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Friday, May 27, 2011

French Travel Tales: La Belle Gasconne, 2006: A Story, Part 1

In 2006 my family and I returned to our friend's Chateau in the Loire. We came to hang a plaque for their son, Miles, who was like a son to us, and best friend of our oldest son Erick’s, and older brother figure and dear friend to our youngest son, Jaryd. Miles had died suddenly and tragically only a few weeks before. Words were inadequate to express our grief. Our arms tried to wrap each other and keep us a safe distance from the gaping hole we all sensed would permanently inhabit our new and distant universe.

Chateau du Pin in the Loire

But, really, I was in so much shock, I'm not sure I was much help to anyone.

The visit generated many thoughts and emotions appeared like rings ebbing out from the huge stone tossed into the virtual pond of our lives. Slowing them down was futile. All I could do was sit at the edge of the pond and wonder what was next. I watched the overlaps and recalled images of times we had all spent together.

Erick, Miles, and Jaryd circa 1996 or so

And so it was that after the Chateau visit that were also returned to a 14th-century mill-house in the tiny village of Poudenas, France, now rent-able as a vacation retreat. To sleep in those rooms by the Gelise River was soft and magical, everything I remembered.

The little mill-house is also the site of the famous auberge, La Belle Gasconne, run by Marie-Claude Gracia. I arranged for our group to take a master cooking class with her. She prepared a traditional Gasconne menu directly from her famous (but unfortunately unavailable and out of print) cookbook, Le Cuisine de la Passion. In preparing the meal, we made visits to the area's wonders with her and her new husband. The layers got peeled back; aren't those layers always among us, but we just don’t always notice them?

La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas

One of the layers was seeing my oldest son Erick and Samantha, his then girlfriend, working in the kitchen with Marie-Claude. I felt a huge circle closing. Ten years before, his brother Jaryd, my husband and I were treated to a 10th-birthday dinner in the mill-house as payment for a few days of my being an apprentice in Marie-Claude's kitchen. Our menu included foie gras, duck, the new harvest wine--a fizzy and sweet -- croustades bursting with pomme, and the possibility of Becasse, the illusive bird hunted in the fall.

The Mill-House aka La Belle Gasconne

For the 2006 meal, we were heading back to Nerac, where we had eaten the evening before at one of the inns along the Baise River. I noticed then that though the Baise appears to be a river, a simple river, in the fading light the water was also a mirror and reflected the people and the dishes being served at the tables.

So back to shopping trip for the cooking class. Part of our group decided to go to Nerac, while others stayed behind (you know who you are!) to loll about at the millhouse. As we planned our jaunt to Nerac to shop side by side with Marie-Claude Gracia for ingredients for the master cooking class, it felt as though we were transported back in time to visit ancienne Nerac. There were so many obstacles to overcome. Epiceries and houses of duck are not open at whim, shops close for lunch, and all the ingredients we need cannot be found at any one place. There is no one-stop-shop in France and in the word of Marie-Claude: there is only perfection!

And within the space of a few moments I was reminded of the giant circle in which we all live and how tender and short, each moment.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cook With Me: The Hen of Chocolat

In last Friday’s post, Adventures in Food Styling: Food Fantasies in Film, we viewed a few enticing photos from the Film, Chocolat starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. Well, let me tell you a secret that won't be a secret for much longer. I LOVE this film. I love it so much, both for its story qualities, its location, and its both actual and metaphoric depth. Based on these qualities as well, it is a film that shares well! So well in fact, that it is now a tradition at my C’est si Bon! Cooking School to offer a class with this menu around Valentine’s Day.

We start getting calls about the class as soon as the weather cools. 
A breathless voice whispers, "Is it Time For Chocolat?"
"Yes, almost," I say into the phone.

Oui, this really is worth every second in the kitchen. Every. Single. One.

Menu from the Chocolat Feast Class

Roasted Young Chicken with Orange and Sage – from Chocolat, the Film

This recipe is per young chicken (each weighing approx. 500gm)
In France these are called poussin.

1 small onion, chopped
3 sprigs of fresh sage leaves
3 tbsp virgin olive oil
1 small orange, chopped

Wash chicken thoroughly inside and out and pat dry with paper towels
Season inside and out with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Lift the skin over the breast carefully and anoint with the olive oil, then take the leaves from two sprigs of sage and slide these under the skin too. Place the remaining sage leaves and sprigs inside the cavity with the peeled onion and orange.

