Sweet Potato & Quince Pie with a Cornmeal Butter Pastry
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Pie. Why bake Pie? In my book, (that big imaginary volume called “The Big Camont Cookbook”) Pie or the French version-une tarte- is the most rewarding of all treats. The smell of the baking butter, the pastry crunch, the butter, the slightly sweet and soft texture of cooked fruit, and the perfectly happy butter pastry crust are reward enough for a short time spent in the kitchen.

This sweet pie, essentially a classic sweet potato pie, was created for a dinner of friends last week. In my last minute ‘let’s make it happen’ madness, I consulted a few online recipes and then made my own path. I roasted some sweet potatoes (amazingly grown in my own garden this summer!) and tossed in the last remaining quince from the fruit bowl. I hate that things go to waste, that there is one small, measly, remaining-something-from-a-large bowl. I always try to use up the last lemon, the lone apple, the meager bunch of carrots bought last week. So along with the potatoes that I cut in halves and placed face down on a sheet pan, I placed the halved quince as well to roast.

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When asked to tell why I do what I do, what makes me get up every morning, or why I bother to write this all down, I think of something as simple as that gesture of placing the last quince in the pie. Almost instinctual, a learned habit of looking at what’s around me, I enjoy the process of thinking how one added new element elevates this simple recipe found on a thousand sites and in as many kitchens this Thanksgiving season.

Making a recipe your own happens easily when you stock your kitchen with thoughtful products. Two of the four quince I bought at the market became part of a kale salad that John D. made when he was cheffing his way around my kitchen all last month. One quince got poached in a light syrup and has been steeping in the fridge; I will now add that to the some holiday chutney. And that last quince that I baked alongside the sweet potatoes added just enough perfumed plus to the filling. Other than using an already open 14 oz. can of condensed milk (with enough sugar for my taste) I add no additional sugar. What a happy accident!

The summer sweet potatoes and the quince, brightened with a squeeze of lemon, a splash of armagnac/vanilla extract (I make my own), and a couple farm fresh eggs were enough a perfect marriage. I added some fine cornmeal to the flour and butter to make a slightly more textured and nutty crust. Soon this pie was my own—inspired by tradition and elaborated by my own touch to create a dense rich dessert as festive as my table.

Although I didn’t ‘follow’ a recipe, I do make note of my ingredients. Give this a whirl and add your own touches!

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Sweet Potato & Quince Pie

Recipe for one pie

All butter cornmeal crust:

  • 150 gr all-purpose flour

  • 100 gr fine cornmeal flour

  • 125 sweet butter, torn into small pieces

  • a pinch of salt

  • 1 egg for egg wash

Mix all the ingredients except the egg together, roll out, and place in a deep dish pie pan or terra cotta gratin pan like I use. Make a fluted edge high enough to hold the filling. Brush with egg wash and let dry while preparing the filling

Sweet Potato and Quince FIlling

  • sweet potatoes - two-3 very large potatoes- about 1.5 kilo or 3 lbs. Roasted until soft and peel removed

  • 1 or 2 quince, apple, or pear. Roasted until soft and cored and peeled

  • 1 can evaporated milk

  • 2-3 eggs

  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

  • 1 tablespoon of “The Secret” flavoring* or good vanilla extract

    Mix all of the ingredients together and whisk or blend together until smooth.

    Pour into pastry crust and bake in an moderate oven at 350’ for 45-55 min until the filling is set and barely jiggly. Let cool or refrigerate overnight, serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or crème fraîche. Enjoy and give thanks!

    *Steep some vanilla beans in armagnac, add some rum, and orange flower water. Let sleep together for awhile. Eh Voila- Le Secret!

Kate Hill
Pruneaux + Armagnac = Magic Gascony
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Like a magical breath of fresh air, this sweet finish—a perfect Pruneaux and Armagnac Soufflé— transformed our Sunday lunch into a classic French cliché. The hours passed at the table with good companionable friends began with aperitifs (Pousse Rapiere for all!) rolled into remarkable local wines, amuse bouches, fanciful starters, and precisely prepared main courses followed multiple desserts. It truly was Classic Gascony!

I began thinking about why this photograph, admittedly not the best I’ve ever taken, whetted so many people’s appetites? Was it a nostalgic wave for the 80’s soufflés I remember? Maybe the darling Limoges porcelain and paper doily presentation? The dollop of creamy golden ice cream settling into the hot puff of edible air?

