31 October 2015

Hallowe'en colors, and a moon

As I wrote yesterday, a busy weekend is starting...

These are three photos from yesterday morning's walk in the vineyard with Callie.

30 October 2015

The end of October

I'm just documenting the end of October 2015. Today isn't the last day, but I'm going to be very busy tomorrow. These are some photos I've taken since last Saturday. The first one was the view out the back gate last weekend. A lot of these golden and reddish leaves have fallen now, because we've had some rain and wind over the past few days.

Below is the vegetable garden as it looked this week, with collard greens, nasturtium and rhubarb leaves, and fading squash plants — not to mention the winter squashes themselves, which are "maturing" at this stage. Some of the greens I planted under the cold frame, on a small plot of freshly tilled ground, have come up now.

Here's Callie in one of her favorite places in the world she knows. The dog really enjoys walking around the edges of the vineyard, and into the woods. She's always on the lookout for a deer or a hare. A couple of days ago, near here, she chased some black beast that was either a very big domestic cat or a small badger. It all happened so fast that I couldn't be sure. All I saw was a black blur and a bushy tail.

Around the house and yard, the Jerusalem artichoke flowers that blossomed in September are fading fast and I'm not sure there are really any left, even though we haven't yet had frost or a freeze. I kind of liked the look of the one below, which I also stylized some in Photoshop to disguise the photo's blurriness.

One of the difficulties of taking photographs at this time of year is that the light is dim when I go out for my morning or afternoon walk. The images are not crisp. That's especially true when the weather is foggy or overcast. During the middle of the day, when there's better light, I'm busy in the kitchen, so I don't often go outdoors.

In the photo above, you can just barely see our house and a neighbor's out across this part of the vineyard. Pretty soon the fields of vines, leafless, will take on their skeletal look for the winter, and the pruning will start.

29 October 2015

Céleri-rave entier rôti au four

Celery root, also called celeriac by some people, is a vegetable grown for its big round root. It sort of resembles a turnip or rutabaga, but with a rougher skin. It has a flavor similar to the flavor of celery stalks, but sweeter. And of course the texture is completely different.

I've used céleri-rave like carrots or potatoes, cut up and cooked in potées (boiled dinners) and stews, including blanquette de veau, d'agneau, ou de dinde, and it's good. I also like to make céleri rémoulade, which is grated raw celery root dressed with a mixture of cream, mayonnaise, and Dijon mustard and eaten as a salad. That's a classic.

But what about roasting a whole celery root in the oven? It turns out to be really good. You scrub the outisde of celery root thoroughly, rub or brush it with (olive) oil, sprinkle on some herbs (fresh or dried), salt and pepper it, and then wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. Just before you close the foil, put a few sliced, pressed, or crushed garlic cloves in, along with a pat or two of butter, and seal it all up. Roast it in the oven for about 2 hours at 350ºF (180ºC). Test it with a skewer to make sure it's cooked all the way through before you unwrap it.

Serve it in thick slices with, maybe, a cream sauce or mushroom sauce. If you want to peel it, either before cooking it or after, you can do that too. You might also cut off the top of the celery root, hollow it out, and put the herbs, garlic, and butter in there. That would flavor the interior of the celery root really well, I think.

We had our roasted celery root with a creamy mushroom sauce and an oven roasted saucisse de Toulouse, which is a pork sausage with a filling that is, traditionally, made with meat chopped with a knife rather than run through a meat grinder. It's about my favorite French sausage, along with the smoked Montéliard sausages from eastern Frence. The one in my pictures is called a saucisse brasse, meaning it isn't cut into links before cooking, but left the length of an arm (un bras).

28 October 2015

Scenes of the season

It rained all night. It's not very cold, though. I decided to put the heat back on this morning,
just to take the chill off, after not having turned the boiler on for a couple of days.

 Birds are flying south.

We do get some fall colors here in Saint-Aignan, and even in our yard.

Walt mowed the yard last week, so it looks good now. We haven't cleaned up the garden yet, but I planted some winter greens under that cold frame you see in the photo.

There are still potted plants to be brought in, and a lot of the golden leaves are falling heavily every day.

It's nearly time for me to go out for the morning walk with the dog along this gravel road through the vineyard.

