25 May 2019

Pintades, lapins, et magrets de canards

According to the 2007 Grand Larousse Gastronomique, France produces more Guinea fowl (pintades) than any other country in the world. I wouldn't be surprised if the French consume more pintades than any other people. The same is probably true of rabbit, and the GLG says France is the world's second biggest rabbit producer, after China. The GLG notes too, in its article about poultry, that duck production in France, especially in the southwest region, has been increasing for years, mostly because of the demand for foies gras (fattened ducks' livers) and magrets (duck breast filets).

This is a pintade, or Guinea fowl.


Again according to the GLG, the a magret is the pectoral muscle (le muscle de la poitine) of a duck that has been fattened by force-feeding. The fattened duck is called un canard gras. In that sense, the magret is a by-product of the foie gras industry. The duck breast meat has the skin and the layer of fat that lies under it still attached. For generations, the duck breast was made into confit (slow-roasted in fat) along with duck legs, thighs, and wings.

This is a three-pack of magrets de canards that I bought at the supermarket. The total weight of the duck is about 2½ lbs. The total price was 15.46 euros, or just over $17 U.S.

I remember doing exactly that myself 20 years ago, when I was making confit with frozen whole ducks that I could buy in San Francisco. I'm not sure that I had ever cooked or eaten a duck breast pan-fried or oven roasted when I lived in Paris in the 1970s and early 1980s. I don't remember them being served that way in restaurants back then. The only duck I remember eating was Peking duck or canard lacqué in Asian restaurants in Paris, and I remember how good that was.

These duck breast filets come from the Périgord in the French southwest, which, like the Touraine, Berry, Anjou, Poitou, Perche, and Orléanais, all around Saint-Aignan, was an old province that was given a new name at the time of the French Revolution. The modern name of the Périgord is La Dordogne, and you might be more familiar with that name. La Dordogne is a département (a county, more or less) in modern France. Some old provinces were small enough so that now they are just one county, but other, more extensive old provinces are divided up into several counties nowadays.




The GLG says that it was restaurant chefs in the Landes (southwestern France, bordering on Spain and the Atlantic Ocean) who revived local tradtions by starting to grill duck magrets, skin-and-fat side down first so that the melted duck fat would "nourish" the lean breast meat when the filet was turned over to finish cooking, and serving the magrets rare (saignants) or medium-rare (rosés), with crispy skin. The best duck magret for this kind of cooking comes from ducks that have been slaughtered no more than 48 hours earlier.

Finally, a couple of days ago I opened Wikipedia, both French and English,  to look up magret. There's no such entry in the English-language Wikipedia. In the French-language Wikipédia, I read that magret de canard can be air-cured (dried) or smoked and then cut into thin slices and served like air-cured ham. But most often, the magret is grilled or pan-fried the way the GLG describes doing it. Sometimes the little tenderloin muscle attached to the duck breast (as on a chicken breast) is sold and cooked separately, in a sauce. It's the tenderest and leanest part of the breast filet.

Finally, the French Wikipédia article enlightened me as to when grilled, rare duck magret became a standard preparation and popular menu item in France. It was a chef named André Daguin, whose restaurant was in the town of Auch in Gascony (southwestern France). He started cooking and serving grilled magrets in the late 1950s and became famous for it. He recommended that the name of the duck filet should be maigret [may-'gray], based on the French word maigre, meaning lean. The new name didn't catch on, however, and the old Gascony dialectal form of the word, magret [mah-'gray], is still used all around France today.

24 May 2019

Cuisses de canard braisées aux navets

The author (Waverly Root) of the food encyclopedia simply titled Food (1980), calls the turnip "a capricious vegetable"— "protean" is a another word he uses to describe it. The turnip season is brief, he says, adding: "The Paris restaurant where I used to eat that classic dish, duck with turnips (canard aux navets), when the management would permit it, served it only during six weeks in April and May. For the rest of the year, turnips were deemed unfit to eat."



Personally, I'm not so persnickety about turnips. I love them, for example, cooked in broth with carrots, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, and spices and served with couscous, in summer or winter. But that's for another time; this is a post about canard aux navets. The slide show above features 10 photos I took during the cooking process yesterday.

