Périgord’s Greatest Hits

29 12 2009

I’m afraid Périgord is getting the short end of the stick this month.  Like I said before, Périgord is the home of French Christmas staples such as foie gras and chestnuts, which is why I chose it for December.  Unfortunately, my paying job is much more demanding in the winter, particularly in the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s.  So I haven’t had nearly as much time as I would have liked to research (read: taste) my way through Périgord.

Seasoning the foie

I did, however, with the help of Hopie, manage to put together a Christmas dinner très périgord.  Minus the truffles.  When it came down to  spending 23 euros on a 9-gram truffle or spending them on a 500-gram foie gras de canard, the choice was clear.  On Christmas day, I split the lobe in two, did my best to remove the vein without mangling the beautiful foie, then simply seasoned and seared it on both sides.  When the searing was done, I lowered the heat and let it continue cooking, covered, for a few more minutes.

Whole pan-roasted foie gras

After the foie was warmed through, I moved it to a plate and poured off all but a thin layer of fat from the pan.  I quickly sautéed some diced shallots, deglazed with a splash of balsamic vinegar, and stirred in some fig jam for a sauce that was absolutely heavenly spooned over thick slices of warm foie gras.  We washed it down with a glass of Monbazillac, a white dessert wine from (where else?) Périgord.  I’m not ashamed to admit that four of us polished off the entire big lobe (the small one has since become an unphotogenic but quite tasty pâté) before diving into the rest of our meal.

Speaking of the rest of the meal, Hope was enthusiastic about the Périgord theme, and contributed a delicious herbed chestnut soup to the feast.  The richness of the chestnuts was nicely balanced with woodsy rosemary and palate-awakening mint.  Of course I didn’t get any photos.  (Did I mention there was wine at this dinner?)  Nor did I get a single photo of the goose I had to go to eight butchers to find, which we roasted and ate with potatoes cooked in the drippings – a simplified version of the périgueux classic, pommes sarladaises.

All in all, a wonderful Christmas dinner and a great time spent with friends sharing some of our favorite activities: cooking and eating.  Just the way I like to spend my holidays.

In case I don’t get back here before Friday (and it doesn’t look like I will) Happy New Year!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Worthwhile French Beers: Thomas Beckett Bière de Noël

24 12 2009

As Calvin’s Dad once said, “I think Santa would rather have a cold beer.”  (Enjoy that link, by the way.  Terribly distracting.)

Bière de Noël

According to the brewer, the Thomas Beckett Brewery, which is based in Bourgogne, this Christmas brew is part of a tradition born in the north of France.  The master brewers of the region got into the habit of concocting beers enriched with spices such as coriander, cardamom, and cloves.  They shared these special seasonal brews with their best clients and closest neighbors.

Luckily for the rest of us, they eventually decided to start sharing with a broader audience.  This beer pours out in a clear, chestnut/mahogany-colored stream, and settles in the glass with a fluffy, pillowy, tan head.  It smells of dark roasted malt, reminiscent of molasses or chocolate, with hints of chestnut and spice.  In the mouth, the tiny bubbles announce and incredibly smooth and balanced beer, with a roasted, slightly sweet flavor.  Vanilla and tobacco make non-obtrusive guest appearances, and an ideally subtle warm spiciness (notably clove and nutmeg) imbues the whole without ever becoming overpowering.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Worthwhile French Beers: Ninkasi IPA

20 12 2009

Nnkasi IPA

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Worthwhile French Beer post.  Not for lack of tasty French beers, but mainly for lack of patience for taking tasting notes when I’d rather be playing Cribbage or MarioKart.  Being a big fan of the IPA (India Pale Ale) style, I definitely wanted to record this one, though.

Ninkasi is a brewery/brewpub based in Lyon, with another location in  St. Etienne.  It is named for the Sumerian goddess of beer.  And they have not let her down on this one. 

Pouring it out into glasses, we noticed the beer was slightly cloudy, though it is likely that this has more to do with our storing the bottle on its side than anything the brewers intended.  However, the cloudiness does indicate the presence of yeast in the bottle, which in another life Nick would have harvested and cultured for his own brewing purposes.  Nonetheless, the color was a beautiful light caramel, with a bubbly, off-white head.  The floral hop nose gives way to a sweet, medium-roasted malt flavor and smooth mouthfeel, which segues effortlessly into a nice, sharp hop finish whose bitterness lingers, but doesn’t overstay its welcome. 

We were pleasantly surprised at how good this beer actually was, which makes me eager to try some of the other offerings from Ninkasi.  Or maybe even check out the brewpub sometime.  Could be time soon for a weekend in Lyon…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





A Savory Pumpkin Pie

16 12 2009

Patidou quiche, uncut

December.  Dreaded by pâtissiers around the world.  I wish I had something witty to say about this quiche I fashioned from last week’s CSA panier score, but I made over 100 kilos of ganache today at work. 

Before...

I used up all the chocolate (60 kilos) and all the cream (40 liters) and that’s why I stopped.  I have one more kind to make tomorrow morning before I spend another long day wrestling the hardened (well, not really hardened, more like firm-ened) ganaches into frames so that they can be cut, enrobed, boxed and sold for Christmas.  The skin on my hands feels like the sticky side of velcro, and all I really want is to dig into the leftovers of this roast patidou squash and shallot quiche, which is as luxuriously creamy as you could ever possibly want a quiche to be.

...and After

I’m counting on it to smooth out today’s rough edges.  As for my hands, well, that’s why God created shea butter.