27 October 2015

J'ai fait deux « bâtards » hier matin

Different flour, more water, less yeast, and a longer rising time went into making my latest bread. As I've said, our bread delivery woman is on vacation this week, so we are fending for ourselves. We eat bread nearly every day, and I don't want to have to take the car out every morning to find fresh bread this week.

Longer rising time: I decided to try letting the bread dough rise for 18 hours this time, compared to less than two hours for last week's loaf. I wondered what that would do to the texture of la mie — dictionary definition of mie : la partie molle qui est à l'intérieur du pain (opposé à croûte). Too bad we don't have a better word in English for that soft part of the bread. One term is "crumb" but that's not too exciting or appetizing. It's definitely just a technical term.

Be that as it may, I'm not sure my experiment was conclusive, since I changed too many variables compared to that other loaf of what we'd call "French bread" that I made last week. Different flour: this time I used mostly a hard wheat flour (farine de blé dur) produced by a mill up near Blois and Chambord on the Loire River, 30 miles north of Saint-Aignan. It's organic. And I supplemented it with some of our ordinary, everyday flour from the supermarket, to the tune of 150 grams mixed into 350 grams of organic flour.

I put in just 4 grams of yeast. You don't need to put in as much yeast when you plan to give the dough an extra-long rise. The little yeast organisms will multiply over the hours and be sufficient to do the job. And now I know why in French they use the term fermentation for what we call letting the dough rise. When I took the lid off the bowl yesterday morning to see how it was going after 12 hours, the smell was definitely alcoholic, almost like wine that was turning bad. It wasn't unpleasant, but the odor was very noticeable.

And more water: I wanted to make a softer dough. I increased the amount of water from 300 milliliters to about 350. That meant the dough was slightly sticky and I had to add more flour when I finally took the dough out to shape it into loaves, just to keep it from sticking to my hand and the work surface. Then I let the shaped loaves rise for another hour or so. They were sort of flat but they really puffed up in the oven. Because of the extra water and the long rise, the dough needs little or no kneading, just the initial mixing.

I ended up making two loaves rather than just one. They were sort of short and fat, which is a style of bread called un bâtard that you don't see much these days — at least not around these parts. Maybe they still make and sell such "bastard" loaves in Paris. It's called a bâtard because it's the same weight as a skinny baguette and shorter than, but with the girth of, what is called simply un pain — a bread.

I didn't bake my bâtards on a stone but just on a pan lined with kitchen paper and in a hot oven. The baking took nearly 40 minutes, and I set a shallow pan of water on a rack under the baking pan to make steam. The resulting crust was hard but not too hard, and the cooked loaves sounded hollow when we tapped on them. The mie of the bread was fairly dense still, but not as dense as the mie of the earlier loaf. It was also sort of moelleux (tender, "mellow") and not dry at all. I guess that was because of the flours I used.

26 October 2015

Duck season in France means gizzards

While I'm letting my bread dough finish rising — by this method, that takes 18 hours or so — let me talk about ducks. It's duck season. This is when ducks are "harvested" (read "slaughtered"). Or their fattened livers are harvested, I should say.

When I went to the supermarket on Friday, they had a huge number of whole canards gras (fattened ducks) on display and for sale at about 3.50 euros a kilo (less than $2 U.S. per pound). For a number of reasons, I really didn't want to buy and cook a whole duck right now.

Gésiers de canard confits

They also had a lot of duck parts on offer. Wings, leg and thigh sections, and breasts. The legs and wings are good for confit (slow-cooked in duck fat). They even had a big refrigerated case full of legs and thighs that were already cooked that way, ready to be reheated and consumed. And then I noticed gizzards. Fresh, in vacuum-sealed bags. That's what I ended up buying. There were about 15 of them in the package. They weighed about a pound and a half (665 grams) and sold for 5.5 euros.

A salad with duck gizzards, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, and cucumber

Duck (or chicken or turkey) gizzards are treated the same way as wings and legs — as confit. What you do is cover them with coarse sea salt for five or six hours in a colander and let them "disgorge" or dry out a little. Then you rinse them well, dry them off, and put them in a pot or baking dish covered with melted duck fat (or lard). You cook them slowly, on low heat on top of the stove or in a slow oven, for several hours. Usually, I buy them already cooked, but these were raw.

