredients made enough choucroute for two hungry people.

Here's everything unpacked. Namely:

  • Uncooked sauerkraut.
    Cooked will do, but either type must be fresh.

  • Hot dogs. The old fashioned kind.

  • Good quality smoked bacon.

  • Garlic sausage, smoked if possible.

  • Coriander seeds & Juniper berries.

Some smoked porks chops can substitute for the sausage (or be in addition to). Here I can use lardons instead of sliced bacon, but I prefer to have the slab bacon cut to order as it has a stronger flovour.

In any case rinse the sauerkraut then squeeze out as much water as 
possible using your hands. Repeat this three times.

Then, first cut up your bacon into lardon sized slices and mix it well into the sauerkraut. Place it into an over proof casserole that has a tight fitting lid.

Next cut up your sausage.

Then grind the coriander seeds & juniper berries up in a mortar & pestle as seen below.


Now sprinkle the herb mixture over the sauerkraut. Then arrange the frankfurters & sausage slices over the sauerkraut mixture.

Add enough dry white wine to just come to the top of the pressed down sauerkraut. Reisling is traditional, but any fruty dry white will do. I used a light chardonnay because that's what I happened to have available.

Put the lid on making sure its tight. If too loose make a little paste with flour & water to seal or place a sheet of parchment paper over the top to seal.   

Bake at about 250 degrees F for at least 2 hours, longer won't hurt.

Here's the finished product. The traditional side dish is boiled potatoes, but I find the much too heavy so I don't serve choucroute with anything, anything that is except THE most critical ingredient of all!


Lots of good white wine goes without saying although this is a dish that works well with a good beer. A 'brun' here in France is wonderful with it.

                           If you've never had this dish try it! Then let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Don't try to mimic the locals

I always find it amusing when foriegners try to be 'local'. That is they try to mimic the dress, mannerisms and customs of the local populance. This happens a lot with ex-pats who come to France seeking to 'blend into the coutryside' and 'be like the French'. Now I think its great for we foriegners to try and fit into the local society. Obviously we should dress and act appropriately and we certainly should respect the local customs. 

No, its the mimicing part and the part where things get carried too far that amuses me. Lets face it if I live to be a hundred I'll never be French. I might fake it with non-French people, but a French person will spot me as a phony instantly. ( when I travelled a lot I used to play a game as I sat around various airports. Spot the nationality! I got to almost a 90% success rate at doing it without even hearing the person in question speak. Shoes were the best giveaway.) Somehow we never quite get it just right no matter how hard we try.  Does it matter? No, I don't think so. Most French people find foriegners fascinating; if you speak passable French so much the better otherwise trying out their English is fun too.

Where is this heading? Well, I have in mind a recent example to do with cooking. An American blogger of note recently did a piece on trying to make Aligot. Nothing much wrong with that except.... hardly anybody makes their own Aligot any more. (Aligot by the way is a local dish from the Auverne consisting of mashed potatoes, garlic, milk butter and , here's the key, a special cheese made only in the region) Its the very devil to make as its hard to get exactly the right cheese outside (unfortunately, this person didn't.) a very limited area (unfortunately this person lives in the wrong area to get the cheese) and, here's the really hard part, the seemingly endless stirring is very hard work. So much so that its considered a man's job. I've seen it made by our locals for a 'repas' and even took a turn at stirring, but it really is hard work.

So what everybody, almost, does is to buy their Aligot at market where there will normally be a specialist Aligot maker selling the stuff. Either that or the local will only have Aligot when out to a restaurant. Or if really desperate you can actually buy Aligot at the supermarket to heat up when you get home.

Well, unfortunanetly this person's Aligot failed. She could having been much more native if she's just gone out & bought some. (Although I'm not sure they sell it at market in her part of France)This person, however, is determined to be LOCAL!! Unfornately she usually just misses the boat    or the cheese in this case.

