Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How to cook when you only work 35 hours per week...

Back in Illinois we have a cookbook of traditional French recipes (purchased long before we knew about our trip). It includes classics like coq au vin, bouillabaisse, cassoulet, and roulade of wild pheasant. Before coming here, we had only tried a very small number of the recipes. Most were very time consuming and/or required seemingly exotic ingredients.

The longer we spend in France, the less difficult these recipes seem and the less exotic the ingredients become. Making a terrine that takes three days, c'est normale! Making your own chicken stock, pourquoi pas? Finding duck fat, goose fat, chicken necks, rabbit, and horse are as easy as walking down the street.

Perhaps this newfound sense of time has something to do with Jefe not working at all, and Rebecca working a little less than she did in the U.S. Perhaps, the inexhaustable supply of excellent restaurants here have raised our standards a little for our own cooking.

There are a few things we now keep around that take home-cooking to the next level. Duck fat: available at all grocery stores and many specialty stores in France. Chicken stock: you might be shocked to find that it isn't for sale in grocery stores, but after you make this easy, delicious roast chicken recipe (adjust for gluten allergy as necessary), you can simmer the carcass and some vegetables and herbs in a pot for an hour or two, strain and store in jars in your fridge or freeze in an ice cube tray. Brown butter: butter that has been cooked until it turns a golden brown and develops a caramel, nutty flavor. Infused olive oils: herbs, or garlic boiled in olive oil and strained, and refridgerated.

homemade chicken stock
homemade chicken stock

The visit of Jefe's brother and the ensuing restaurant testing in Poitiers and Paris lead to a few of these discoveries along with another new favorite: terrine. The word terrine can refer to either the cookware (like a loaf pan with a tight lid) or a chilled, compressed meatloaf that you would make in the aforementioned cookware. We tried a couple restaurants that offered their own take on this dish as an appetizer. It is made with various ground meats (uncured bacon, pork liver, and chicken liver are usually included) herbs and usually port or brandy. Often very aromatic, it is delicious with a side of cornichons and mustard.

In preparation for Jefe's parents, we made Country Terrine, using ground, uncured bacon from our favorite pork butcher Yves Henaud. The three-day prep was worth it. It smelled so nice and was a perfect addition to our regular mid-afternoon snack of cheese, artichokes, roasted beets, bread, and cornichons.

Country Terrine
we made a few changes to the recipe with our terrine,
including the use of local Calvados instead of regular brandy

And since the only canned beans available here are white beans, we've been buying bags of black beans (thanks to the exotic grocery store) and soaking them overnight in preparation for tacos. Tacos for which we make the tortillas by hand out of masa (thanks to Jefe's parents who brought a bag of masa from the U.S.) since real corn tortillas are unavailable here. The homemade tortillas are definitely worth the extra effort, they are fresher, fluffier, and taste delightful.

Jefe's dad demonstrating proper tortilla technique
You can hear the filmographer--Jefe's mom--asking the tough questions


Jim B said...

Wonderful video! And the open face tacos were wonderful.

I-Mom and Dad

Trevor said...


Michael said...

wow, jefe's dad sounds just like him!! crazy, well hope all is well in France! just chillin in Urbana, this town misses you guys! Take care and Live Life!