I decided to use the slow-cooker (la mijoteuse, in French). The gizzard is a tough muscle that needs long, slow cooking to tenderize. It's an organ, but not an organ like the liver, because it is a muscle. I had a jar of duck fat in the pantry — you can buy it here in French supermarkets in pint jars — so I was all set.

Gésiers salted and "disgorging" (I saved the best photo for last!)

I put the 15 prepared gizzards into the cooker, where I had already melted the duck fat, with a few unpeeled garlic cloves, three bay leaves, and a dozen black peppercorns. The gizzards need to be completely submerged in the fat. I turned the cooker on at its low setting at 10 p.m. and turned it off when I got up at 6 a.m. — eight hours of cooking.

What do you do with the tender, slow-cooked duck gizzards? You can cut them up, sauté them lightly, and serve them over a salad. Or you can serve them with sauteed potatoes or cooked white beans (we're going to eat some with lima beans today). Or heat them up and serve them with any other vegetable. They are really good eating.

25 October 2015

Bread-making according to la méthode Lemaire

The bread we buy from the bread lady actually comes in a bag. I say that because often in France you are — or used to be — just handed a "naked" baguette (the smaller, skinny loaf that weighs 250 grams) or a pain (the fatter, full-size loaf that weighs 400 g) with no wrapper on it at all. That's less and less the case these days, I think, but when we buy an "ordinary" baguette from the bread lady, it comes without a wrapper of any kind.

The baguette de tradition française that we usually buy comes in a paper bag. I've scanned one of the bags the baker uses so you can see how it is labeled. What it says on the right is:  "Bread in the French tradition, leavened with natural yeasts and cultures by an artisan baker according to the Lemaire method." In other words, it's not made in an industrial bakery but by the local baker in his own shop, from scratch. Here's a link to the Pains Lemaire web site.

The méthode Lemaire was defined by a man named Raoul Lemaire back in the late 1950s. Lemaire was a pioneer of organic farming in France, and the bread made according to his method is made from organically grown wheat that is stone-ground into flour, with no additives. It requires slow kneading (pétrissage lent) and a long, slow rise (longue fermentation).  Levain is the starter culture used to make sourdough bread, but the bread we get doesn't taste sour the way San Francisco sourdough bread tasted when we lived out there.

The text above gives details of French government rules defining the composition of bread that carries the name "traditional French bread" or any name using those terms. It has to be made with wheat flour, drinking water, and table salt, for example. Ingredients must be fresh, and never frozen at any stage. The starter culture (sourdough) must be made with wheat flour or a combination of wheat and rye flour, along with drinking water, and it has to be the product of the natural fermentation ("souring") process (without the addition of ascorbic acid, in other words). The regulations date back to 1993.

24 October 2015

The "bread carrier"

Over the past dozen years — we moved to Saint-Aignan in 2003 — three different bakers have owned and operated our village bakery. When the first one moved on in 2004, we learned that we could arrange to have bread delivered to our doorstep five days a week by an employee of the bakery.

The way it works is simple. The woman who delivers the bread — la porteuse de pain, or "bread carrier" — drives up our road at about the same time each day (10:30 a.m. or so) and toots her horn as she drives up. One of us goes out and buys bread from her.

Nowadays, she comes up the hill just four days a week. There's no delivery on Mondays (they say there weren't enough customers to make it worthwhile), Wednesdays (the baker's day off), or Sundays (even though the bakery is open on Sunday mornings). We've found that getting fresh bread four days a week works fine for us. We put leftover pieces of bread in the freezer and have them, reheated, on days when there's no delivery.

We don't have a standing order for the bread. We just buy what we want. The bread lady carries dozens and dozens of loaves in her delivery van — baguettes both  de tradition and ordinaire, larger loaves just called pains, and also croissants, etc. If we want a specialty item like a loaf of rye bread or a boule of sliced bread, we can order it ahead of time. I'm sure we could order brioche, a pizza, or a quiche if we wanted to, but I've never done so. If we don't want bread at all, we just say so. There's no obligation to buy anything.