No, I believe it was the magic combination of two words that push people over the edge. Pruneaux. And. Armagnac.

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Prunes d’ente

The prunes d’ente (grafted plumes) date to the Crusaders who returned with them from Syria to be planted in the monasteries of the Lot Valley. Once cooked and dried they are transformed into pruneaux or prunes. Not only a delicious dried fruit, they are used in regional cooking and often paired with meats, game, poultry and used in sweets.

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Armagnac

I remember when a sage distiller once told me “Armagnac loves silence.” I think of that invisible ingredient each time open a vintage bottle that someone has carefully kept for 40 years or more in the silent chais of Gascony. I think of that when I add a measure of the distilled wine to my recipes. Like a secret ingredient, too, Armagnac adds the depth of candied fruit and floral perfume, cacao and vanilla aromes, pear, tobacco leaf, and prunes. And that is why the Gascon marriage of prunes and Armagnac stands the test of time. Shhh. Remember, Armagnac likes it quiet.

I keep thinking about how French cooking differs from other cuisines. Not better. Different. I have learned this preparing many hundreds of meals at Camont. The two elements that define French cuisine, especially Gascony cooking, are restraint and celebration. Cooking with armagnac begs for restraint whereas I add the golden fleshed sweet prunes with abandon and celebrate the simple fruit. These two ingredients as well as the approach are a good match and compliment so many dishes- Lapin aux Pruneaux is gently flamed with a Hors d’Age blend, a splash of fruity Colombard Brut livens the plums for that special soufflé, and a tulip glass of vintage 1970’s Armagnac warms in your hand over a long conversation after dinner. Interested in learning to cook with Armagnac and Prunes? Sign up for a week of Classic Gascony Cooking Classes in 2019. Bookings now open here.

Hungry for French Prunes? Try these.

Kate Hill
Inspiration revealed.
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Recently I asked some of my guests what was the most surprising thing of their Insider’s Gascony week. Was it the abundance of good food? Or the little know and fabulous Côte de Gascogne wines? The magic of Armagnac we saw being made and bottled? The delightful picturesque stone villages of Gascony? No. They had one answer.

It Is So Beautiful Here!

Why was I surprised? I know how lovely the French countryside is. I know that from the mid-19th Century painters of the Barbizon School of Landscape Art through the Impressionists of the Late 19th-Century and right into the Instagrammable 21st Century, the rolling seas of blonde wheat and vibrant sunflower fields bordered by dark green forests have defined the French Countryside to a fault. Does it look like a postcard? Yes. But beauty is not a cliché.

So why was I surprised? I know how lovely it is here—spring, summer, fall, and winter. But somehow in all the things I write, the food I cook, and the photographs I post, I forgot to tell this led this group of four well-traveled souls to expect beauty. I have failed miserably!

So I take this as little reminder and invite you, too, to look up and out as you search for your next culinary inspiration. Check the weather by looking at the clouds and the direction of the wind instead of at an App. Take an extra moment to pull off the little two lane roads and look, really look at the rows of freshly furrowed soil. Image what will be planted next after the harvest of dry rattling cornstalks. And share that.

Create those connections between soil and seed, and the food that is harvested just for you to buy at the weekly markets. Gather in the seasons into your own kitchens and celebrate the turning from one delightful expression of summer to the first drawing in around the Autumnal fires.

I’ll try to remind you more. And to also remind you that a trip to Camont to sook through the seasons is an investment in your own memory bank. Taste spring as it jumps from your market basket to our table and we celebrate another great season in the Kitchen at Camont. 2019 Class are booking now.

This photograph was taken 10 minutes from Camont on a June day in 2018.

Kate Hill
Honey from a Weed
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“In the time of the Lion…” begins one of the evocative passages about summer food collected from around the Mediterranean by the late writer and artist Patience Gray in her vintage autobiographical cookbook ‘Honey From A Weed’. This August, I’ve been dipping in and out of her world reading about, and then cooking, the simple foods of Catalunya, Puglia, and Tuscany. Written in the 60’s and 70’s when Ms. Gray and her husband sculptor Norman Mommens lived in the rough outcroppings of rural villages never far from the Mediterranean Sea, and published originally in 1986 the book is like a good vintage shop of foods and meals, esoteric ingredients, and the everyday familiar foods. It is this August summer bounty from markets and gardens that inspires a feast of paella that I cooked for friends here at Camont.