Or & here's a 'local' tip. You can turn a 'failed' Aligot into a " Truffade" by adding a few lardons, flattening it into a thick pancake & frying it in a bit of pork fat. 

Thursday, October 09, 2008

New Twist on an old favorite

I've always loved Prawns Bordelaise. Lovely prawns with a garlic & lemon sauce. Ymmmy! So, I decided to make them a couple of weeks ago having found some nice peeled prawns at market at a good price.

Now, I don't know about you, but I get confused amongst prawns, shrimp, scampi, gambas and so forth as to which is which. We seem to call them one thing in the states & another thing in England. Anyway in this case what I'm calling prawns would weigh in at about a 50-60 count. Fairly good sized.

Back to the recipe. As I looked in the fridge to get my prawns out I noticed that I had a nice bunch of mushrooms. Just ordinary cultivated mushrooms. (the French call them Champigons de Paris). Inspiration struck! Why not use them, so I did and the result was delicious.

Here's what you do:

  1. Peel your prawns if not already peeled. Cut you mushrooms into slices at a right angle to the direction that they grow. (trim off any bits, but save & use the stems); make the slices fairly thick, say about 1/8th inch thick. Chop some garlic up finely. Cut a lemon in half ready to squeeze.
  2. In an appropriately sized frying pan put in a good sized knob of butter. When it has melted & starts to foam dump in your mushrooms & garlic all at once. Toss continually until the mushrooms are just barely cooked. (you may have to add more butter). You do NOT want the mushrooms to give up thrir water!
  3. Add the prawns and cook just until pink or if the prawns are pre-cooked just until they're hot.
  4. Squeeze in the lemon juice to taste.
  5. Artisticly arrange the mushroom slices & prawns over a bed of greens, your choice of type of greens (I use manch or baby spinach leaves)
  6. Meanwhile quickly melt some more butter, add lemon juice & pour over the whole plate as a sauce.
That's it! It turns out that the mushroom/ prawn combination really worked well. The flavours compliment each other. I wouldn't use stronger falvoured mushrooms (wild mushrooms for instance) as they might overpower the prawns. As a bonus the colours look really nice on the plate.

Try it; you'll like it. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I've been busy!

Sorry & all that. I haven't been around for nearly a month, I'm suprised that anybody bothers to look at the blog, but grateful that you do.

It has been hectic! A succession of three sets of visitors the last of whom left yesterday. The first set was a couple we haven't seen in years. They're newly minted Americans having become citizens just last year after living in the states for over 20 years. (origionally they're British) They were here ten days & said they had a great time even though they left with a touch of Francois's revenge and a ten hour flight back to California. Just goes to show how different set of bugs can get you if you're not used to them; none of the rest of us got it.

The second lot were friends from England, Northerners to be exact. They are a great couple & great guests. Tony & I took turns cooking & played golf whist the ladies did a bit of shooping. Copious amounts of wine evaporated somehow. We'll be seeing them again when we visit their new Florida house in January. Should be a lot of fun & a lot of golf.

Last, but not least we're my brother & sister-in-law. We always enjoy them as they're family & easy to get along with. We'll see a lot of them now that they've both retired. Derek & I played several rounds of golf as well as watching the Ryder Cup. The sisters did what sisters always do, they talked & shopped. Plenty to talk about as our neice, their daughter, is getting married here next June.

During all of this there was, naturally, lots of cooking going on. Many old favorites pus a couple of new inventions. I'll post about the new inventions over the next few days. Suffice it to say that we ate well both at home, at friends and at our favorite restaurant.

That's it for now. Promise to get back into the blog now that life has calmed down.

Wish we could spread our visitors out more, but they all guessed September would be good and it was. Spectacular weather all month. Its changed now and fall is upon us. Whoopee! Michael & I will go scrounging - apples, walnuts, hazelnuts, mushrooms (if we get some rain), figs and pears. Its a tough life in the country.