A baguette de tradition is what we've been getting from the bread lady for four or five years now, since the latest baker took over the shop. The bread the baker before him made wasn't nearly as good, actually. The "traditional" baguette is made using organic flour and contains no additives. It's just flour, yeast, salt, and water. That kind of baguette costs one euro. An "ordinary" baguette goes for 85 cents.

If we know we are not going to be at home in the morning, we have two choices. We can let the bread lady know beforehand that we won't be home if we really don't want bread that day. In fact, the baker provides us with a deep plastic bag we can hang out on the front gate for days when we are out at delivery time. We put a euro coin in the bag and the bread lady takes the coin and leaves us our regular loaf. So far, we haven't had any problems with people stealing the coin we leave or the bread she leaves.

In her little white van, the bread lady also has milk, butter, cheese, and even ham that customers can buy from her. This is a great service for people who live out here in the country but don't drive. We drive, of course, but it's nice not to have to get in the car and drive down to the village center or into Saint-Aignan just to buy a loaf of bread every day.

Here's a photo that Walt took in November 2004 showing me with the woman who delivered bread at that time. We've had two other bread delivery ladies since then. You can see all the loaves of bread she was carrying in the back of the little van.

The photos above show the baguette de tradition that we got from the porteuse de pain yesterday morning. You can compare it to the bread I made a few days ago and posted about yesterday.

23 October 2015

Farine à pain — bread flour and the loaf it made

I should have let it rise longer. Then it would have been less compact and dense. What is called la mie — the crumb — would have had bigger air pockets in it. Never mind — the crust was crunchy and tasty. It was very good bread, as you can see. Since the woman who delivers bread to our house four times a week is going on vacation for 10 days, I'll be making this again.

I made bread the other day because we ran out of bread from the freezer and I didn't feel like firing up the Peugeot and running down to a boulangerie in Saint-Aignan just for that. Recently I've been looking for and buying different kinds of flour, just experimenting, especially for making bagels. I had bought a kilo bag of farine à pain — high-gluten bread flour — at SuperU, so that's what I used. I'd never noticed that bread flour was available before.

Basically, I followed the package directions. Flour, water, salt, and a package of yeast (5.5 grams). I turned the oven on to heat it up to just 50ºC (120ºF) and then I turned it off. I kneaded the dough for a few minutes, first in a stand mixer and then by hand, shaped it into a ball, and put it in a bowl. I set it in the warm oven and covered it with a dish towel. It rose for just over an hour. Next time I might let it rise in the fridge overnight.

Then I took it out of the oven and out of the bowl, kneaded it again briefly, and shaped it into, well, the shape you see. I cut several gashes in the top with a sharp knife. I let it rest for 15 minutes. When the oven was up to temperature (220ºC / 450ºF), I put the loaf in the oven on a baking tray. I didn't even use the bread/pizza stone. But I did set a shallow pan of water on a rack underneath the tray to make some steam in the oven. That's how you get a good rise and a crunchy crust. When it was done, I dusted the top with a little flour, just for looks. The village boulanger's bread is better, but this will do the job for a few days when needed.

22 October 2015

10 years ago in the garden

It's raining this morning, and dark. Very dark. Oh well. C'est la saison qui veut ça. Not only is it the end of the growing season here in Saint-Aignan, but it's also the end of l'heure d'été — "summer time" or what we call daylight savings time in the U.S. Sunday morning we turn the clocks back an hour. The sun will come up an hour earlier starting that day.

We still haven't done the final cleanup out in the vegetable garden. Walt wants to leave the winter squashes — acorn, butternut, and potimarron (red kuri) — out in the garden as long as possible. Since I don't have much to blog about today, I've been looking at some photos of produce from one of our best vegetable gardens of the past.

That was in 2005, which I remember as one of the most consistently sunny and warm summers we've had here out of the 13 we've spent in Saint-Aignan. Only 2015 has rivaled it in long stretches of pleasant weather. The summer of 2003 was much too hot to be put in the same league. The 2005 garden was only our second gardening effort.