In a story about some time spent in Vendrell near Tarragona, Spain, Gray describes an outside kitchen where Anita, the Catalan cook who inspired Irving Davis to begin his landmark collection of recipes; she later edited these recipes after his death in 1967 in A Catalan Cookery Book: a collection of impossible recipes, 1969.

“Beyond the fountain and the Papyrus plants stands an old fig tree which casts a dense shade at midday over a table made of old maiolica tiles, and further is an outdoor kitchen, its hearth built against the high wall for grilling and nearby a charcoal installation.”

My own outside kitchen, shaded by a lacy acacia tree has a Portuguese beehive oven, a Spanish grill, and a French gas tripod. It is often the inspiration for a certain kind of meal; one that I like to cook where friends can gather, move, and work around the outside tables in the garden. Who knows, maybe they'll do some weeding? Whoever does show up first gets put to work so-Colin soon has a fire going; Julia and Maurine set up the bar and apéros of house-made Spanish style vermouth, gin-tonics, and the ubiquitous icy cold rosé; Justine and Vicky make the salad and laugh at my brocante salad spinner; Steph arranges the dishes and a pile of serviettes; Steve sorts out the chairs, and in between talking and catching up, I make Anita's Paella.

The Paella recipe is on page 84 of Honey from a Weed, a simple one page explanation that is easy enough for even a beginner to follow. I left out the meat and chicken this time and used all fresh seafood: shrimp, prawns, mussels, and langoustines. Using 100 grams of rice per person and 2 liters of broth made from the shrimp heads and shells, some little fish, and seasoning, there was ample servings for seconds all the way around. The rice only takes 20 minutes to cook over the hot fire, and gets a nice crusty edge where it hits the flames.

Here’s a little slide show of making Paella in the Outside Kitchen at Camont.

For more information about Patience Gray and her cooking, join me on Facebook as I moderate the Saveur Magazine Cookbook Club this month and read the book, make the recipes and meet like-minded cooks. I’ll also be posting recipes and other inspirations from Catalunya next week on my Instagram Stories. Intrigued and want to know more about Patience Gray and her books? Read Adam Federman's great biography Fasting and Feasting: the Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray. All books availabe here.

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Kate Hill
Alchemy! Butter, Sugar, & Eggs, Oh My!
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With our new laying flock at Camont getting up to full summer speed, I am gathering 5-7 eggs a day. Yes! that's 35-50 eggs a week; 3 to 4 dozen a week. Dozen's of fresh farm eggs from very free range and well fed hens. Friends benefit, students get lots of practice, and mostly I am inspired every day to make something with eggs. From herbed omelettes to poached eggs at breakfast; golden yolky pain perdu or French toast and clafoutis with fruits for Sunday; Spanish tortillas and Italian frittatas for supper. But best of all they are one of the solid bases of our special French trilogy for pastry. 

Think of all the wonderful pastries we make in France- from choux puffs and eclairs, to crème patisserie filled tartes, to sugary egg washes on my rough puff croustades. Quatre-quarts or pound cakes leaven and glow golden; a foaming eggy Sabayon to ladle over soft fruits; and even simple lacy crepes owe their special flavor and color to our deep golden yoked eggs. 

When pastry chef Molly Wilkinson of Toffee Bits & Chocolate Chips came for a visit this spring, she fell in love with our fresh produce at Camont and we hatched a little plan to share her skills and creative take on Classic French Pastries. You can read more about a Weekend Pastry Adventures with Molly here in the Kitchen at Camont here! 

 Here's Molly whipping up some more sweet treats at Camont! Take a look and join us in August 17-19 at Camont.

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Kate Hill
Quatre-Quarts Gateau or Pound Cake Perfection
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Spring attacks in Gascony like no other season. There is no smooth slide from summer days to chill autumn nights; no gradual winterizing of hearth and home preparing for a brief and damp dormant season. Rather, Spring pounces then retreats, sautés a skillet of plum blossoms across the land, before dumping buckets of nourishing rain across the orchards and fields, vineyards and market gardens. The giboulées de Mars whirls the winds overhead and hail, rain and sun cycle through the days. At Camont, the green explosion is so loud the grass can be heard growing under the top song of small nesting birds.