Place the chicken on a roasting rack (or sit on a trivet of vegetables) in a roasting tray and allow to sit overnight in the refrigerator, this will infuse the sage flavor. Truss the legs if preferred.

The next day preheat the oven to 375 f and pour 250ml of stock or water into the roasting tray and place in the pre-heated oven and roast as required, basting with juices every 20 minutes.

To ensure the chicken is cooked all the way through to the thigh joint without the breast drying out; cut the skin that connects the breast and leg and open up fully. This should be done 3/4's the way through the cooking time; it allows the heat to penetrate easier

The chicken is cooked when no blood or pinkiness is showing at the thigh joint.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes prior to serving: this allows the muscles to relax, it makes the meat more tender - simply cut in half and serve with the bittersweet demi-glace.

Three Hens Examining the Roasted Birds: Chef Dorette, Chef Renee, and Kitty Kinnin-The River 100.7 FM

Bittersweet Demi-Glace

The base of the demi-glace is Escoffier’s classic espagnole sauce. From his great rich traditional sauce comes other old masterpieces like bordelaise and chasseur. And the new classic, bittersweet demi-glace inspired by the film, Chocolat. Polish your ladle and get ready to plunge and pour ever so slowly over the roasted breast of chicken.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart brown stock
2 1/2 ounces salt pork or salt belly of pork
1/2 cup rough cut fennel
1/2 cup roughly diced carrots
1/2 cup roughly diced onions
1 sprig thyme
1 stem fresh sage leaves
2 small bay leaves
1/2 cup tomato puree
3 1/2 ounces red or white wine
60 gm bittersweet chocolate, grated

There is more than one way to do this, bien sur, but the most efficient method is to first get your mise en place in order. I.E. Chop your veggies and gather all remaining ingredients. Then and only then, melt the butter in a large, wide (2 qt.) saucepot over medium heat. Add the salt pork to the pan with the vegetables. Sauté till slightly brown, but not terribly. Pour off or skim off all but 2 t of fat. Save this flavored fat for another purpose if you so like. Add the flour to make a roux with the sautéed veggies, stirring well and frequently low heat until an even light brown color is obtained. The roux (and the vegetables of course!) should have an even light brown color and give off the scent of roasted nuts. Deglaze the pan with the wine, and stir up any browned bits. Add the thyme, sage, tomato paste, and stock, continuing to stir well as the sauce thickens. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to gently simmer for about an hour. At this point you can strain it, because the flavors of the vegetables and the salt pork have worked their magic. Or you can leave them in for a rustic and exquisite peasant sauce. The preparation known as demi-glace is an espagnole that is simmered and often enriched with port or in this case, bittersweet chocolate to a further stage of reduction.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

French Travel Tales!

I am so glad to see you. If you are here for the first time, Bienvenue! Or if you are a follower of Planting Cabbages you may already know how much I love Southwest France.

And here's the deal,  I want to share it with you.

This coming October, in the first week, I am planning to rent a most marvelous Moulin in Gascony.  And would love for a few folks to join me.

Are you okay with?
Driving. (its the only way to arrive)
Cooking. (of course you can eat out, but it would be a shame to waste this kitchen!)
Mapping Your Own Course. (this is not a guided tour, but I can suggest some outings.)

Perfect if you want to relax, and maybe write? create?

Write to me for more information!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Watch With Me: Adventures in Food Styling: Favorite Stylists

In Friday's  post, Adventures in Food Styling: Food Fantasies in Film, we visited and viewed photos of a number of Films well known for their Fabulous Food Scenes. I promised a list of my favorite stylists and links to their work. It is sure to amaze you!  

The first is this blog by Marilinda Hodgdon who shares secrets of being a Food Floozie and Stylist. She began as a Cook in Ocean City NJ and in Los Angeles discovered she had a natural eye for detail and gave up Home Renovation and crafting Insect Jewelry to learn Food Styling. 

Then comes food stylist Christine Greaves and her work with Juliette Binoche on Chocolat. Greaves is represented by the Hers Agency in London, which also represents other well-known food stylists.

