Belated Birthday

19 02 2010

Yesterday, this blog turned two.  Time sure flies when you’re having fun.  It would appear that I have also just passed the 300 post mark, which, wow.  who knew I was so prolific?  (Granted, in Croque-Camille’s first six months I posted five times a week, so I’m sure that helped.)

Like I did last year, I want to celebrate with a rundown of favorite posts, month-by-month.  It’s fun to go back through the archives now and again, because there’s always something I’d completely forgotten about!  So without further ado…

February 2009: Well, it was Alsace month, so I baked flammekueche and went to Strasbourg, but the meal down the street at Astier was probably the highlight of the month.

March 2009: Ah, Savoie month, with its potatoes and cheese.  And more cheese.  A light, lemony dessert was just what the doctor ordered for Nick’s birthday.  (If you click that link, be sure to go to the next post when you’re done.  It’s Enchiladas Robuchon!)

April 2009: Exploring the regional cuisine of Brittany (Bretagne, en français) yielded many fun finds, including a very interesting and delicious buckwheat soup, but my favorite post of the month is the one where I fail and then succeed in making cauliflower into a main dish.

May 2009: Un peu de dépaysage.  I wrote about Basque cuisine and my trip to London.  And fell in love with Fergus Henderson.

June 2009: Posts were sparse, because I was on vacation in the States, but I did manage to write my most popular post ever – Cheesy Poofs Kick Ass.  (If you haven’t already read it, do.)  The highlight of the month for me, though, was cooking a fabulous meal for my dad for Father’s Day.

July 2009: We spent a weekend in Rouen for Normandy month, and discovered the delights of Norman cheese and cider.  I also battled the WiiFit and my jeans after excessive vacation eating.  (And sitting!  Nobody walks anywhere in the USA!)  This key lime tart didn’t help, but it sure was good.

August 2009: The month of Provence (boules!  bouillabaisse!) and baking with tea.

September 2009: We ate some delectable Corsican charcuterie, cheese, and honey.  I also caught pork fever, which resulted in homemade breakfast sausage as well as xiaolongbao.

October 2009: Celebrated Burgundy month with a trip to Dijon, a beautiful city filled with delicious food and wine.  It turns out they even make tasty beer in Burgundy!

November 2009: Thanksgiving may have been overshadowed by Languedoc month, my homemade duck confit, and the resulting cassoulet.

December 2009: Perigord month was a gutbomb.  Mouthwatering, but a gutbomb.  (Still, I’m not sure I ever want to do Christmas without a whole lobe of foie gras again.)  I also got started on a pickling kick, one of the results of which was an awesome (if I do say so myself, and I do) loaf of jalapeño-cheese bread.

January 2010: Trying to get back into simpler cooking.  And I started a new series, Around Paris, thanks to which I discovered a wonderful Korean restaurant in Paris.

And that’s the year in clips!  I hope you had as much fun with it as I did.  I have one more treat for Croque-Camille’s second birthday – This Day in History.  From now on, providing there is one, I will post a link to a previous year’s post that fell on the same date as the current post.  (Wow, that was a lot harder to explain than I anticipated.)  So…

On This Day in 2008: Cuban Stuff is Legal Here (my first full-length post!)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





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.





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.





Regional French Cuisine: Languedoc: Cassoulet

30 11 2009

It starts out so innocently...

Cassoulet.  Anthony Bourdain has been known to refer to it as “the single heaviest dish in the French repertoire.”  I can’t say I disagree with him.  (Although tartiflette certainly gives it a run for its money.)  Like so many other classic dishes, there are many who claim to having invented cassoulet.  The three towns most adamant about their version being the “true” cassoulet are Castelnaudry, Carcassonne, and Toulouse.  Depending on who you ask, the meats used in the dish are pork (skin, belly, and/or sausage), duck or goose confit, and mutton.

Three fat sausages, sitting in the pan...

Everyone agrees that the dish contains white beans, and that it is named for a special cooking vessel, the cassole, which is shaped in such a way as to increase the amount of delicious crust that forms on top.  After consulting a handful of recipes, notably those from Paula Wolfert and Bourdain and Ruhlman, I drew up an outline of how I would be going about the cassoulet.

I inadvertently sent Nick on a wild goose chase for Toulouse sausages, which were nowhere to be found on Sunday morning.  Finally he just asked a butcher for a sausage he could put in cassoulet, and came home with three beautiful, handmade links and a few thick slices of pork belly.

While the beans simmered in a mixture of veal stock and water with an oignon piqué and some thyme, I trimmed the pork belly and threw the skin and bony bits in with the beans.  The rest I chopped into lardons which I started cooking over low heat in a good layer of duck fat.  When they were nice and crisp, I moved them to a paper towel-lined bowl to drain and began browning the sausages.  After that, the duck confit went in to crisp the skin (for snacking purposes) and to warm through (to make the shredding step easier).  Then, I drained off most of the fat, reserving it for later, and added some diced onions and carrots to the pot to pick up the fond that had formed.  The vegetables softened and the bottom of the pot now clean, several cloves of garlic jumped in to join the party.  Meanwhile, I drained the tender-but-not-yet-fully-cooked beans, reserving that liquid as well.  The vegetables and the crisped lardons went in with the beans, and I was finally ready to start assembling.