Spring food is also green; the deep orange pumpkins and squash have run their course. The mornings still require a fire in the kitchen stove but by afternoon, I am looking at the potager squares and plotting summer salads and outside cooking. The first asparagus arrives with great fanfare near Easter; artichokes are sweet and meaty to be eaten out of hand with creamy chilled butter smeared on each leaf, painstakingly slow and delicious. Spring food might be just a reference to the end of winter deprivation as baskets of tawny eggs overspill at market stalls and generous custardy dishes like clafoutis or sabayon grace our convivial tables. 

Spring is a celebration not of weather but of table. Fresh farm eggs in many forms announce the rebirth of spring: Oeufs Mimosa, a classic Eggs Benedict made fresh with wild garlic or asparagus and doused with a golden-hued Hollandaise sauce, or a simple golden eggy cake- a 'Quatre-Quarts' made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs, of course. A thick buttery slice can be fancy dressed with the first local strawberries and crème frâiche or eaten plain with a cup of coffee, this classic farmhouse sweet is a tribute to Spring's abundance of eggs and butter and can take a place of honor on a spring table.

I've researched dozens of recipes and made this my favorite version. The key is the best ingredients with something this simple. So very fresh farm eggs, great salted butter, and freshly milled flour are essential. I've used a small hand mixer for ease, but you can whisk this together by hand as well. Weighing the ingredients is also essential, and whether you use ounces or grams, the results will be consistent.

Quatre-Quarts or a French Pound Cake

The basis of this classic cake is equal parts of the four ingredients-eggs, flour, sugar, butter. If you want to make a larger cake, use more eggs and weigh the other ingredients accordingly. I used a deep terracotta dish that comfortable held the 1000 grams of batter with plenty of room for it to rise. 

Turn Oven to 180'C or 350'F

  • 4 eggs weigh them in their shells. Mine weighed just about 250 grams.
  • 250 grams sugar
  • 250 grams flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 250 grams salted butter, melted (I put a 250 gram block of butter in a pan in the preheating oven)
  • lemon zest (from one small lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon orange flower water 

After weighing the eggs in their shells, break the eggs into a mixing bowl. Set the bowl on a scale and tare or zero the scale and weigh the same amount of sugar into the bowl. Using a hand electric beater or a whisk, beat the eggs and sugar together until the sugar has melted and the mixture is light and golden. Return the bowl to the scale, tare and weigh in the flour and baking powder. Mix with the beater until well blended. Add the melted butter, lemon zest and orange flower water into the batter and mix well.

Using any butter remaining from the melted butter pan, butter and then sugar the baking dish. You can use a loaf pan, a bundt pan, or any shape. I used a heavy terracotta deep gratin pan. Pour the heavy batter into the buttered and sugared pan and place in hot oven for approximately 45 minutes. The size of your pan will dictate the time it takes to cook through. The top should be nicely browned and spring back when pressed gently with your fingertips. remove from oven. This cake is sweet with butter and has a medium crumb, dense enough to hold up to the first strawberries of the season or a drizzle of rum and cream. 

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Kate HillComment
Little Pies- Pork Duck Bacon
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It doesn't take much to please some of the people some of the time, but when I teach my Camp Charcuterie students to make these little pies, everyone is happy. I teach them as a way to use the trim, the little bits of pork, or a spare duck breast by wrapping them in a sturdy and delicious hot water crust. Crusty, steaming, golden with an egg wash with juices flowing over the edges, my pies are deliberating home-made looking. Perfection is for shops. I want mine to look like grand-mères kitchen. So don't be nervous, take the plunge and make a few pies today, you'll be happy at lunch tomorrow. 

This Hot Water Crust is a good all around recipe for all kinds of savory pies. It absorbs some added fat from the meat, goes crisp and crusty on the outside, holds up to staying safely in the refrigerator after it's baked.

