Sunday, October 26, 2008

La Cocotte...and other recent discoveries

(The town of Sanxay. Photo taken on one Jeff's bike rides, Just to get you into the old timey mood)

A while ago, when we were furniture shopping at Troc Depot , we took a casual pass through the kitchen section, looking for a tea kettle to go with our Bodum french press (which we brought with us from the US--our priorities are evident here). Well, we didn't find a tea kettle because the area was mostly full of old glasses, plates, and flatware. However, one large, enameled pot hiding among some trinkets caught our eye. The enamaling reminded one of a sunset, with red fading into orange. The color was strikingly similar to our own Le Creuset cast iron skillet, currently in storage in Illinois, and we decided it merited closer inspection. Just picking up this heavy beast was enough to tell us it was a promising find. The telltale name "Le Creuset" molded into the bottom told us we had found another key weapon for our kitchen arsenal. A true pot for the ages...and for only 10 euro($13--according to today's exchange rate!).

(Oxtail with chorizo)

Once we had our wonderful cast iron enameled "cocotte" (casserole dish) in hand, we had more freedom at the farmers market. First to go into our fabled dish was the oxtail pictured in the last blog post. Oxtail is so full of cartilage it has to braise for a few hours (in this case in tomato sauce) before the meat will easily come off the bone. A cast iron pot is perfect for this task, it helps evenly distribute the heat in the oven and the tight fitting lid keeps the liquid from boiling away.

Though we'd made a steal of a pot which normally retails at around $150, we did not yet have our fairytale ending (but this, dear reader, has of course been the resounding theme of all our adventures!). So, the first time our pot went in the oven, we realized the handle of the lid wasn't prepared for oven temperatures (when it started to melt and smoke!); and in trying to remove the lid in order to unscrew the now-deformed handle, we discovered another flaw of our used cookware: the lid was slightly stuck to the pot because of years of caked on "fonde" (the brown sticky bi-product of cooking meat) between the rim of the pot and the lid. Apparently, "le fonde"--given enough time--turns into Nature's own adhesive.

Undaunted, the melting handle problem quickly made it onto what we refer to as "The List" --a running list of things we'd like to accomplish (for reference, we put "finding a new handle for the cocotte" above "meeting the remaining requirements for our residence permits"). Accomplishing something on The List is often a multi-stage project requiring at least two people working in tandem, and this was no exception. Replacing the handle with something ovenproof required a hardware store. Hmmmm...where to find a hardware store? First to the internet cafe to look in "Les pages jaunes". Wait...what's the word for "hardware" in French? Okay, more internet. (Okay FINE, now we realize how much we rely on the internet). So we found a hardware store, and now have a fabulous, fully functional, and still very heavy pot.

(Farmer's Market frittata with vegetables and aged goat cheese)

In one other update, we have found the only known source of painfully hot peppers in Poitiers, and possibly all of France. We neglected to mention that we bought some "hot" salsa a few weeks ago that was basically mislabeled, very bland spaghetti sauce. Luckily, we found some peppers at a tiny grocer advertising asian and african specialty foods. The peppers look much like habeñeros, but taste much, much hotter. Like eating a handful of habeñeros while being electrocuted and grabbed at by the Thing Under The Bed.

Rebecca's students have the next week off from school, so she'll have a little breather before classes start up again. The tentative plan is to take a quick trip to Berlin (hands down one of our favorite European cities) for Halloween. Another possibility is going to Paris for the bike film festival. Speaking of bikes, Rebecca has a bike now! It should be ready by Tuesday--so now we'll be able to go on cycle-outings together...she is beyond excitement.

This post is in loving memory of Lee Baughman, who we will remember as a lively and charming soul, who made every day count. She provided Jeff's first experiences with the kind of large-gathering home cooking to which he will always aspire, and she has forever linked the notions of food and family--particularly the delicious pies shared among Jeff's wonderful extended family, who he remembers devouring steaming, homemade rhubarb, apple, cherry, pumpkin, blackberry, and blueberry pies at innumerable gatherings in rural northwestern Illinois. Jeff would also like to add that it was Grandma Baughman who taught him how delicious rhubarb could be.

1 comment:

Jim B said...

Thanks for the wonderful prose and the memories of Grandma Baughman - the simple life but deep.