For film buffs, the london website Film and Food offers a virtual salon on the topic. Turns out Food in Films has a history that dates back to 1901 and a little known film entitled The Big Swallow. You have to watch this to fully appreciate it! (Film and Food also offers information and discussions on food in literature, in music, and in art!) Here is this little amuse bouche from their site:
In London, Tim Fisher, writer and director of Silent Sound Films put together a panel of panelists: Sami Zubaida, reader in sociology at Birkbeck; Cathy Greenhalgh, writer, filmmaker, and senior lecturer in cinematography at LCP School of Media; Pat Mire, writer, producer and director of Dirty Rice; Debbie Brodie, food stylist on Felicia's Journey and Hotel Splendide; and Clare Ferguson, television commercial food stylist.
And there are many others. For example, the Huffington Post told us how Nora Ephron created a sole meniuère ephiphany for viewers, much like Julia's legendary reaction to her first dish in France. Food stylist Susan Spungun shares with readers adventures in creating dishes for Julie and Julia, as well as Eat, Pray, Love, and It's Complicated.

And a bit more locally, Altanta's hot chef, food stylist, and author of the classic Bon Appetit Ya'll and the soon to be released Basic to Brilliant Ya'll Virginia Willis also produces reality TV cooking shows. Read her now legendary comment on Julie and Julia.

So tell me, do you have a favorite go-to Food Movie? and Why?

(If you are just joining us in the Food-Styling Realm, be sure to look at these two previous posts.)
Adventures in Food-Styling: The Star Trek Episode

Ceres, Then and Now (A Tale of Two Manuscripts)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Watch With Me: Adventures in Food Styling: Food Fantasies in Film

Last Monday we began our orbit of the Food-Styling Galaxy with this post.

But for now we're asking what is the metaphysical role of food in film? How can it be used to convey, on the one hand, the subtle expressions of social class, and on the other, the most explosive of passions?

Such thoughts consumed me as I began researching the world of food styling for my newest fiction project. Other questions rapidly followed: What are the practical problems of cooking and presenting food for the camera? And how can the arrangement and the color of the food contribute to the story's atmosphere and emotional setting?

Contemporary films are a treasure trove of riches for the foodie and food-styling initiate. Here is just a small list of gourmand worlds created for the big screen that you want to believe in:

Funny Magical Feast Scene from Hook

Bonnie Belknap was one of the food stylists for Hook.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Breakfast Scene in the Half-Blood Prince and a review of the behind the scenes food foibles

Round Table Dining in Harry Potter

Harry Potter Market Scenes were sometimes shot on Stoney Street in London

Juliette Binoche in Chocolat

Roasted Pintade with Bittersweet Demi-Glace in Chocolat

While I don't have the skill set to excel in food styling, I admire those who do. On Monday I'll share a list of my favorite stylists and links to their work. It is sure to amaze you!

Until then, à bientôt

Food Scenes From Various Movies

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cook With Me: Et Voila!

This morning the temperature was in the upper sixties, and the sky spritzed a cool mist as if we might be in a grocery store. But we were in a giant field of lettuce near Efland, NC.

A Lettuce Gleaner in Efland, NC

At C’est si Bon! we grow lettuce. Or I thought we grew lettuce till I went to glean lettuce at McAdams Farm with the Society of St. Andrews. Everyone was stunned at the sheer volume of green and red, and speckled heads.

Three Heads Are Better Than One

There was lettuce as far as the eye could see and then some. Rebecca showed us how to cut the heads as Doris and I turned them upside down – the signal that they were ready to be picked up. It was so incredible to look up and see the sheer bounty of lettuce and the children carrying the heads towards the truck where Lindsay was packing them to return to the Inner Faith Food Shuttle.

Delight in Fields of Lettuce

I first became interested in gleaning while doing research for my novel, City of Ladies, as Eleone turns to gleaning turnip fields and apple orchards to survive her journey in 16th Century Gascony.

But lettuce is one of those vegetables that doesn’t get as much press as say, asparagus. It’s only lettuce for crying out loud. It’s for salad. But I think we should toss around some new and old thoughts regarding lettuce! And with a strawberry vinaigrette.

Here’s my old recipe made anew.

Char-Grilled Romaine with Strawberries and Tarragon
From the C’est si Bon kitchen

This salad calls to mind a spring morning gathering sweet berries and lettuces, and then placing them gently over one of the first outdoor grilling fires of the season – enjoy.

May Strawberries in North Carolina

Makes 4 servings
For the salad
2 cups arugula, washed and torn
1 large head romaine, halved lengthwise and drizzled with olive oil
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise

For the dressing
coarse sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves

Prepare the grill. Place the romaine, cut side down, over the grill for two to three minutes or until it looks a bit charred but is not on fire.
Make the dressing by squeezing and zest the lemon directly into a large, shallow bowl perfect for serving the salad. Add the arugula, tarragon, and strawberries and drizzle with the oil. Coarsely chop the grilled romaine. Add to dressing and toss to evenly coat the ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes to allow flavors to mellow.