Hot Water Crust- 

  • 500 g all-purpose flour  (100%)
  • 200 g fat ( 100% lard or 50% butter & 50% lard)  (40%)
  • 150g very hot water  (30%)
  • pinch of salt
  • one egg for egg wash 

Measure the flour into a bowl. Measure the fat and salt into a bowl. Pour hot water onto fat and stir until melted. Add the water/fat to the flour and mix together. Knead a few minutes until smooth. Set aside to cool while making the filling. I usually don't refrigerate. Makes enough for several small pies

Pie Filling

  • 1000 g meat trimmed and cut into small pieces for the grinder ( 70-30 lean to fatty ratio as in lean pork and belly or duck breast and pork belly)
  • 100 g onion peeled and quarter
  • 100 g liver 
  • 20 g salt
  • 3 g black pepper 
  • 1 egg
  • 50 g cream 

Weigh and measure the first 5 ingredients (meat, onion, liver, salt and pepper) and mix together. Grind on a 6-8mm plate. Add the egg and cream and mix together well until very sticky. I used small ramekins and mini-terrines here all holding about 250g of mixture. 

Roll out the Goldilocks pastry, not too thin, not too thick, and line the terrines pressing the pastry into the bottom corners. Reserve enough pastry for the tops. Fill plumply with meat, brush the edges with egg wash and place the pastry lid on the top. Seal the edges well by pressing with your fingers or a fork, making a steam vent in the center. I use a chopstick! Finally, brush the top with egg wash.

Bake at 200'C/ 410'C for 1.5 hour and make sure the crust is deep golden brown all over- the bottom, too. Internal temperature must reach 75'C/ 165'F for at least 10 minutes. However, a large terrine or pie might take 2 hours. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes, remove from the terrines, then wrap in parchment or other paper and place in the refrigerator until needed. These little plumb pies also freeze well and can be taken on a picnic and eaten at room temperature or reheated.

Kate Hill
Making Soup
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Soup. Souper. Supper. When the gray days linger too long and we are all getting a bit SAD, it’s either travel south or make soup. The Ultimate Winter Food.

Years ago a well-meaning friend dubbed this Gloomy Gascony, and although our weather is winter mild with sunny summers, gorgeous springs and gentle autumns- there is that dreaded three weeks of extreme gloom that settles into the Garonne River Valley about now. We are nearly through it, but it’s still taxes my spirit and even with a book to write, classes to teach and travel to plan, I feel myself succumbing to the lowering sky. This is when my magic soup pot comes to the rescue!

Recently, my soup making life got so much easier. No, I don’t have an Instant Pot but I do have a very wonderful and typically European modern pressure cooker. It steams, boils, and pressure cooks about everything. Although I love the slow and gentle heat of hours on the back of the stove in an old enameled cast iron pot, my cocotte-minute has transformed my soup making into a bright and happy forty-five minute kitchen dance. Put on some music and let's go! The best results are those done when I am multi-tasking- arranging spices, cleaning out drawers, polishing silver, posting on Instagram. I am partial to the Bee-gees. Whether it's Barry Gibbs or the pressure cooker, I have a lighter touch making soup. I use just a few key ingredients; I improvise more. My soups have jumped a big bright notch from overcooked to exquisite.

Let’s make soup while I get the kitchen in order for this weekend’s Charcuterie Foundation classes. There might even be a new recipe developed as I take stock of what’s in the vegetable baskets: 4 turnips, celery leaf, cabbage, leeks. Sounds like a good start for a hot and sour warming broth with a bit of charcuterie for flavor. Perfect to pair with a melting Mont d’Or cheese and those crispy fresh pickles we like. And all that goes well with a Cote de Gascogne white wine. Ok, that’s wasn’t so hard.

This is what I put in my Winter Soup pot. 

  • 2 liters of cold water
  • 4 large turnips, peeled and cubed
  • a large handful of chopped celery leaves
  • a small cabbage (I used a Savoy but a Napa would be nice) cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 large leek sliced and well washed
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced 
  • a chunk of ventreche or pancetta
  • a delicious roasted ham hock and all of its juices
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • several black peppercorns
  • 6 whole cloves
  • the juice of one whole lemon
  • a ladle of homemade red wine vinegar

Everything went into the pot starting with the water. Then I added things as I chopped them into the pot. By the time I was finished, and added the lemon juice and vinegar, it was steaming hot. I clamped the lid on and let it continue to cook for about 20 minutes more under pressure. a total of about 40 minutes. After letting it cool enough to open the lid, I tasted and adjusted the seasoning-a bit more salt and lashing of walnut oil on serving. Hot, sour, and cabbage sweet. Just right on this not so gloomy now day at Camont. No go forth and make soup!