A little slice of heaven

Read on for the recipe.

Read the rest of this entry »





Rocamadour

12 12 2009

Rocamadour Moelleux

Welcome to Périgord month!  I’ve chosen the Périgord for December because it is where to find some of France’s most decadent treats.  Foie gras, black truffles, and chestnuts are cultivated in the Périgord, and they are indispensable for end-of-the-year holiday celebrations.  It wouldn’t be Christmas in France without a slab of foie gras or chestnuts roasted with a turkey or goose.  And you can’t go into a shop in Paris in December without finding marrons glacés, those delicious candied chestnuts.

It is also time once again for Chez Loulou’s Fête du Fromage.  (Be sure to check out the international roundup on the 15th.)  One of Périgord’s most famous cheeses is the tiny Rocamadour.  This raw-milk goat’s cheese is no bigger than two inches in diameter – a perfect serving size for one person.  It is sold either fresh and soft or firm and dry.  This time, I picked a couple of lusciously gooey-looking specimens, with thin, silky rinds and insides like spreadable cream.  The first smell that hit my nose upon unwrapping them was one of grassy fields, which quickly faded away.  On the palate they were ultra smooth, with a rich, creamy flavor, mild goaty tang, and a hint of pepper on the finish.  Robust reds from the neighboring appellations of Cahors and Bergerac (as in Cyrano) would pair well.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Top of the Muffin to You!

9 12 2009

Or, Study for Steel-Cut Oat Cookies

Whenever I go to a museum, which is fairly often, seeing as I live in a city full of great ones, I always wonder about the little half-completed drawings, paintings, and sculptures labeled “Study for XYZ.”  Did the artist ever really intend for that particular piece to be displayed?  I understand the value in looking at these next to the final work, but I want to know at what point do your half-finished thoughts and handiworks become art in their own right?  Does it have to do with fame, either of the artist or of the work?  Are these the carefully hand-selected studies chosen from rooms full of crappy ones?  Where do they draw the line, so to speak?

And it really only seems to be a phenomenon in drawing, painting, and sculpture.  You don’t see this in photography exhibits.  You don’t watch the rehearsals of a play unless you have some specific reason to be there.  You generally don’t get to see all the miles of footage cut from films.  And do you really want to be on the receiving end of someone’s cooking experiment?  Maybe.  I guess it depends on the cook, their level of skill, and how much you trust them.

Oatmeal-Pecan Muffin Top

One time when I was a kid, my mom and I baked my favorite oatmeal cookies using a different recipe.  It was one we had found on the back of a new discovery: Steel-Cut Irish Oats.  I remember them being some of the best oatmeal cookies I’d ever had, chewier than usual, with a more substantial texture and great oat flavor.  The recipe has since been lost, but when I read Andrea’s recipe for Cooked Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies, starring Irish oats, I sat up and took notice.  And then did nothing about it for over six months.  But last weekend I decided to cook the rest of the Irish oats I had, and save some for the express purpose of making cookies.

I changed Andrea’s recipe a bit, reducing the baking powder, increasing the butter, adding salt and pecans, and omitting the pumpkin.  I was looking for something golden brown and butterscotchy, with lots of chewy steel-cut oats.  What I got were muffin tops.  They did make great on-the-go breakfasts for the days I choose to get twenty minutes more of sleep in the morning in lieu of sitting down and eating something (read: every day).

So does anybody really need my recipe for “Study in Steel-Cut Oat Cookies?”  Probably not.  Is it worth telling the story?  I think so, but then, I’m no art historian.  Incidentally, Andrea is.  Maybe I’ll ask her.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





A Peck of Pickled Peppers… Bread

3 12 2009

I’ve been on a bit of a pickling kick lately.  Ever since Jessica showed me how easy it could be, I’ve pickled cucumbers, garlic, cocktail onions, and long green hot peppers, which will henceforward be referred to as “jalapeños,” even though they obviously are not. 

The jalapeños were purchased by Nick, to make salsa to go with the nachos we served to some French friends who came over for dinner one night last month.  (We wanted to do something really American – and really good – for them.)  I warned Nick against making the salsa too hot, and he acquiesced, on condition that he be allowed to add more peppers to the leftovers.  Of course there weren’t any leftovers.  So that’s how I decided to pickle a handful of peppers, with no real plan as to what to do with them afterward.  It occurred to me, perhaps even as soon as I had them in the jar, that one really good thing to do with pickled jalapeños is to make jalapeño-cheese bread.

Jalapeño-Cheese Sandwich Loaf

Armed with the Ratio, a new batch of starter (my old one died over the summer), and some Tillamook Pepper Jack cheese (thanks, Kiran!), I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.  The only tricky part is getting all the tasty bits to stay in the bread.  Kneading them in is not the best way.  Folding them is.  Like this:

jalapeño-cheese letter fold
1. How do you get the jalapeños and cheese in the bread, anyway?, 2. Step 2, 3. Letter fold complete

Then it’s really just a matter of time while the bread proofs and bakes.

No, it didn't really change color...
1. Before proof, 2. After proof

As you can see, my bread didn’t rise all that much, which I’ll admit gave me my doubts, but I carried on anyway, and am so glad I did!

jalapeños, cheese, bread

We ate it that night with big bowls of chili, and later Nick made ham sandwiches for his brown-bag lunch.  I can’t tell you how long it lasts, because this was gone in two days.

If you’re the recipe-abiding type, here’s what worked beautifully for me:

Read the rest of this entry »








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