Strawberries Ready For Salad and Nibbling

Monday, May 16, 2011

Watch With Me: Adventures in Food Styling: The Star Trek Episode

Here you can read my first post about Food Styling.

But for today, strap-on your Outer Limits Seat Belt as we continue our adventure in Food-Styling World. It's true, for a time the food stylist’s tweezers fit in my hand quite comfortably. And it all began with a week-long class in food styling up at my alma mater, CIA. The class was with the amazing Delores Custer, the original Mistress of prepping food for pictures. See this interview about the field.

Delores Custer interview

Things have come such a long way baby, since I scratched helpful hints on the hand-out sheets we were given! Now, behold the book she has written. Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food For the Camera

After that week, I was back in NC and staged with Janet Grennes, a local food stylist, who helped me tremendously. I really enjoyed working with her. The conflicts came up, but then I realized: ok, I can do this.

But do I want to?

Thankfully, before all wrenching analysis began, we did some crazy shoots:

  • a pasta infomercial assignment.
  • some shoots with a bunch of rednecks for house autry breading mix.
  • a “new” line of burgers with hardee’s.
  • a job over at ragazzi’s.
  • a commercial.
  • and some pics for North Carolina’s Taste Full Magazine (the spring 1995 issue contained Janet’s article on sunday brunch and mine on spring lamb).

On my own I worked as the producer and props stylist for the Tar Heel Chef’s show.
(I would tell you about Steve Dominick, chef/owner of the then New Orleans cookery in Chapel Hill who appeared on the show days before he left town--and left all his bills. But then that would be put an end to this sharing.)

After the Tar Heel Chef, then came a couple of honey baked ham shoots, followed by an off the wall assignment to do recipe cards from Neelix’s Kitchen on the Voyager Star Trek series for a Durham Trading Card Company.

Yes, you read that right.

How long did they look for someone willing to do this? And why did I jump at the chance to something so crazy? These were (are) not the deeply rooted classic french dishes I loved and loved to teach. But it certainly made me ponder what kind of food would be served in space. Would such a crew want comfort and memory? That brings up a whole range of notions, doesn’t it?

What kind of food would you want while orbiting the galaxy?

Here’s what I came up with:

Klingon Gahg
serves 4 generously (thank goodness, right?)

1 pound browned and drained country sausage
1 1/2 cups seasoned tomato or pasta sauce
1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes
1 cup jumbo japanese udon noodles, cooked 1 minute

Combine tomato sauce with diced tomatoes in medium saucepot over medium heat. When hot, remove from heat, add sausage and noodles.
Arrange carefully.

Takar Loggerhead Eggs with Asparagus Chili Sauce
The idea for the appearance of these eggs comes from a classic Chinese dish where you use the same technique of lightly cracking the eggs and steeping them in tea. This could have all kinds of lovely results if you vary the flavoring liquid. For the sake of the photo the flavor isn’t important – but instead they wanted something that would be wild and colorful.

serves 12 egg lovers

1 dozen hard boiled eggs in shell, gently rolled to crack slightly and colored in
6-8 liquid or paste food colors dissolved in water (now i would use natural coloring agents such as spinach, beets, tomato, and saffron or berries.)
1 bunch italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped coarsely
1 head boston lettuce, leaves separated
1/4 cup chopped hot banana peppers (yellow and red, if possible)

Asparagus sauce: Puree 1 cup cooked asparagus with 1 teaspoon garlic chili paste.

Peel 11 of the colored eggs and arrange on lettuce on individual plates or one large platter. Slice one egg in half crosswise to use as a container for sauce. Garnish with chopped pickled red and yellow peppers.

Laurelian Blue Pudding
this one was actually pretty and good
serves 6

1 cup pearl tapioca soaked for 30 minutes in 4 cups grape or raspberry juice in large pot
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Add blueberries, sugar, and spice to soaked tapioca pearls. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring well till thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm.

Proteinaceous Coffee Cocktail
makes 1 1/4 cup
This makes an outrageous breakfast “slurp” over waffles or pancakes. It makes a unique dessert sauce spooned over cake or ice cream.

1 cup brewed french roast coffee, cooled
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1 teaspoon each vanilla and chocolate syrup

Combine ingredients in a 2 cup microwaveable glass bowl or cup. Cook on high power for 2 minutes, stirring well at the 1 minute mark.