It's very simple, really, to have qualified as a classic of French cuisine. I happen to have a 1960s-era translation of the Le Guide Culinaire, written by the great French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) and first published in 1903. Here's a summary of his recipe for duck with turnips:

Brown the duck or duck legs well in a skillet. Add some butter if you need to. Then take the duck out of the pan. Take the fat out of the pan separately and swirl it with a little white wine. Add some chicken or duck broth. Drop in an herb bouquet and, optionally, some sautéd carrots and pork lardons. Return the duck to this liquid and braise it gently on the stove or in the oven for about 40 minutes. The total cooking time depends on the duck you are cooking (how young and tender, or old and tough, the bird was).

While the duck is braising, trim and cut up a pound or more of spring turnips (navets nouveaux). Sauté them in another skillet with some butter or duck fat. Sprinkle sugar over the trunips and continue cooking them until they are glazed to a nice golden brown. Set them aside until the duck is cooked — partially cooked, that is, because it will still need to cook for another 30 or 40 minutes.

Add the glazed turnips to the duck and continue cooking everything gently until the duck and vegetables are tender. Put the duck in a serving dish, arrange the vegetables around it, and strain the cooking liquid (reduced or thickened as you like) over all.

There are more recent recipes in French here and here.

23 May 2019

More about duck in France

On this web page, I just found some statistics about the amount of duck people eat in France nowadays. It says that the French consume more duck (which on the page is called canard à rôtir — roasting duck) than people in any other country, even China. It goes on to say that France is the world's number 2 producer of ducks — 85 million ducks a year. That's half the ducks produced in Europe, and comes to about 450,000 tons.

Aiguillettes ("little needles") are duck "tenders" and are very lean and, well, tender.

If you want more statistics about duck and other meats produced and consumed in France, have a look at this PDF file. A few days ago I had started putting together a post about duck and I wrote that I figured people in France, along with the Chinese, eat more duck than people in any other country. So that turns out to be true, as best as quick and dirty googling can determine.


In the PDF version of the Grand Larousse Gastronomique (2007) food and cooking encyclopedia, which I managed to download a few years ago, I found other statistics. The article about poultry says that France was then producing these quantities of poultry annually, in tons:
chicken ....... 900,000
turkey ........ 620,000
duck .......... 300,000
rabbit ........ 120,000
Guinea fowl .... 38,000
goose ........... 3,000
Remember, these are 12-year-old statistics, at least, so the raw figures might not mean much, but the ratios are revealing. France produces 100 times as much duck as goose. Not to mention twice as much turkey as duck, and three times as much chicken. (It's interesting that these statistics include rabbit in the poultry category, but that's the way it works in France.)


There's also an interesting paragraph in the 1967 print edition of the Larousse Gastronomique that says the production of confit d'oie (slow-cooked goose), which was traditionally put up in stoneware crocks of goose fat for storage (the same is true for duck), had already started being packed in tins and processed using modern canning techniques. It continues:
Ce confit a absolument les mêmes qualités que celui conservé dans les vases en grès et a, de plus, la qualité de pouvoir être conservé bien plus longtemps. ["This canned confit has absolutely the same qualities as confit packed into stoneware vessels and, in addition, has the advantage of allowing the confit to be stored for a much longer time."]
In the 2007 PDF version of the Larousse Gastronomique, I came across a recipe from a restaurant chef in Rouen (where I spent a year long ago, and still have friends, at least one of whom has spoken of this chef in glowing terms). It's a recipe for canard aux navets — duck braised and served with turnips — which is a classic preparation. That's what I'll be cooking today. It's not made with confit, but with fresh, raw duck. I'm including here some of this week's ads from our local supermarket flyers that feature duck.

22 May 2019

Confit d'oie ou confit de canard ?

The day before yesterday, I posted about grilled duck breast (magret de canard) and about duck legs slow-cooked to make confit de canard. The duck breast that Walt grilled was fresh (raw, I mean, even though out of the freezer), but the confit de canard came pre-cooked, out of a can. So did the pinto beans, which are imported from Portugal. I thought both were delicious.

There are four or five slow-cooked duck leg/thigh sections in a big can like this one.

I'm really interested in both goat cheese and duck these days, as you may have surmised, partly because they are such important food products in France but not much known or appreciated in the U.S. I've done some reading in the 1960s-era Larousse Gastronomique. In the book's 8-page chapter on duck (le canard), I've found only one brief mention of confit de canard, but no mention at all of magret de canard. More about magret in future posts...