In 2005, as this year, we had great crops of collard greens and tomatoes. We also had good eggplant (aubergines), which have been a flop in 2015. And in 2005, we especially had a bumper crop of winter squash and pumpkins, as you can see in the photos here. A friend who lives on the other side of the village had given us a handful of squash seeds that year. She had saved them to share. They were for a butternut-like squash called the sucrine du Berry, a local variety. I don't remember what we did with all those squashes and pumpkins...

21 October 2015

Collard greens and tomatoes: we grew them...

...so we have to eat them. That means cooking them. Luckily, cooked collard greens freeze well, so you don't have to consume them all at harvest time. They can be canned as well, so keeping them to serve as a green vegetable over the winter is pretty easy. Nothing could be more "locavore" than a vegetable you grew in your own back yard garden.

Doing my research, I found a couple of promising recipes for collard greens with tomatoes and garlic on the internet. The one that surprised me, and appealed to me the most, was Martha Stewart's. If you don't know who she is, you won't be as surprised as I was and as I'm sure other Americans will be to find out that she's cooking collard greens, tomatoes, and black-eyed peas. Martha Stewart and "soul food"... well, good for her. In her Wikipedia article I learned that she is of Polish extraction and was born in New Jersey.

Another recipe I found was published years ago in Food and Wine magazine by a man named Hubert Des Marais, who says in the article that he grew up in North Carolina, as I did. He emphasizes the African roots of cooking collards with tomatoes and garlic. He doesn't add black-eyed peas to the dish, but those also have African origins. Des Marais says to cook the collard greens for 20 minutes, which is nowhere close to long enough.

I adapted Martha Stewart's recipe for collards and tomatoes to fit the ingredients I had on hand. I didn't have a ham hock, but I did have some smoked pork lardons in the fridge. I added a green bell pepper from the garden, and a jalapeño pepper too. I could have used a can of tomatoes, but I also had some good tomato paste that Walt made with this year's tomato crop. And finally, I decided to use chickpeas in the recipe instead of black-eyed peas (they are easier to find).

Collard greens with tomato, smoked bacon, and chickpeas

4 Tbsp. olive (or other) oil
½ lb. (225 g) smoked pork lardons  or bacon (optional)
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
6 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and chopped
1 green pepper, trimmed and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
2 lbs. collard greens, thinly sliced or shredded
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. smoked or sweet paprika
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
¾ cup (200 ml) tomato paste
water and white wine as needed or desired
1 cup bread crumbs, rice, or millet (as a thickener)
1 large can chickpeas

In a large pot, heat olive or other oil over medium heat.
Add onion, garlic, green pepper, jalapeño, and lardons to cook until onion softens,
about 4 minutes. (Leave out the meat if you don't want it.)

Add collard greens, cover, and cook until mostly wilted, about 10 minutes.
Uncover and cook, stirring, until completely wilted, another 5 to 10 minutes.
Add a few tablespoons of water or white wine.
Season to your taste with salt, black pepper, and the spices.

Add tomato paste and more water or wine, plus the vinegar.
Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a medium simmer.
Partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender,
for 2 or as long as 4 or 5 hours, adding more liquid as needed.

When the greens are cooked, add the cooked (or canned) chickpeas
and the bread crumbs to the pan. Give the chickpeas time to get
hot and the bread crumbs time to absorb any extra cooking liquid.
Serve the collards as a one-dish meal with bread or rice, or as a side dish with meat.

Actually, it occurred to me yesterday that Walt makes a similar recipe using spinach, tomatoes, and chickpeas (thanks to Mitch and Gerry in Spain). That recipe, Espinacas con Garbanzos, inspired me to add cumin and smoked paprika to mine. By the way, if you add rice or millet to the pot when you cook the collard greens, you can toss it in raw or already cooked. It will have plenty of time to cook in the "pot liquor" even if you put it in raw. It will thicken the mixture slightly.

20 October 2015

No food pix today, but food thoughts

I won't post any pictures of food today, even though I have some showing things we've made using millet, which we can find at an organic food shop over in Montrichard, and field peas aka cow peas that I always bring back from North Carolina. Both are worth trying.

I planted some more greens yesterday — collards, chard, and kale — with hopes that we'll get a winter crop. I tilled up a small plot in the vegetable garden, sowed seeds directly in the ground, and covered them with a cold frame (une mini-serre). If they sprout and grow well, I'll transplant the healthiest seedlings to space them out on a bigger plot of ground.