 

Leftover duck... Parmentier de Canard
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Time to cook seems to be the most sought after ingredient in most people's pantry.  I balance the daily grind (yes, there is one, even at Camont!) by cooking once for twice- or at least making enough food for two meals from one recipe. Mostly I like having good food on hand ready to be transformed into a hot comforting 'instant' dish on my table. Thus the Parmentier de Canard becomes a staple lunch or supper dish here when friends arrive. 

After writing about my own ducky experiences this month- 'A Flock of One's Own' for Saveur Magazine, I wanted to explore some other great local duck-based recipes. You can start with leftovers like I did (from a braised duck and mashed potatoes) or cook a Parmentier with a jar of confit, and some quickly made pommes de terre purée. Twenty minutes in prepping and another twenty-five in the oven and you still have time to make a salad. Pour a glass of wine. Sit down. Think of something you want to plant in the garden. All of this in the same time as it takes to watch a mediocre TV show on Netflix.

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RECIPE:  Parmentier de Canard

For 4 people

Time 45 Minutes- I begin with putting the potatoes on to cook. While they are cooking, I prepare the duck and set aside. And then return to the potatoes, make the purée and assemble the dish. 

For the duck layer: 

  • Using approx 2 cups cooked duck: from the breast and wing meat from a braised duck or confited duck leg meat taken off the bone
  • 1 tablespoon duck fat
  • 1 onion or 2 shallots, peeled, chopped coarsely
  • 1 cup pan juices from the braised duck or white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Bay leaf and thyme
  • A handful of mushrooms, sliced thinly.

For the Parmentier part- the purée

  • 4 large potatoes- a floury baking potato like a russet or yukon gold
  • 2-3 Bay leaves
  • 1/2 onion peeled
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Nutmeg to taste
  1. Prepare the duck, by shredding or chopping the cooked meat. If you use confit de canard, make sure to adjust the season for the more salty meat.
  2. Melt the duck fat in a saute pan and add onions or shallots. Saute until they are soft.
  3. Add the meat and heat thoroughly and until the skin is slightly crispy.
  4. Add the pan juices and water and bring to a hard simmer, just starting to bubble.
  5. Mix the flour and butter together to make a beurre manié. Add half of the beurre manie to the bubbling pan and stir it until the sauce starts to thicken. Add more beurre manié if necessary.
  6. Remove from heat.
  7. Next prepare the potatoes by cooking peeled cubed potatoes in salted water, add the bay leaves and onion. When cooked thoroughly (not just for texture but for taste) drain, remove bay leaves and onion.
  8. Break up the potatoes with a fork adding milk and butter, and mix. You can make as smooth as you like or leave the fork-smashed chunks. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. 
  9. Assemble in an ovenproof gratin pan. Butter the gratin pan or use duck fat and arrange the mushroom slices on the bottom.
  10. Place the duck and sauce on top of the mushrooms and then spoon the potato puree over the top. I made quenelles (an egg-shaped spoonful made with two tablespoons) but you can make an even layer and rough up the surface with a fork. generously sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper.
  11. Bake in a hot oven 200’C/ 400’F for 25’ min until golden brown on the surface. 
  12. Serve warm with a green salad or other cooked garlicky greens.

 

Kate Hill
A Pantry Christmas: Beef Bouillon.

We talked a lot about the pantry over the holidays; how it was begging to be plundered and used to its French fullest. This is how the simple foods for Christmas Day started with a dozen Le Parfait jars, a flurry of forgotten freezer treats, and a hanging ham from the charcuterie closet. We ate, drank, and made merry while I reduced the creative culinary clutter by ...a little. My friend Elaine declared it a Vide Pantry- like a flea market but more delicious.

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Normally my pantry fluctuates through the abundant seasons-too many summer confitures, too little foie gras-but there is always a shelf of Spanish tins, mostly seafood-squid ink, anchovies, razor clams, mussel pateéé, and anchovy stuffed olives. This is souvenir booty from my Spanish Hooky days when I hit the supermarket at the border on the way home.

Another shelf features goods from the Basquelandia Road Trips-a supply of Pyrenean smoked trout, piment d’Espelette, finely ground cornmeal for taloak, and my favorite boudin from Banka. The cave gains a bottle of Grassa clementine eau-de-vie and a case or two of bright cider to share.

