Posts in recipes
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!





 

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.