Easy as 1-2-3
1. Beans, Sausage, 2. Beans, Duck Confit, 3. More Beans

First a layer of fat, then beans, then hunks of sausage, followed by more beans, the shredded duck confit, and the rest of the beans to top it off.  Between each layer I sprinkled salt and drizzled a bit more fat.  At the end, I ladled the bean cooking liquid into the very full Dutch oven until I could see the level was just below the top of the beans.  And into the oven my cassoulet went.

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Treasures of the Languedoc

25 11 2009

Sepia tone makes everything look classy.

I couldn’t possibly do Languedoc month without talking about the wine.  There is as much, if not more, acreage in the Languedoc devoted to the growing of grapes and production of wine as in Bordeaux.  Some of my very favorite French wines are from the Languedoc, including Fitou (rare, but if you find a bottle, pick it up, you won’t be sorry), Corbières, and Minervois.  The wines of the region generally use a similar blend of grapes as is used in the Rhône valley, heavy on the Syrah, Mouvèdre, Carignane, and Grenache.  The reds are fruity yet bold, with enough structure to make them worth lingering over, and usually very food-friendly, as well.  The best part?  They’re also some of the least expensive French wines!  Chalk it up to a lack of name recognition, but you really get a lot of bang for your buck when buying wines from the Languedoc.

Another important product of the Languedoc is rice.  The majority of rice grown in France is along the coast of the Languedoc, particularly in the marshy Camargue near the Rhône river delta.  Camargue is also an important source of France’s salt.

Sel Gros de Camargue

I usually use sel gros de Camargue in my cooking, its crystals being roughly the same size as Kosher salt.  It is slightly moist though, which gives me a feeling of indulgence – the stuff feels a lot more expensive than it is (around 1 euro a kilo).  Of course, where there’s salt, there’s fleur de sel.

Fancy finishing salt

Fleur de sel is the crunchy, extra-white “flowers” that form on the top of the regular sea salt crystals under the right conditions.  It’s a great finishing salt – try sprinkling it over a steak or salad just before serving, or even on bread with butter if you don’t have the butter with the salt crystals built in.

And now for an update on the duck confit.  Last week, I rinsed and dried the duck legs while I melted all the duck fat in the house.  There was a minor duck fat-related tragedy when I opened one of my three (!) jars and discovered that mold had sprouted inside.  I set it aside, and to make up for the missing fat – I wanted to make sure the legs would be amply covered in fat as they cooked – I added a bit of lard.  The smell of the garlicky duck as the confit did its thing for three hours was insanely good.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make one giant batch of this to save all winter – I wouldn’t mind filling my house with that smell every month.  Or every week, for that matter.

Duck legs, post-confiting

Now the confit, legs, fat, and all, is resting in the bottom of my fridge, waiting for the Thanksgiving hoopla to be over so I can turn it into cassoulet.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Trotter Gear and Duck Confit

17 11 2009

As part of my continuing infatuation with Fergus Henderson, I have made and cooked with his Trotter Gear recipe from Beyond Nose to Tail.  And I wrote all about it for the fabulous Nose to Tail at Home.  Here’s a little something to whet your appetite…

Chicken and Bacon Pie... er, sort of.

How did I get from pig’s feet to this tasty meat pie?  You’ll have to click over to my guest post to find out.

* * * * *

Speaking of preserved meats, I believe I mentioned that it was my goal to make cassoulet for Languedoc month.  I left out the part where I planned to make my own duck confit.  Well, the process has begun.  Using an amalgam of recipes from Robuchon and Ruhlman (what’s with the five-hour difference in cooking time, guys?), I have rubbed three duck legs with a mortar-and-pestled mixture of coarse sea salt, black peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves, and garlic.

Neither R nor R told me to do this, but it seemed like a good idea.

Now I have to wait two days to cover the legs in more duck fat and cook them ever so slowly until they just about fall apart.  It’s going to be tough, but the kitchen now smells like garlic and bay, and that’s never a bad thing.

Soak it up, little duckies

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Regional French Cheeses: Languedoc: Cathare

13 11 2009

It is my pleasure to announce the French region where we here at Croque-Camille will be spending November: the Languedoc!  This is another one (like Bourgogne) that I’ve been looking forward to almost all year.  My original plan has written “November – cassoulet.”  Of course I had to do a little digging to figure out which region, exactly, cassoulet exemplifies, so here we are in the Languedoc.

The Languedoc is a fairly large region that comprises a lot of the Southwestern part of France.  It stretches from the Spanish/Catalan border all the way to the Rhône river – the old capital was Toulouse, the new one Montpellier.  The region gets its name from the language used there prior to the French Revolution: Occitan.  Occitan is a romance language whose use was most widespread in the medieval period.  It was distinguished from dialects further North by the way they said “yes.”  In Occitan, they say “oc,” while in old French, they said “oi,” which became the present-day “oui.”  Get it?  Langue d’oc.  (Thank you, class in medieval French literature.  Who knew I’d ever need that tidbit again?)