Last summer’s garden at Camont produced just enough tomatoes to squeak through this month with a tomato rich duck ragu that I made with the carcasses of the last foie gras classes, a few jars of asparagus to velouté into a winter soup, and shavings of ham to float on a classic bean and cabbage garbure. The pork paté shelf is still full and there are enough black-peppered noix de jambon to last through the next Camp Charcuterie course.

I dip into my under the staircase pantry and out comes… a tobacco brown Virginia-style ham I made three years ago. It is a classic American recipe cured with sugar and salt, pepper and heavily smoked. I let it cure and dry over that year. Now was the right time to soak it, boil it, bake it, and share with friends. Little ham sliders were a hit as slivers of salty goodness on some homemade biscuits that Maurine brought to the Christmas feast from her own freezer pantry.  

I managed to reduce my stock of dried fruit: sour cherries, cranberries (Thanks Donna and Bob!), figs, candied mandarins, and prunes as well as chocolate from Chiapas, pine nuts and hazelnuts. All thanks to an easy and delicious panforte recipe from my Italian sister- Judy over at DivinaCucina.com.

The gingerbread cookies elaine made helped to empty the old from the pantry, but because I hadn’t taken a good inventory before we went shopping, we accidently bought more molasses and powdered sugar- enough for next year. But we did use the old first. Even the butter hoarded in the freezer when we all thought there was going to be crise de beurre here went into Stresscake’s Christmas basic butter cookie.

Of all the other great things we ate and shared with friends, my favorite this year might be the simple beef bouillon I served after we brunched all around the kitchen table; after we sat in the little piggery salon and rested while reading a Child’s Christmas in Wales to each other; and when we decided it was time to sit at the dining table and eat just a little bit more of something hot and nourishing and along with some fresh green and bright tasting summer rolls that This Piglet made with the packages of rice wrappers found on a bottom shelf of the pantry. The Bouillon was made when I cooked the beef tongue and oxtail for the Christmas Eve tamales two days before. I squirreled away a couple liters and then just heated it up, added salt and served with slice of baguette and some grated emmental cheese. A sort of French onion soup without the onions. You can make it with any bits of beef and bone you might want to cook for another meal, just reserve some broth and set aside. This is how I made my Christmas bouillon.

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Recipe: Beef Bouillon for a Simple Winter Supper

Because I was cooking a beef tongue, I decided to also add an oxtail to enrich the broth with the bones, cartilage and collagen rich meat. I knew this would add another dimension to my broth and the byproduct would be a beefy warming broth. In France, these cuts are considered abats or offal and are sold only at triperies or butchers specializing in tripe and other fifth quarter bits like the stall at the Nerac farmer market.

I used one beef tongue and one oxtail cut into pieces by the butcher. Place the meat and bones into a stock pot just big enough to hold them, some vegetables, and enough water for the soup- 4 liters of finished broth or about 16 cups of soup is enough for 8 people.  So a 8 liter or quart stock pot is just right. Add enough cold water to cover the meat, about 5 liters or so. Then bring to a boil without adding anything else. Salt and seasonings come later.  Skim off the foam that is produce and discard. this will keep the broth clear.

Now add the vegetables that will give flavor and more nutrients to the bouillion. I used two peeled whole carrots, one peeled whole onion studded with 4 cloves, and one large leek, washed and cut into half. Then I took some fresh herbs to make a bouquet garni: 4 bay leaves, celery leaf, parsley, and thyme, tied them with the string, and added it to the pot. I use fresh herbs mostly because my garden at Camont doesn't freeze over and there is always something aromatic growing.

Finish by seasoning- a tablespoon of coarse salt and some black peppercorns is enough to bring up the beefy flavor. Don't over add spices, let the meat and vegetables produce the dominant flavor. Once everything is added, you can cover, turn down the heat, and let simmer for a couple of hours. I used my pressure cooker and let it cook for 45 minutes- the tongue was tender, the meat falling off the bones, and the flavors of the vegetables and herbs were well infused in the stock. 

Remove the meat and vegetables fo other use and then strain the broth through a fine sieve decanting into a few large jars. Refrigerate. When ready to eat, reheat and adjust seasoning tasting for more salt or pepper. Serve in warm bowls with a toasted piece of bread and a handful of grated Emmental cheese on top. 

Une Pamplemousse Party!

My motto could be “Opportunistic Living Rules.” It’s a curse and a gift to seize the adventures that pop up on a regular basis, if you keep your eyes open. Opportunistic cooking in the kitchen at Camont is an easy game to play. This is what you can do with one grapefruit.

