04 January 2014

Haute homemade (not!)

Oh dear. Michael and I were feeling quite pleased with ourselves for having actually chopped, stirred, grilled,and roasted over the holidays. Then I read this Guardian piece by Genevieve Fox on the "tyranny of haute homemade" — http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/dec/14/whats-happened-to-home-cooking-from-scratch. No sherry vinegar pearls on our table, much less smoked butter with a Saturn-ring surround of the same jelly. Three and a half hours of our lives saved!

For a far more modest spread, here are some of the best recipes Michael found for Christmas Eve, plus a photo of our Picard main course for Christmas Day. I'll write up New Year's in a separate post. I did the baking — florentines with candied cranberries and orange peel, pecan lace cookies, lemon cheese tarts — but otherwise was pretty much just the sous chef for my enterprising husband

The main source of inspiration this year was Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells, an American expat who divides her time between Paris and Provence. In addition to having been an International Herald Tribune restaurant critic for more than twenty-five years, she was for a while also the only American food writer on the L'Express staff.

As usual on the 24th, we started with lightly sautéed foie gras. Since the selection of exotic fruit at Carrefour was minimal, I made a simple compote of dried figs poached in red wine with a few spices, which also went well with the traditional fig loaf the supermarket did stock as well as the surprisingly uninteresting sliced squares that dominate the bakery section.

Our holiday luxury was excellent lobster tails from Picard, grilled and served with a simple crème fraîche and tomato sauce. The side dishes, both destined to be long-term family favorites, came from Bistro Cooking. They're easy to make and delicious.

Le Procope's Pasta with Lemon, Ham, and Black Olives, pages 68-69 (thanks to Malvasia Bianca for putting this shortened form of the recipe online). We used Iberico ham instead of prosciutto and could only find dried thyme.

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
8 oz prosciutto
1/2 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted
2 tsp freshly snipped thyme
grated zest of 2 lemons
black pepper to taste
1 pound thin pasta (capellini, angel hair, etc.)
Mix lemon juice, salt, olive oil in a small bowl. Combine everything else. (Except for the pasta, of course!) Cook the pasta, mix everything together.

Layered Vegetable Gratin, pages 83-84 [gratin simply in the sense that the vegetables are cooked in a shallow, oven-proof dish; you don't need to be this precise — we made it again with leftover aubergine, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes, no weighing, again excellent]

2 small onions, each weighing about 4 ounces (125 g)
2 small eggplants, each weighing about 10 ounces (300 g)
4 small zucchini, each weighing about 4 ounces (125 g)
5 small tomatoes, each weighing about 3 ox (90 g)
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 teaspoons fresh thyme [again, we had to use dried]
1/4 cup (6 cl) extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
2. Wash the vegetables, and peel the onion. Cut vegetables into thin rounds.
3. Generously rub the bottom of a shallow 5-cup (1.25l) gratin dish with the garlic. Sprinkle with some of the thyme. Add the sliced onion in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt to taste and more of the thyme. Drizzle on some of the olive oil. Continue layering in this manner with the eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes, sprinkling each layer with salt, thyme, and oil. Cover securely with aluminum foil. Bake until the vegetables are very soft and tender, about 1 hour. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings.

On Christmas Day, we were far less ambitious. France's extraordinary frozen food chain, Picard, provided canette farcie (duckling with a stuffing of cèpes, flavored with Armagnac), rosaces de pomme de terre (rounds of crispy scalloped potatoes), creamed leeks, and creamed spinach. The only bit of cooking I did was traditional cranberry sauce and a very interesting variant on red currant sauce I found online. We'll be having this again, too:

Red currant sauce
300 g red currants
150 g brown sugar
3 tablespoons malt vinegar [I used red wine vinegar]
1. Combine ingredients in medium saucepan.
2. Start cooking over medium temperature and lower after a while to maintain a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.
3. Cook for around 20 mins. [I used fresh currants but frozen would also work.]

During all this eating, we were enjoying fabulous weather. No snow, no floods, unlike many of our friends in the US and UK. Here's a view of Canigou from our patio, presiding over the holiday landscape:

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