Spinach Shake with Pear

if you use all fresh ingredients, this would be a respectable raw smoothie, hmmmm?
serves 5

1 bunch fresh spinach, cooked 1 minute in boiling water
2 tablespoons frozen o.j. concentrate
1/4 cup pear juice
2 16 ounce cans drained pear halves, reserve juice

1 teaspoon almond extract

In a blender or food processor, puree the pear halves with almond extract. Pour in bottom of 5 wine glasses. Puree spinach with o.j. concentrate and drained pear juice. Spoon on top of pear puree for a two-tone effect.

Vulcan Plomeek Soup
as if you don't know by its name - the personality of plomeek soup, once made,
it begins to slowly disappear.
serves 4

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
small handful each dried oriental vegetable (radish leaves, sweet potato and taro stems, black fungus, and fernbrake)
2 pieces dried kelp
1/2 teaspoon each curry powder and tumeric
2 teaspoon sesame oil

Bring the stock to a boil in a large soup pot over high heat. Add the seasonings, sesame oil, dried vegetables, and kelp. Return to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Food styling still fascinates me: the lights, the cameras, the life. The fact it will take you places you never, ever considered before.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cook With Me: Days of Wine, Roses, and Sausages

It's Charcutepalooza Time again, mon ami! Perhaps it's the air around C'est si Bon! and the scent of all the blooming flowers that helped with such inspiration. Jasmine, honeysuckle, magnolia and roses of all hues! Its a heady season for sure and reminds me of the lavender fields of Haute Provence when they are blooming and full of bees.  

Grilled Sausages of Pork and Prosciutto

Pork and Prosciutto Sausage with Rose, Lavender and Plum

These not only sound beautiful, they taste fabulous! But I have to give credit where credit is due. To my son, Erick Snover of Sato Sushi in Edwards, Colorado for the recipe idea and to our our friends Ben and Noah of Fickle Creek Farm in Efland, NC for their lovely pork! And to the bees -- who are making flowers bloom even as we speak.

makes 8 patties

½ red bell pepper
6 cloves fresh garlic
1cup dried plum
2 pound pork shoulder, boned
1/4 pound prosciutto
1 tablespoon rose syrup
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon each salt, crushed fennel seed and lavender

3 cups rose wine for the chef and assistant, we like Gris de Gris from Corbieres

Here's what do:
In a medium bowl gently combine bell pepper, garlic, dried plums, pork and prosciutto, rose syrup, thyme, salt, fennel seed and lavender.

Process till coarsely ground in a food processor. Divide the mix into 8 portions and shape into patties of equal size.

They can be made ahead up to this point, placed on a dish, covered, and refrigerated for 24 hours. When you're ready to cook, heat the grill.

When fierce and hot, add the patties, and cook till the patties are perfect. This involves turning once or twice. Cook to 140 Farenheit internal temp.

Just Before Tossing, Salad of Roses

Salad of Roses tossed with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

one large handful per person – tender lettuces, petals of a dozen roses
1 cup of sugar snap peas, strings removed and sliced on the bias
10 tablespoons olive oil
8 tablespoons honey vinegar, we like the one from Busy Bee Apiaries
1 tsp or to taste, of rose syrup
sea salt to taste
fresh cracked pepper to taste

combine vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and toss with salad.

Our Friend, Jack Tapp's, Honey Vinegar

Friday, May 13, 2011

Write With Me: A Tale of Two Manuscripts

Recently, my manuscript of City of Ladies reached its final phrase. There is some last work to do, but it is finished after all these years. Now I look down the path of my second manuscript, A Hundred Years of Becasse. It is daunting to say the least.

                                             Half-timbered houses of Nerac, but in which century?

In shifting towards a new NIP (novel-in-progress), the connection between City of Ladies and A Hundred Years of Becasse is still France and the fictive village so close to my heart, Ceres. But A Hundred Years of Becasse is set in a different time in history.

The sense of time and place in this hypothetical 16th century village was one of City of Ladies' driving forces. Afterward I fretted: Would I ever find another compelling “place?” Of course my anxiety was more than that. I had to recoup. Gather up and search again. Review past works and try them on again. Sit with them. It has really taken me the better part of two months (and sailing through a project on the cuisine of the ABC Islands of the Dutch Caribbean for World Encyclopedia) to reset my writing brain.

