Posted tagged ‘French Cooking’

Slow Walnut Wine

June 27, 2014

DSC_8552There’s a verb in French, patienter, that we don’t really have in English. It means to wait patiently, and you’re asked to do it often, like when you’re on hold on the phone with the notorious French bureaucracy, for example. The ATM will even tell you veuillez patienter, please wait patiently, as you’re waiting for your Euros to be dispensed. The French know how to wait.

And if you want to make this beautiful French walnut wine, called vin de noix, you’ll need to be patient too – actually, in this case what you need to do it hurry up and wait. Because you have to go pick the walnuts right now, meaning, in the next few days. The walnuts must be soft, easily pierced through with a needle, and in France the optimum day to do this is the day of St. Jean, which is June 24th. So I was already a couple of days late when I picked these this morning, but hey, the climate’s cooler here, and the walnuts are probably a little behind their French cousins. So, if you have access to a walnut tree, rush out now and gather 15 of  the small green nuts.

Making the wine is child’s play, and takes a matter of minutes. It’s waiting for the wine to be ready to drink that takes patience. First you let all the ingredients rest quietly together for about 40 days. Not so hard, right? But then you filter the wine and let it rest for another….year. And if you can wait two years, it will be that much better. So run right out and get the nuts, and then, veuillez patienter. It’s a lesson in French culture, both the waiting for and the drinking of, vin de noix, that’s completely typical and utterly charming. And yes, this recipe makes quite a lot, but you won’t be sorry you have it, and neither will all the friends you’ll delight with your bottled patience.

Abra’s Vin de Noix

15 green walnuts
3 large walnut leaves
5 bottles red wine (nothing expensive, but something good to drink)
1 bottle inexpensive brandy
3 star anise
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 pound of sugar

Cut the walnuts in half, or in quarters if they’re large. If they’re hard to cut, they’re already too old and the wine will be very bitter. Place the walnuts in a very large jar, or divide them among 3 half-gallon canning jars. Add the rest of the ingredients to the jar(s), cover, and place in a cool corner of your kitchen. Now wait for 40 days and 40 nights. The wine will darken in color, and if you want it even darker you can put it outside for a few hours on a sunny day or two and let it get a little sun. When the 40 days have passed, filter out all the solids and place the wine back into the jars, or into wine bottles if you like.

I know that you are going to want to taste it at this point, and if you do, it will be horrible. Horrible, I say. Undrinkable. Don’t despair, don’t throw it out, veuillez patienter. Set it aside in a cool, dark place and forget all about it for a year or two. When you taste it after that long wait, you’ll be overcome by deliciousness. This is a wine to drink with a simple, unfrosted cake, or to drink all by itself instead of dessert. I promise you that your patience will be richly rewarded.




Fini, Le Foie Gras

January 6, 2014

DSC_8014Sadly, amazingly, we’ve just about come to the finale of our year-end foie gras and duck orgy. After making my terrine de foie gras, I found myself with a small bowl of vividly yellow foie gras fat that had spilled over the terrine pan, which I stuck in the fridge for “later.” Well, later finally came, and boy did I ever put it to good use.

Above you see a little poêlée de légumes, a simple pan sauté of vegetables that was made transcendent by the addition of foie gras fat. I sliced a couple of small turnips and browned them in the fat, sprinkled with some porcini salt. Blanched and shocked some green beans, tossed in some slivered red cabbage, and let it all dance together in the skillet for a few minutes. It was a fridge-cleaning dish, to be sure, but the foie gras fat made it unearthly delicious.

And then I made a foie gras sauce for the roasted chicken I served with it. Using a variation on the recipe I posted here. I sauteed a finely diced shallot in foie gras fat until it was translucent. I added a big glug, let’s say about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of dry sherry, and simmered it until it was reduced to a few tablespoons. Then I added an equal-sized glug of heavy cream and simmered that until it was reduced and thickened. And finally, I crumbled the last few ounces of my foie gras terrine into the sauce and let it melt. The roast chicken, on a bed of the vegetables, blanketed in the silky foie gras sauce, rendered us speechless. The moral to this tale: the next time you have some fresh foie gras, be sure to save any rendered fat – it proves the maxim that having a high class of leftovers makes for the best thrown-together meals you could ever hope to taste.

I’m still dreaming of that duck paté, though, and looking for the slightest excuse to make it again. Perhaps you’re coming to dinner sometime soon?

Le Déjeuner Dominical

November 3, 2013

IMG_8325Sunday lunch, le déjeuner domenical, is a wonderful thing in France. I’ve written about it before here, but it bears repeating: Sunday lunch, if you’re lucky, lasts until supper time, and your guests will sit around the table happily eating and drinking until it gets dark, at which time, if you want them to leave, you can invite them to stay for supper. It’s a great custom and a deeply ingrained part of French culture that we love to share.