While I was out there in the garden, I looked at my full-grown collard plants again and thought I ought to cut some more leaves and cook them. But how? What occurred to me was cooking the green leaves with tomatoes and garlic — pour varier un peu les plaisirs.

This morning I found a recipe posted by, of all people, Martha Stewart. She braises collard greens with tomatoes, smoked pork, garlic, and black-eyed peas. I have all those ingredients in the pantry or refrigerator. That's my project for today. It's the kind of thing you don't have to eat the day you make it. Left over it might be even better.

19 October 2015

Two blog anniversary pies — one sweet and one savory

Walt and I both started blogging toward the end of October in 2005. He "discovered" the Blogger software on the Internet back then and showed it to me, so he got a short head start on my efforts. All that means that 10 years have passed since we started our blogs, and neither of us intends to quit any time soon.

Yesterday we ended up making two pies that I am declaring to be "blogiversary" treats, using ingredients that we had on hand. Walt made the pie (or tart) above, which is called une amandine aux pommes. It's apples set in a kind of custard made with eggs, sugar, and almond powder (ground almonds). Here are some examples and recipes that I see on Walt's blog.

Earlier in the day, I made what in the U.S. is called a tamale pie. If you don't know, tamales are a Mexican specialty consisting of sort of a creamy cooked masa harina dumpling (made with corn flour or meal, not corn starch or fécule de maïs) filled with seasoned meat (usually pork), beans, or cheese — or a combination of all three — and wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf. Above is a cross-section photo I took of my tamale pie after it cooled down and firmed up. Below is what it looked like when it was hot out of the oven (there was a little bit of grated cheese scattered on top).

If you can't get banana leaves or corn husks to wrap your tamales in, you can make a tamale pie (recipe) with the same kind of ingredients. If you can't get masa harina, a Mexican product, you can make the tamale pie using polenta or cornbread batter. The pie consists of a layer of seasoned meat and vegetables spiced with chili powder and cumin, covered with a layer of grated cheese, and topped with a layer of cooked masa or polenta, or cornbread batter, and then baked in the oven. It's sort of a Mexican cottage pie or hachis parmentier.

You might not recognize, either, the powdery substance on the left. It will explain why the polenta I made to go on top of the tamale pie is brown rather than yellow. This is what is called gaudes in the Franche-Comté region of France. Gaudes is cornmeal made from corn that has first been grilled and charred. The result is cornmeal that has a nice smoky flavor. I happened to have a bag of gaudes on hand — where I got it is a long story that I told here. Thanks to CHM for first telling me about gaudes.

You cook gaudes the way you cook polenta meal. Bring to a boil, as I did, 1.6 liters of salted water and slowly pour in, stirring constantly as you go, 400 milliliters of gaudes. (The standard proportions for cooking grits or polenta call for 4 times the amount of liquid as of cornmeal.) The resulting polenta (porridge, or gruel) using gaudes is smoky-tasting. That is exactly the flavor you want in a tamale or tamale pie, which is usually made with smoky-tasting barbecued meat.

For the tomato-flavored, spicy meat and vegetable mixture that is the basis of the tamale pie, I followed Elise's Simply Recipes method (link above) as closely as I could. I had a can of sweet corn, a fresh green bell pepper, and tomatoes and tomato paste from our 2015 crop. Elise calls for adding sliced olives and raisins to the mixture, so I did, and that turned out to be very good. What I didn't do was top the mixture with raw cornbread batter and then let it bake in the oven. I cooked the gaudes into porridge, spooned it over the other ingredients, and let it dry out in a hot oven to form a crust.

The other thing I did slightly differently was to use chicken instead of pork in my tamale pie. I happened to have half of a smoked chicken left over from Saturday's lunch. (Actually, it was all planned.) Fresh cooked chicken or turkey would work as well, or beef, pork, or lamb. The main thing is to put in plenty of chili powder or other hot pepper (or maybe smoked paprika) and a lot of cumin so that the spiciness of the meat and vegetables will counterbalance the blandness of the polenta or cornbread topping. Don't plan on slicing the tamale pie while it is hot. Just spoon it onto your plate at the table.