To get the slow-cooked duck legs out of the can, you need to open it and then heat it up in a slow oven until the fat melts.

About confit, the LG points out that in southwestern France, around Toulouse, where large ducks are raised and fattened for foie gras production, the meat of the ducks is preserved by cooking it in duck fat and potting or canning it up in the same fat. In that region, geese are prepared the same way, the article says, but many people prefer duck foie gras and duck confit to the equivalent goose preparations. That surprised me, because I thought the general opinion was that goose is somehow superior in quality and taste compared to duck.

Here are the duck legs as they come out of the tin after the fat is melted.

In its article about goose (l'oie) and how it is prepared, the LG does give detailed descriptions about how confit d'oie is made but doesn't say you can make it with duck. It points back to the book's article on cassoulet, which is a famous southwestern dish of white beans cooked with pork and confit of either goose or duck. In fact, in the whole cassoulet article, goose is mentioned over and over again, but duck is mentioned, unless I missed something, only once. Goose magret is not mentioned either. I think the reputation of duck has greatly improved in France, and it has nearly completely replaced goose for making foie gras and confit. The only goose product I find in the supermarkets is jars of goose fat (alongside jars of duck fat).

21 May 2019

Remue-ménage

I've posted pictures of our loft space several times over the years. Here are some that I took and posted in 2010, as we were still just moving into the space. Filling it up with too much stuff, I mean. Right now, we are having to move a lot of furniture from one end of the loft to the other, because we are soon going to have a small bathroom put in up there.




When I say "bathroom" I mean what we call a "half-bath" in the U.S. It's a toilet and a small sink. Nothing more. It won't take up much space. Still, it's a mess to move so much furniture around, and to empty the long, low closet that runs the length of the room (11 meters, or 35 feet) under the eaves. The new plumbing will run through that closet, so the plumber will need to crawl around in there.




This is the corner where new walls for the bathroom will be built and then the new plumbing and fixtures put in. The constraints are the windows and the radiator, which will not be moved. Good news: the space looks pretty good, considering we've been living in it for nine years. We're doing a good "spring cleaning" as we move things around. The floors and walls, which we varnished and painted ourselves back in 2010, still look good.


It feels a little funny to post photos of the loft, because it's really a private space for us, the dog, and the cat. We never entertain guests up here. That's what the downstairs — the living/dining room, kitchen, bathroom, den, front "deck" or terrace, and guest bedroom — is for. The loft is our "family room" — where we watch TV and sleep. I also have a couple of computers up there. We had a similar arrangement in San Francisco, where our family room was a downstairs space that only the two of us and the dog ever spent time in or even saw.



The loft, which was the empty, unfinished attic of this approximately 50-year-old house, never was really a loft, of course, if you take the term to mean a hayloft. No hay or straw or grain was ever stored up there, to my knowledge. The French word for "attic" is grenier, meaning grainery, more or less. Maybe grain was "lofted" or lifted up there and stored, with the added benefit, I think, of insulating the house over the winter. In German, Luft means air, and the loft was the air space under the roof of a house.

20 May 2019

Canard de deux façons

This is not just about two ways of cooking duck, but about two different morceaux or parts of the duck. One is the leg, called a cuisse de canard. The other is the boneless breast, which is called either filet or magret, depending on whether or not the duck has been fattened to produce foie gras.


The magret is the breast of a fattened duck. The word is related to the French word maigre, meaning "lean" — and to the English word "meager" ("meagre" in British English). The way a magret de canard is cooked is the way a good beefsteak is cooked: it's grilled, oven-roasted, or pan-roasted. Duck breast meat resembles beef in color and texture more than it resembles, for example, chicken or turkey.





Walt cooked the magret de canard in these photos on our barbecue grill. He first "scored" the skin in a cross-hatch pattern to keep the magret from curling as it cooked. Then he seared the magret, starting with the skin side, and continued cooking it over indirect heat until he judged that it was about medium-rare inside. He's good at grilling and judging doneness just by feel.

The other part of the duck that is delectable is the cuisse, or leg, including both the thigh and the drumstick. You can cook cuisses de canard in red wine, the way you cook chicken to make coq au vin or beef to make bœuf bourguignon — duck legs take to braising. But the best way to prepare cuisses de canard is as confit. That means slow-cooked and the technique can be used for fruits and vegetables as well as meats.