Today’s déjeuner dominical was beautifully adorned by Dorindo’s gorgeous flower arrangement. Even if I didn’t adore Dorindo himself I’d wish I could import him to the U.S., because no one does flowers like he does. And I wanted beauty, because this was my foray into serving tripes à la Lyonnaise, and even though I happen to find cow stomachs beautiful, it’s possible that not everyone does..


But first Alain, Marie-France, Shel and I sat around drinking what will probably be the last rosé of the year, nibbling on pretty little trifles


and chatting about everything that’s happened in the last 20 months. Meanwhile I was fervently hoping for success on the tripe front, since Alain has a Lyon connection  and I was hoping to make a convincing version of the classic dish for someone who really knows how it should taste. Later we would eat an anchovy and garlic-rubbed lamb shoulder with a cauliflower purée and green beans, a perfect Saint-Félicien cheese, a sweet piece of pascade Cévenole for the three of them, and I knew that all of that would be delicious, but meanwhile, I was fretting over the tripe.


I’d slivered it up, after simmering it yesterday. I’d sliced onions, chopped garlic and parsley, cooked it in lard and butter, added wine and vinegar, and it was about 92% as delicious as the version I had in Lyon a few days ago. I think that simmering it a bit longer, slivering it a bit finer, and perhaps adding a little more vinegar, and I’d have nailed it 100%. Nonetheless, it was really and truly delicious, and even Shel ate it, which is saying a lot.

IMG_8340There’s no reason that this can’t be successfully made in the U.S., the only hard part is finding the cow stomach. But if you have an Asian market in the neighborhood, it’s totally worth getting one and making this. I promise. Remember, Shel ate it, and liked it!

Tripes à la Lyonnaise

Get a cow stomach (the reticulum, if it’s labeled like that. It should look like a bowl, or a deflated ball, and will probably weigh about 1 1/2 pounds.)

Place the stomach in a large pan, fill with cold water to cover, and add a peeled and halved onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook very gently for an hour and a half to two hours. Drain and let cool.

Cut the tripe into long slivers, fairly fine, and set aside.

Peel and slice two medium-small onions, peel and chop a large clove of garlic. Sauté these in butter, about 4-5 Tablespoons, plus a good pinch of salt, until golden.

In another larger skillet, melt 3-4 Tablespoons of lard and add the tripe. Cook over medium-high heat until it’s sizzling and some of the tripe has turned golden. Add some white wine, about 3/4 of a cup, and let it simmer until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the tripe is again sizzling. Add the onions and all of the butter from their pan to the tripe. Add plenty of salt and pepper, a big handful of chopped parsley, and stir until it’s all sizzling and beautiful. Now start adding some wine vinegar, it smells strong at first, but it is quickly soaked up. You want a definite vinegar taste, but don’t drown it. I’d estimate that you’ll need about 3-4 Tablespoons, but add it bit by bit and go by taste. Add more butter and salt if necessary.

The result should be tender and golden, slightly crusty, quite buttery, with an appetizing tang of vinegar. One recipe serves four as a starter, but you’ll need to double this for a main course. It’s a super comfort food, and as soon as we get home I’m planning to go on a cow stomach quest, as I’m looking forward to eating it on a grey and drizzly northwest winter’s day. They have those days in Lyon too, after all, so the dish should feel right at home.

Inner Beauty: Cow

November 2, 2013


I promised you cow stomach, more correctly, cow reticulum, or as it’s called here bonnet de boeuf, and there you have it. Isn’t it beautiful? I’m not sure why the inside of a cow needs to be beautiful, but it is.


It’s an amazing collection of textures, considering that it’s just one part of just one animal. I don’t know why a cow needs so many textures in just one of its stomachs, but I’m sure there’s a reason.

IMG_8314Probably I could shellac this, or paint it brightly, pass it off as sculpture, and make enough to earn my next few plates of tripes à la Lyonnaise. It’s that gorgeous. I imagine that you’re wondering whether it smells weird, coming from the inside of a cow. Actually, it smells a tiny bit of bleach when you buy it, the bleach that was used to clean it perfectly.

So now, following an amalgam of recipes, I have my bonnet de boeuf simmering for “une bonne heure,” a little over an hour, in water with onion, garlic, salt and pepper. I think the guy said to add white wine to the water too, but since you add wine to the dish itself, I’m probably remembering wrong. Anyway, it’s wine-less at this stage, and when it’s done simmering and has cooled, I’ll be slicing it up into fine strips and chilling it overnight until I’m ready to cook it for our Sunday lunch guests tomorrow. If you can get a cow stomach you can cook along – I’m thinking that an Asian market will have one.


I got mine here, where they also sell lamb from the Alps of Provence, beef from Aubrac, milk-fed lamb, farm pork from the Auvergne, lamb from the salt marshes around the Mont Saint Michel, poultry from Bresse, milk-fed veal from the Limousin, and wild game, when it’s in season. See why we love Lyon?