                                      Seaside in Bonaire, Snorkeling Days and Goat Stew Nights

I am happy to report I have found an intriguing locale – different and changed. The village of Ceres vaulted ahead to contemporary times. It exists in the now, and the past has left behind secrets for us to discover. Now, don’t you fret either, this is quite a determined and different contemporary story and cast of characters.

Still, with this old/new companion story to the City of Ladies, anything is possible at this stage of the game.  Old names from City of Ladies may rise from the pages and take a new leaf, for instance. And while there has been some early writing, if I have learned anything, I learned it from my friends, Dawn and Kim -  whisperings: Outline and Arc.

Yes, Dawn--I won't be in a rush to write 500 pages, only to be whittled and pared.

Kim, you taught me that the structure is imperative.

If I may take some liberties with the definitions of these two "novel" considerations may I suggest that the outline of the novel is akin to pulling the veins from a luscious lobe of foie gras? And making decisions follow an arc that is like a French relative; a bit quirky but with a very basic purpose. The photograph of a beautiful dish entails many thoughts put into motion long before the camera is set up. Considered are such questions as:  How much light? Natural light? Artificial? And just how much sauce is needed?

                                                           Specialtie of La Belle Gasconne

One thing is certain--the story is that of a food stylist in France. So much has changed in the world since I started (then stopped) drafting this tale. For one, there was not the Web. There was la telephone. Whereas now, behold Google. But in mulling over and rereading this companion story, I have gone back in time when I didn't know my culinary personality. I was freshly graduated from the CIA and enthralled to discover a "new" culinary field: food styling. How little did I know!And now I find myself in memory mode, recalling my first adventures in this strange field. Come back on Monday to travel down memory lane with me. It will be fun!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cook With Me: The Kings and Queens of Caul

So, a crepinette is French in origin. Surprised? Don't be. The French are the reigning Roi et Reine (Kings and Queens) of charcuterie. A crepinette in actuality is nothing more than a flattened patty of ground and seasoned meats aka sausage, a parcel in other words. But what makes it a crepinette is that in French crepin means pigs caul.

Caul fat is the lacy belly fat that encases many ground meat specialties in France. And let me tell you, not having to cajole and stuff your luscious savory ground meat concoction into a casing is pretty exhilirating. Now the only task is to procure the moments to produce these extraordinary culinary morsels.

These crepinettes combine pork and shrimp and hark back to some of my very first visits to the Nerac market in Southwest France. With my family by my side, we sought out the Vietnamese vendors and the delicious chicken wings and legs stuffed with a very similar preparation.

Have you ever reproduced a recipe at home that you first enjoyed while traveling? I'd love to hear your story!

Vietnamese Restaurant in Nerac, circa 2006

Crepinettes with Pork and Shrimp

For filling
8 oz. ground pork
8 oz. shrimp, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced with salt
2 scallions, minced
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 small egg, lightly beaten

For wrapping
1 pound caul fat

For fish sauce or nuoc cham
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced carrot
1 teaspoon garlic chile paste, rooster brand
3 tablespoons white sugar
Juice of three limes
4 tablespoons of rice vinegar
4 tablespoons fish sauce

For garnish
1 bunch each fresh basil, cilantro and mint – cleaned and torn and mixed

Vietnamese Restaurant in Nerac, circa 2006

Make the sauce
In a medium bowl combine the garlic, chile paste, carrots, sugar, lime juice, vinegar, and fish sauce. Mix all together, adjust to taste with more sugar, lime, or vinegar. Chill till ready to serve.

Make the filling
In a bowl, mix the ingredients together to form the filling.

Wrap and roast

Cut 6 inch square sections from the caul fat and wrap 1/3 cup of sausage with it. roll up in a cylinder, sausage like shape and set on a sheet pan. when finished roast in 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until crispy and brown.

Serve the Crepinettes

Place the fresh basil, cilantro, and mint on a platter and arrange the crepinettes on top. Pass the Fish Sauce.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Write With Me: Cotton-Headed Ninny-Muggins, Am I

One of my favorite lines from the movie Elf got me started with this blog on the connection between bread, skulls and their symbolism.

Interesting connection, hmmm?

But what is it all about? What on earth do skulls and death and someone who 
thinks he is humorous, but lacks brain capacity; a doofus in plain talk, have to do with making bread? Not much--and everything at once. 