Duck legs (and duck wings too, but they are less meaty) are slow-cooked in duck fat at low temperature until the meat is starting to fall off the bone. In France, you can buy confit de canard already cooked, either in cans or vacuum-packed in plastic. These photos show confit de canard at two stages: right out of the duck fat after the fat has been melted, and then after being browned in the oven. Notice that I obviously like both kinds of duck served with beans (white beans or pinto beans, for example) and greens (kale, collard greens, or chard).


19 May 2019

Un après-midi dans le jardin avec les animaux

The weather forecasts for today and tomorrow say we should expect scattered showers and maybe some thundershowers. High temperatures will be in around 60ºF (between 14 and 16 in ºC). The radiators in the house are warm, so that means the boiler is running. I guess the weather could be worse — we'll muddle though. Yesterday morning a hard rain fell for a couple of hours, but it tapered off over the course of the day. This morning it's raining only lightly.


Here I'm posting two pictures each of the vegetable garden plot, of Bertie the black cat, and of Natasha the Sheltie pup. I took thephotos on Thursday afternoon, May 16. It was a beautiful moment, and I felt good about things because I had finished tilling up the garden plot in the morning. Walt had finished mowing the grass. Those are Swiss chard plants on the left in the photo, and the green mounds on the opposite end of the plot are clumps of oregano.


The garden soil will need tilling one more time before we can set seedlings out in it. This won't be the first time we have had to wait until about June 1 to do the planting. In our area, the last danger of morning frost is May 15, they tell us. Problem is, May is often pretty rainy. We need to wait until we've had a few fairly dry days so the soil won't be so muddy to work in.


Bertie the cat has lived here since 2010, after his British "guardians" moved back to the U.K. and left him with us. He's now just over 13 years old. He's an outdoor cat and sleeps in our garage, but he spends a lot of time in the house and back yard these days. He has free access to the house in the daytime, but not at night because he likes to bring in dead and even live rodents, which we don't want to step on during the night or have scurrying around. He's pretty nocturnal, I think, and likes to be outside at night. The vet says the fact that he's still an active hunter means his health is pretty good.


Bertie and Natasha, who's now two years old, get along well. The cat was already 11 years old when we brought the new puppy into the household. Earlier, between 2010 and 2017, we tried in vain to get our now deceased border collie named Callie to play nice with the cat. Bertie could have run away in frustration with the whole situation, but from the day he arrived here, he just settled in and has never wandered far. He once disappeared for three or four days. It turned out he was trapped in our neighbors' garage, who hadn't noticed him when they locked up and left for a long-weekend excursion.


We bought Natasha, a Shetland sheepdog, from a couple who breed them over in Chinon, an hour west of Saint-Aignan. That was in 2017. We figured we'd have two dogs for a few years before Callie, then 10, reached the end of her life, but that wasn't to be. One Saturday afternoon two months after Natasha's arrival, Walt found Callie lying in the entryway of our house, paralyzed. She had to be "put down" (euthanized) 48 hours later. It's just not possible keep a dog that can't stand up or walk.


For Natasha, Bertie the cat was just a fact of life. She had never seen a cat before she came to live here. While Bertie had been afraid of Callie, or at least wary of her, for all the years they lived here together, but he wasn't bothered by the new puppy at all. He had in fact grown up with a small dog between 2006 and 2010 because our U.K. friends had adopted a puppy and a kitten at the same time back then. The fact that Callie the collie was twice as big as Natasha might have been a factor in Bertie's wariness.

18 May 2019

Gratin de pommes de terre au fromage de chèvre

I've done a few posts about goat cheese (fromage de chèvre) recently. Goat cheese — and maybe it should more properly be called goats' milk cheese;  we don't say "cow cheese" after all —is a local specialty in the Loire Valley and around Saint-Aignan. Here's another post about using it in your cooking: potatoes au gratin with goat cheese and ham.


I had about 700 grams (1½ lbs.) of little firm-fleshed potatoes in the cold pantry that were just begging to be cooked and eaten. And I of course had several pieces of locally made goat cheese in the refrigerator. That seemed like a good ingredient match.