Olive Time

October 23, 2013


This used to be Zazou’s favorite tree, the olive tree out by the pool. She’d climb in, choose a special olive, and carry it home in her mouth where she’d bat is around before hiding it under a chair with her pet scorpion and her pet lizards.

This is the time of year when all the olive mills advertise in the paper, “come one, come all, bring your olives to be pressed and depart with your own olive oil!” The catch is that you have to have a minimum of a hundred kilos before they’ll press them, and I doubt that we have more than two kilos on our little tree. If we were going to be here longer I might try brining them myself, although since this part of France is awash in excellent olives it seems silly, just as baking your own bread here is pretty much a fool’s errand.

But we’re not going to be here much longer, only another 2 1/2 weeks, even though we’ve just barely arrived. If Shel didn’t have another scan awaiting him in mid-November we might stay a bit longer, arriving home, say, with Santa on Christmas Eve. But the last scan wasn’t great, and so the next one is important. That’s the thing about living with cancer, there’s always a scorpion under the chair, and while you can do a lot, you don’t always get to do as much as you’d like to.

We wish Zazou were here to pick olives. We wish we had enough olives to press. We wish we had the time to brine our own. We wish we could stay longer. But we’re not spending all of our time wishing and whining, because then, the scorpion under the chair would be winning. So now it’s out into the afternoon for my daily French lesson, while Shel goes down to to get coffee from the guy who roasts his beans over a wood fire. And he’s taking him a bar of chocolate because….well..that’s another story for another day. Eat an olive and think of us.

Au Four Froid

October 14, 2013


The French have a cooking technique that I have never encountered in the U.S., which is to place a meat to be roasted into a cold oven. This little coquelet, (with an egg next to it for size comparison), for example, goes into a cold oven which is then turned to 400° and left alone for 50 minutes, when it’s done to perfection. You can’t get a coquelet, which is a baby rooster, in the U.S. as far as I know, but there’s no reason this wouldn’t work with a chicken or even a guinea hen.

The French believe, and I’m starting to be convinced myself, that all poultry and white meats,


like this melon de veau, veal stuffed with a delicious sausage mixture, should be started in a cold oven. They say that this helps keep the meat juicy and tender, because it doesn’t suffer a thermal shock on entering the oven. They also say that this technique permits the fat in the meat to melt gently as the temperature rises, and that the meat generally benefits from a slow-cooked start, with a hot blast at the end. The coquelet and the melon de veau definitely prove this point, and I’m curious to know what you think if you try this technique with a chicken or a guinea hen. I’ll tell you how I do the coquelet, and you can adapt it to the size of the bird you’re using. For reference, a coquelet feeds two people, so it’s about half the size of a chicken, and about twice the size of a guinea hen. Please do try this and report back – I’m very curious to know whether this French magic trick works in other countries!

Coquelet au Four Froid

1 coquelet (for 2 people)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Rub a baking dish with olive oil. Place a large pinch of thyme inside the bird. Rub the coquelet with olive oil, then salt and pepper it generously. Place it in the oiled dish, place the dish in a cold oven, then turn the oven to 400°F/200°C. Roast for 50 minutes. When done, cut the coquelet in half with shears and serve.

I’ve been serving them with a sauté of trompettes de la mort (black trumpet mushrooms) and a purée of celery root, which, altogether, makes a luscious combination. A light red like a Gamay suits this dish well.

Edible Beauty

October 8, 2013

IMG_8055Sometimes food is almost too beautiful to eat. Almost, although honestly I don’t remember ever letting any food go to waste because I was intimidated by its beauty.

These eggs, for example, almost chocolate in color, are from a Poule de Marans, raised by our friends Alice and Christian, who love to raise and show exotic birds of all sorts. The eggs, however lovely, taste exactly like good eggs should, without a hint of the exotic.

The eggplant, l’aubergine rayée, or striped eggplant, idem, which is how the French often say “it’s the same thing.” Unbearably lovely in the bowl, just ordinarily delicious on the plate.

Beautiful food does, however, inspire me to cook beautifully. Before we left to return to France a couple of people asked me what I was looking forward to eating once we got here. My first thought was veal, the second was tripe. But what have we really been eating? Duck, three times duck in one week, which is some kind of record for us. The best of them all was a riff on Paula Wolfert’s duck breast with a sauce of cèpes (which are called porcini in English, even though that’s Italian) and a cèpe and white mushroom flan. It wasn’t in the least beautiful, unless a sort of symphony of browns appeals to you, but the combination of duck and cèpes results in a hauntingly wild and foresty thing that’s pretty irresistible.

And then tonight we had an abbreviated choucroute, which might be the homeliest dish in France. But the flavors of saucisse de Morteau and saucisse de Montbéliard, two requisite ingredients around here, are so compelling that you easily forgive them their unprepossessing appearance.

But tomorrow is Wednesday, which means that there will be impeccably fresh fish in the market, and I’m thinking of something prettier and lighter. Unless, of course, I get seduced by some tripe, which I find to be inexplicably beautiful, in its own way.