As far as being a CHNM is concerned, the Urban Dictionary and your own god-given common sense spells it out. When Buddy the Elf says he may as well be called what he is, a CHNM, haven't we all been there? He feels a bit inadequate as an Elf to do his job  - being a good Elf means making a certain quota of etcha-sketches, just like the other Elfs. But the thing is Buddy is not an Elf. He is on the crest of learning who he is. 

This is an incredibly important part of story-telling, and it hit me at the gut-most and with the ut-most of importance. I have felt like, identified, and connected with Buddy's inherently classic fish out of water identity. Have you ever felt like you didn't belong, fit in, and according to the general population, a doofus? 

Nah, me neither. :) 

As far as bread goes, I learned from Peter Reinhart that what I felt about bread, intuited, but as yet, had not articulated was also of a critical nature.   

"What makes bread so special is that it is a transformational food."

Ah! Watch this Ted Talks with Peter Reinhart for more of the good stuff about how bread brings us life.

And so its not such a big stretch to also bring death into the conversation (what again? please visit the name of this blog post discussion..) when you're talking about transformation and fitting in. 

At one time I was working with a plot thread of the discovery and secret kept by the skull of my protagonists murdered mother. Though typically considered a symbol of death at first, the skull also served as a symbol of the mother's divine powers as a healer, and even in death gave my heroine a new life because of the secret it carried. 

The Spanish Ambassadors was painted in the Spring of 1533

Hans Holbein's painting of the Spanish Ambassadors, hangs in the National Gallery, London. The skull is the strange oblong shape on the floor. The distorted form is called an anamorphosis. Seen from a certain angle, the shape is recognizable as a skull. The painting was made for a specific place; it was supposed to hang over a door. When you passed under it, you were forced to look at the painting from a sharp angle, and then the skull would appear as a memento mori; a reminder - usually of an artistic nature that in Latin means, "Remember your mortality."

As it turns out, I also learned a surprising fact about a town in the Provence hills The French village of Eze has a motto; "Moriendo Renascor" (meaning "In death I am Reborn") and the city emblem is a phoenix perched on a bone.

Sometimes, the connections are hidden in plain sight. Don't you just love it when that happens?

Tell me--has a memento mori ever been important to your creative soul?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Write With Me: The Two Mueses of the Morning

Do you work at home? What is your schedule?

Early morning is when both muses visit me, imploring me to look outside. Whatcha planning? A walk? Revising? Dinner? Lunch? Cleaning that pile of dishes? Organizing? Emailing? Planning those classes that are coming up this week? Anything? At all? They mutter, most judgementally.

I try to keep in mind that they are in my mind. :) That I am in charge of me.

Life can be full of so many choices. It can be overwhelming.

What works for you? What gets you through your day?

For me its little moments.

Like stepping outside to see what nature is up to today. Is the hawk back? Is that a bluebird? Filling the bird feeder. Picking chives from the garden. Finding wild onions behind the wood-fired oven. How are the shitake mushroom logs doing?

And a favorite way to reset my brain is by smelling flowers, whatever is blooming around C'est si Bon! Even in February we have winter honeysuckle and daphne odora.

In May we have fragrant red, yellow (our Julia Child rose was a gift from Aileen, and its my fave!) pink, and coral roses ready for sniffing.

And nibbling! Have you ever eaten a rose? Would you?

Roses (that have not been sprayed!) add a sweetness to a salad. Or divine added to this stove-top omelette. Which honestly only takes minutes to prepare. Honestly. That will reset your mouth and your brain.

Goat cheese, chevre in French, is such a delightful and perfect cheese; soft and creamy, a perfect foil for the salty crunch of nuts or a crust made with semolina. 

In and around Carrboro we have Celebrity Dairy and Prodigal Farm for locally made chevre of all kinds. Aged and fresh: from crottin to brie and blue.

But we still need a little moment to refresh oursleves for the afternoon, right? How about this omelette that combines sweet orange and almonds in a savory dish? This was quite common during the 16th Century, and I think it makes a great little dish, today. Yes! Right now.

What is your favorite chevre recipe?

Roses on a Paris Street
Omelette with Orange Marmalade and Almonds

For two:

1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1 teaspoon sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, sprinkle of ground cardamom and 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon half and half
1 tablespoon orange marmalade
1 tablespoon plain goat cheese

Garnish: a squeeze of fresh orange juice and a handful of fresh peach-colored rose petals, please be beyond sure that your roses are pesticide free!!

Mix the cinnamon, cardamom, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.

Set aside.