Now, it just so happens that I correspond regularly in the blogosphere with an amateur cheese expert (oxymoron?  Nah.) who lives in the Languedoc.  I wrote to her for advice on regional cheeses, and among her suggestions was Cathare, a goat’s cheese embellished with an Occitan Cross, the symbol of the region.

Holy ashed cheese, Batman!

Cathare is a raw-milk cheese, aged only a couple of weeks (sorry Americans – it’s unavailable in the US due to silly regulatory laws).  The rind is thin and wrinkly, with ash coating only the top of the slim wheel.  The cheese just inside the completely edible rind is smooth and gooey, while the inside is just a bit firmer and drier.  The cheese definitely has that goaty tang with a hint of chalkiness, but the flavor is full and rich.  The ash contributes no grittiness, as is always my (generally unfounded) fear.  It would be nicely complimented by a dry yet fruity white wine.

It should come as no surprise that I am sending this in to La Fête du Fromage Chez Loulou.  As always, look for the roundup on the 15th – there’s always something new!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Worthwhile French Beers: La Mandubienne Blonde

31 10 2009

This is pretty much the last post I expected to write in Burgundy Month.  But yes, Nick and I did stumble across a locally made beer while in Dijon.

A glas of Burgundian... beer?

When we go on these weekend jaunts, I research the dining options, and Nick finds out about the beer scene.  He found a neat-looking place called Le Cappuccino that he wanted to check out, so we headed to a less-touristed part of town for a little local flavor.  Inside, we found that they even had a local beer on tap – La Mandubienne.  They even had brochures from the brewery, Brasserie des Trois Fontaines, which we unfortunately did not have time to visit.  In any case, we enjoyed the beer, and Nick wrote up a review for the website Beer Advocate.  He writes:

Color is opalescent wheaty-yellow to dark straw. Good high head that eventually settles into a nice lace over the beer. Aroma is rather full of esters (banana & pear mostly), but not over-the-top Jolly Rancher by any stretch.

Read the rest here.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





My Dijon Photo Album

29 10 2009

Sadly, we are running out of October.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween, and Thanksgiving even more, but I wish I had more time to explore the rich culinary heritage of Bourgogne.  There were two pretty stellar lunches, featuring Burgundian classics like kir, oeufs meurette, and all kinds of mushroom dishes (we picked the right time to go to Burgundy – just as mushroom season was getting into full swing!); and one rather disappointing dinner, which I didn’t bother photographing.  We did a lot of walking around the city, admiring the timbered houses and colorful tiled roofs.  Since I’d be here all night if I tried to cover it all in one post, instead I have built a mosaic of my favorite pictures from the trip.  Click on the title of the photo at the bottom if you want a better view or a little more info.  Enjoy!

Good views and good eats in Burgundy
1. Kir in its Natural Habitat, 2. St-Begnigne Cathedral, Dijon, 3. Velouté de Poireaux, 4. Lentil Salad with Ham at L’O, 5. L’O – Chicken in Mushroom Sauce, 6. Entrecôte at L’O, 7. Pear “Biscuit” at L’O, 8. Boules de Glace at L’O, 9. Hôtel de Vogüe, 10. Place de la Libération, 11. L’Eau d’Origine Contrôlée, 12. Oeufs Meurette at Café Gourmand, 13. Mushroom Tatin at Café Gourmand, 14. Crumble au Potiron at Café Gourmand, 15. Veal Burger, 16. Pompon Boar, 17. L’Assommoir, 18. Gargoyles

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





A City Known for Mustard in a Region Known for Wine

16 10 2009

Maille boutique, Dijon

Dijon, located in the Côte d’Or département, is a city full of great food, wine, and shopping opportunities.  Nick and I arrived in town Saturday morning and headed straight for the market, which was packed with local and regional cheeses, charcuterie, wines, and produce.  If the weather had been nicer, we would have picked up some goodies and found a picturesque spot to enjoy a picnic.  Alas, it being October, we got gray skies and intermittent rain.  Nonetheless, we did not go hungry.  After a long lunch in a restaurant near the market, we wandered over to the rue de la Liberté, the city’s main shopping street (in fact, it is what I remember most about my last visit to Dijon, in 2000, particularly the H&M).  This time, though, I was shopping for mustard.  The Maille boutique features dozens of flavors of mustard, from cassis to herbes de Provence to marc de Bourgogne.  I wanted to try them all, but feared for my sinuses.

Stoneware mustard jars

My favorite feature of the shop is the mustard taps, where you can have a stoneware mustard pot filled with your choice of fresh mustard.  Apparently Maille has one other boutique in France, located in Paris – D’oh! – so when I run out, I can go there to get my pot refilled.

Mustard Tap

And then we were off in search of wine…

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