Here's the process: peel and cook the potatoes (in a steamer pot is a good way to do them) until they are done but still slightly firm. When they cool down, slice them into disks. Meanwhile, slice an onion or two and sauté the slices in butter or olive oil until they're softened and starting to turn golden brown. Set them aside.

Next, make a cream sauce by heating up about a cup of (cow's milk) cream and stirring three or four ounces (about 100 grams) of soft, fresh goat cheese into it until it is melted and, well, creamy. If you can get hard, dry goat cheese — it is hard like Parmesan cheese — grate enough of it to cover the top of the gratin you are about to assemble, and add a little bit, if there's enough, to the cream sauce for flavor.



Plan on a three-layer "casserole" or gratin. First put a thin layer of the cream sauce in the bottom of the baking dish to keep any potatoes from sticking to it as they bake. Arrange a third of the potatoes on top of the sauce and spoon a little more sauce over them. Lay on about half of the sautéed onions. Optionally, lay a piece of ham in with the onions (you could put in some cooked smoked-pork lardons or even diced or shredded chicken breast). Add salt only sparingly.





Add on another layer of potatoes, more sauce, more ham, and more onion. Finally, put on a third layer of potatoes and spoon the rest of the sauce creamy goat cheese sauce over those. Then sprinkle on as much grated goat cheese as you want.



You can sprinkle black pepper and/or paprika over the grated cheese, and drizzle on some olive oil. Bake the gratin in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes to finish cooking the potatoes — they ought to be tender — and to brown the grated cheese topping. (I wish I had mixed the paprika and black pepper into the grated cheese beforehand...).

It occurs to me that you could make the same gratin, but with a different flavor, using cream cheese and grated Parmesan.

17 May 2019

Pivoines, etc., du printemps




It's finally starting to feel like spring. The fact that I got the vegetable garden plot tilled up this week contributes to that feeling. And so do some of the reliable flowers in the back yard. The peony (pivoine) blossoms are finally opening up.



These pivoines were in the back yard when we moved in 16 years ago. We've never done anything to them except enjoy watching them bloom in springtime. And now it's springtime again. Some might be surprised that spring in really just starting in the Loire Valley. Some of you live in places in the northern hemisphere where it already feels like summer.





These bellflowers (des campanules) were already growing outside the front door of our house when we moved in. The same story applies to them as to the peonies. We just enjoy them.





There's also a faithful old rose bush (un rosier) in the back yard. Who knows? It might have been planted more than 50 years ago, when the house was built. I has actually been flowering for a couple of months now. We did have some nice days in February and March. May has been slow to start, though.







Walt planted a couple of different types of thyme (du thym) just outside the greenhouse a couple of years ago. They are thriving, and one of them is covered in flowers right now. Thyme has an advantage in that it not only looks good but also tastes good.

16 May 2019

Weeds and dirt

Yesterday, I posted a slideshow of photos of plants and flowers that I hope you thought were nice to look at. Today I'll post pictures of weeds and dirt. You can't have the plants and flowers without dirt, and it's always a struggle to keep the weeds under control.

This is the vegetable garden plot where we've been planting tomatoes, beans, squashes, and greens since 2004. You can see how it looked when we finally pulled the tarps off the ground a couple of days ago. This year will be our 16th vegetable garden here in France. All have been reasonably successful, though there have been ups and downs. The worst year was 2007, when the summer was so rainy that weeds took over and we couldn't do much about it.

It was in 2004 that we bought the rototiller you see in this picture. When we started to dig into the very hard soil in our back yard that year, we quickly realized that we would never be able to do that kind of labor manually. A neighbor recommended we buy a pickax (a jackhammer might have been better). One of the reasons for our move out of the city (San Francisco) and into the country (Loire Valley) was that we really wanted to have a big vegetable garden, so it was important (though costly) to invest in a heavy-duty motorized tiller.


We probably should have chosen a place to live that had better soil for vegetable gardening. Being naive about the French countryside, and having always heard that the Touraine province in the Loire Valley was le jardin de la France, I figured we could take the soil for granted. Little did I know that the Touraine's gardens are mostly planted in river valleys, not on highlands like we chose. The reason a lot of grapes are grown on high ground is that grapes are one crop that will grow well in hard, rocky clay.
We've improved the soil we plant in by adding a lot of compost to it over the years, but it's still as hard as concrete when the weather is dry. And it's muddy the way only clay can be when the weather is wet. Last year, we decided to cover the vegetable garden plot with tarps for the winter, to try to keep the weeds down. Still, tenacious local plants took hold all around the edges of the tarps. Imagine how many wheelbarrow-loads of weeds I'd have pulled up if we hadn't put down tarps.