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A grapefruit. Neither local nor cheap. But definitely in season as the imported citrus from Texas or Florida or Israel start to show up in French local supermarkets. I chose two hefty pink grapefruits for morning treats and some fat lemons and two bergamots. After breakfast on Friday where we split one, I told my sister, “don’t throw away the grapefruit rind!”

I cut the fruit into quarters and, not bothering to remove the leftover pulp or membrane, I placed the pieces in a small saucepan, and buried them with a cup of sugar. The next morning, the sugar had melted and I added a cup of water to the pan (1 cup sugar to 1 cup water is a simple syrup) and placed it over a low flame to cook while I made café au lait. Once the juices had bubbled and boiled and started to thicken, I turned off the heat and left the pan to sit all day.

This morning, the peels had absorb most of the syrup, and I removed the softened interior membrane with a spoon before cutting the quarters into strips. After squeezing the pulp with a juicer or press back into the saucepan, add a 1/4 cup of orange blossom honey from Catalunya that was languishing in the bottom of a big jar. I refuse to throw these small bits away, instead I popped the jar into a pan of hot water until it liquefied. Then return this new syrup to the fire, bring to a boil, and reduce slightly.

Now drop the peel strips back into the syrup and let them cool. I was going to just chop up these bits for some fruitcake or other treats but have decided to make some chocolate covered candied peels, too. Pamplemoussettes! But first the candied peels must dry so they are in the oven with the light bulb and fan turning- no heat.

It's not all whole carcass or giant vats of confit around Camont, all the time. Like making a micro-batch of confiture, or a half a recipe of scones, some small fooling around in the kitchen is often enough to keep your creative spirits soaring while other opportunities knock on the kitchen door.

Lazy Fondue or O, Mon Mont d'Or!
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Special little gatherings pepper these winter months and, like freshly ground black pepper, liven our appetite for sharing life with our friends. Take a cue from my own Birthday dinner this week- a table with three delicious plates, doused with a glass of wine and shared with friends and family. My favorite was a most simple presentation of a favored cheese, studded with garlic, dampened with wine, baked, and served warm with toasted bread. We all fell under it's magical spell at our neighborhood gathering spot, Gueuleton in Nerac-Mont d’Or or Vacherin du Haut-Doubs. It's no coincidence that the owner, Benjamin Munoz's father is an expert affineur and cheese monger.

This is the simplest of winter dishes-not even a recipe really-when you are too lazy to cook but crave a warming, rich and satisfying supper.  Mais fais gaffe! This is one of those deceptively easy recipes. ‘Easy’ because there is only one really ingredient- the cheese. ‘Deceptive’ because you must buy a VERY good cheese. Here that means a Mont d’Or or Vacherin du Haut-Doubs- a French raw milk cheese which is near impossible to find outside of France. The Swiss-version Vacherin is made from heat-treated milk on the other side of the border and is exported to speciality shops. Vacherins from both sides of the border are made from winter milk only, with cows fed on hay and before they are turned out to summer Alpine pastures. Sold only between September and May the heyday for a Baked Mont d’Or is these chilly winter evenings when a hot runny cheese, a crispy baguette and a glass of good wine is enough to satisfy even the most demanding gourmand. It made total sense why I love these cheeses when  I realised that in summer they make Comte and Gruyere, respectively, from these same cow’s grass enriched milk. But since there are great local and regional cheeses being made all over the world now, why not find the best local version you can and give this simple winter treat a try. Then when you are in France on some cold winter vacation, you can try the original version.

Baked Mont d’Or

Serves 4

Time 30 minutes total; hot oven at 200’C or 425’F

Ingredients:

  • One 350gr Mont d’Or or Vacherin cheese
  • One or two cloves of garlic, peeled and split in half
  • One half glass of white wine
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • One baguette, sliced and toasted
  1. Place the Mont d’Or in it’s wooden box on a piece of parchment on a baking tin or in a clay gratin dish.
  2. Remove the lid and pierce the top several times with a knife. Push the garlic pieces into some of the holes.
  3. Pour the wine over the cheese and let it absorb into the holes.
  4. Place the pan in the hot oven at 200’C or 425’F for 20-25 minutes.
  5. Remove and place the cheese in its box onto a serving dish.
  6. Serve while very hot with the toasted bread.