These dear lovely omelettes can be made in a wood-fired oven if you happen to have one going. But you can use a cast iron skillet or a 10 inch nonstick skillet.

Here’s how. Heat the butter over medium heat. When melted, add the almonds. Watch carefully, saute until light brown, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the bowl with the cinnamon sugar, mix well.

Return the skillet to medium high heat and when hot add the beaten eggs with the half and half.

I like to use a fork to push the cooked eggs to the center while the uncooked egg runs to the outside. This achieves a “rumpled carpet” appearance.

When light brown on one side, flip the omelette or turn with a spatula and lightly cook the other side. Spread the orange marmalade over the top surface and sprinkle on the parmesan or spread on the goat cheese. Slide onto a pretty serving plate, and sprinkle with the cinnamon almonds, squeeze on the orange juice and flutter the rose petals over the omelette. Share, using your fingers. Enjoy.
Small Tarts of White Cheese and Sunflower Honey
Oh my goodness, I hope you LOVE these tarts. I found them first in a market in Nice, France – and ever since then, I picture strolling the market when I make them; and bien sur, eat them!

Makes 6 (4 inch) tarts

2 cups ricotta, brousse (provencale sheep’s ricotta) or chevre
confectioner’s sugar to taste
1 tablespoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons orange liquer
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream, optional

Mix a little sugar with the cheese in a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, not in a machine. Mix in the vanilla and the orange liquer. Taste and decide whether it needs the cream. Refrigerate if not using immediately.

Crust (pasta frolla)
The semolina flour gives the crust a bit of lovely bite. So nice to nibble while you’re strolling in the market.

1 1/2 cups semolina flour
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits and well chilled
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup cold water

Place all dry ingredients; flours, sugar, and salt a wide bowl. Mix with a fork. Add the bits of butter and using your hands, rub between your thumbs and other fingers to distribute the butter. Look for the mixture to resemble meal. Dust off your hands and pick up the fork again. Add the yolks, all at once and gently stir with the fork. Drizzle the icey water over and around, just enough, till the dough forms larger clumps. Turn out on a floured surface and form a ball. Refrigerate 30 minutes as is or roll into your tart pan and then refrigerate.

To finish the tart:
Prebaked tart shells
Flavored cheese from above

½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup of sunflower honey (or your favorite)

Fill the tart shells with the flavored cheese, sprinkle with chopped walnuts, and drizzle with honey. With one in hand, close your eyes and stroll the market.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Write With me: Cooking Up a Little Thyme and Place

Tell me, how do you manage your space and "thyme?" I suspect you've had your struggles too.

When my youngest son, Jaryd, returns from school in Savannah, I feel a wonderful and proud kinship with him. As the second artist in our house with projects (he is a character technical director) and deadlines, his dedication and discipline is an inspiration.

Way back in 1995 before C’est Si Bon! began, I ate whole winters away, pondering, paragraphing and dreaming. I wrote wherever I was--there was no one set place, just any of the various rooms and decks, sun porches, and tables of dining and cooking. I always was moving; my ideas, my papers, my dreams. There was a shifting and resorting that went on constantly. My laptop went wherever I went: France, Italy, North Carolina, Virginia, New York, and Colorado. It was grand and I covered a lot of ground. I was easily distracted.

A little corner of the sky at C'est si Bon!

But since C'est Si Bon!'s business has grown, I knew something had to change. I wanted both my writing and my teaching of cooking to thrive. Enter: The quest to make thyme and place.

This challenge has been years in the making--but finally I've made measurable progress. I asked our oldest son, Erick, who is an executive chef in Colorado (a tres fantastique sushi artist if you will!) if I could take over his room for writing now that he lives far away. And he agreed! I quickly moved in all the apparatuses of a writer: books, photos, file boxes, and spiral notebooks. On the walls I hung my maps, and beside the desk I positioned my lamp with the St. Jacques shell.

Do you dream? (So do I!)

Enjoy wherever you are, and I invite you to share where that is!

And now back to work.

Acciughe, Roman Sauce of Anchovies, Parsley, Garlic, and Capers

This combination is so luxurious and perfect to serve over:

roasted asparagus
fresh little buttery heads of lettuce
grilled chicken, beef or shrimp
all of the above and a giant bowl

2 tins of anchovies
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cups olive oil
1 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
2 tsp capers, chopped

Place the anchovies, garlic, parsley and capers in a medium pot. Add the olive oil. Warm over low heat until anchovies melt. Serve at room temperature.
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