15 May 2019

Plantes et fleurs du printemps

Today is the day. I'm finally going to till up the vegetable garden plot. According to local tradition, there is no longer any danger of frosty mornings (until autumn). Walt has seedlings growing that will soon need to be planted out. Meanwhile, we've had two or three sunny (though cool) days now. In past years I've tilled the garden plot in March or April, but last year at the beginning of winter we covered it with a couple of big tarps. Yesterday we pulled those up and the result looks good: fairly dry soil, with no weeds growing in it.

Meanwhile here's a slideshow of some plants and flowers in our Loire Valley springtime environment. It runs for 1½ minutes.



Walt mentioned on his blog yesterday that we are starting the work of moving things around up in the loft. We have a tentative start date of June 1 for the job of having in a half-bath (known as un WC or des toilettes in French) put in up there. We've lived for 16 years in this one-bathroom house, but with the passing years (I'm 70 now) we feel we need a little more comfort. I'm getting too old to climb down our steep staircase in the dark, in the middle of the night, to get the bathroom. Our bedroom is in the loft but the existing WC is on the main level of the house, with the kitchen, living room, guest bedroom, etc.

Part of moving things around in the loft is doing a good spring cleaning. I'm getting ready to get rid of a thousand or more CDs and DVDs. I hope they can be recycled. They're mostly disks on which I have recorded all my photos over the past 20 years, as well has some 200 French movies and 100 English-language movies, plus a lot of TV series and documentaries. Over the past five years, I've also recorded all those photos, films, and TV shows onto external hard disks, so the CDs and DVDs are now obsolete and redundant — not to mention that they're clutter and dust-catchers. Many computers aren't even equipped with optical CD/DVD drives any more. Tablets, you know...

14 May 2019

Un héron sous le pont

When I was down in Saint-Aignan Saturday morning, I was walking back to the car, which was parked near the town's bridge over the Cher river. Here's a shot looking downriver.


I looked down from the bridge and noticed a big bird just standing there, not moving at all.


It turned out to be a heron, called un héron cendré in French, I think. Maybe it was waiting for a fish to wash through
in the current under the bridge. There's a heron like this one that feeds in the pond
out behind our house. I wonder if it's the same one.


Here's a view upriver (looking east). The water level in the Cher is really low right now.


The Cher is about 365 kilometers (225 miles) long and flows into the Loire river
near Villandry, about 40 miles west of Saint-Aignan.

13 May 2019

Un samedi matin à Saint-Aignan

Saturday is market day in Saint-Aignan. I don't go as often as I used to, or as often as I should. Springtime is the best season, because the local asparagus, radishes, strawberries, and cheeses are tempting.



I parked by the bridge and walked up to the market square. In these photos, you see some of the town's older buildings, some shops, the market set up on the town square, the bridge, and the château. It started raining after I had done my shopping, just as I was getting back to the car.

12 May 2019

Hail!

Tasha and I had just headed out the back door yesterday afternoon when the hail started falling. We were almost at the back gate and we had to come running back toward the house.


The Citroën was sitting out on the driveway, unprotected. That was my first thought — grab the key and move the car to the carport, which would prevent hail damage. You never know how long the ice will continue falling, or how big the hailstones will get.


In this case, they didn't get any bigger than pea- or marble-size. The greenhouse glass came through the squall just fine. And the hail shower lasted only five minutes or so.


Tasha and I were able to go out for our walk, but it was a short one. There was a lot of thunder, and there were a few raindrops, but we didn't get hit by any more hail.


I was lucky in the morning. I went to the market, bought bread, strawberries, asperges violettes, and two très secs goat cheeses. The cheeses came from a farm over in the village called Fontguenand, which is about equidistant from Selles-sur-Cher to the north and Valençay to the south.


We grated one of the hard goat cheeses the way you'd grate Parmesan cheese and ate it with gnocchi and tomato-and-veal sauce at lunchtime.

11 May 2019

Driving out of the Auvergne and into the Berry

I'm enjoying looking back at some photos I took almost exactly two months ago when we were coming home to the Loir-et-Cher from the Haute-Loire département. I realize now that it felt like spring back then. We were at the end of our one-week getaway in the mountains of the Auvergne and looking forward to starting the year's gardening projects. We're still waiting.



Right now it feels more like winter than springtime outside. We have been having chilly temperatures, strong winds, and cloudy (when not rainy) skies for days. I want to go shopping at the open-air market in Saint-Aignan this morning to get some more asparagus and some strawberries, among other treats, and I probably will end up going. I hope I don't blow away or get soaked.

By the way, the slideshow above runs for just over 1½ minutes at normal speed. I've noticed that when I let the slideshow loop and run a second time, the image quality seems better.

10 May 2019

Un sandwich au fromage de chèvre, jambon, et blettes

When I went shopping for goat cheese the other day, I picked up the one below without really examining the label. It turned out to be a cheese made with 30% goat's milk and 70% cow's milk —un fromage aux laits de mélange. The cheese comes from a fromagerie in the little town of Selles-sur-Cher. I decided to use it to make a grilled sandwich, as you see in the one-minute slideshow below.



This is a sandwich inspired by the French café-standard grilled ham and cheese croque-monsieur. The other ingredient besides cheese and sandwich ham is cooked Swiss chard. It's a sandwich you bake in the oven and then eat with a knife and fork.

To make two sandwiches, spread some soft, fresh goat cheese on two lightly toasted slices of bread. Next, lay down a layer of ham on each. Spread cooked, creamed chard (or spinach) over the ham — you can use cream or soft goat cheese to "cream" the greens.

Slice up a semi-hard (demi-sec) goat cheese (I used the mixed-milk cheese) and put a couple of slices on top of the creamed chard. Spread the top slice of bread with some more soft fresh goat cheese and lay on two more slices of goat cheese. Bake the sandwich in the oven with top and bottom heat until the cheese on top starts to turn golden brown. We ate our sandwiches with French-fried potatoes.

09 May 2019

Gratin d'asperges au jambon et au fromage de chèvre...

...and a video, below. Yesterday I called this a cooking experiment, mainly because I wasn't sure that fresh goat cheese would have enough flavor to complement white asparagus spears and ham. I needn't have worried; it was good. Here's what the fresh goat cheese looks like. It a little bit like Italian ricotta or, maybe, American cottage cheese that has been blended to a smooth but slightly grainy texture. It's spreadable.


Put 120 grams (4 oz.) of cheese into 120 grams (4 fl. oz) of heavy cream or whipping cream (crème fleurette in France) along with two whole eggs. Use a blender to turn the mixture into a smooth liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the liquid into the bottom of a baking dish that is big enough to hold the asparagus spears. Then wrap four bundles of pre-cooked, fairly "fat" asparagus spears (2 or 3 per bundle depending on how fat they are) in slices of ham. You can use proscuitto-style ham (cured jambon cru) or U.S. "sandwich ham" (jambon de Paris). Lay the bundles in the baking dish on top of the cream sauce.


Crumble some more fresh goat cheese and sprinkle it over the asparagus-ham bundles. I used the same cheese that went into the creamy sauce, but you could use grated semi-hard (demi-sec) or fully hard (sec) goat cheese — or even grated Italian Romano or Parmesan cheese, which will give a different but good flavor. Sprinkle on some more black pepper and some paprika (a mixture of hot, smoked, and sweet paprikas, for example). Brown the gratin in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350ºC (180ºF) to cook the creamy custard and melt the cheese.


I'm sorry I didn't take more pictures. Below is one of the bundles of ham-wrapped asparagus spears as it came out of the pan after baking in the oven. It's not as photogenic as the photos on Walt's recent asparagus tart post or ones I found on a blog that presents a similar recipe made with green asparagus and using both goat cheese and Italian mozarella.


Finally, I wanted to post this YouTube video about the goat cheeses made in and around Selles-sur-Cher. The cheese I used for the gratin does not actually qualify for the Selles-sur-Cher appellation because it's made with pasteurized, not raw goat's milk and it's not aged but fresh. It's made by a dairy just outside the little town of Selles-sur-Cher, however.



Here are two other web sites (link one and link two) with a lot of information about Selles-sur-Cher cheese, including videos, recipes, and maps. They're all in French of course.