Thursday, December 29, 2011

Le fromage

When I think of cheese the word just does jive or come close to what it means here (in France). It not only is part of the food culture but a huge part of a way of life and for those who are true "connaisseurs" it is almost a cult when it comes to eat it, pairing it with which wine or just taking sides for one's preferred fromage  or being a self declared expert on it.In order to do it justice in this short post I will address it as "fromage" as it is called here. We've all heard about strong fromage, stinky fromage and worse when we mention one of my favorite foods of all time: fromage ! I have been here for a few weeks and had a great fromage based time (don't go there, this is a G rated post !) with my sister buying her own fromage and me buying what I really like and miss when I'm in Texas. I ate fromage every day for every meal for almost four weeks. It might be time to go next week but no regrets even for my waist line. I did mention earlier that my sister leaves her fromage at room temperature and rightfully so. The French people who have visited me in Texas over the years have all been horrified of the way we handle the fromage over here. For the fromages eaten in France full flavored does not even qualify it. We are talking about soft and semi soft fromages. The flavor is just a medley of sensory things: piquant, creamy, aged, unique character, strong flavor, tingly, nutty,just to name a few. I do not eat butter with fromage but the bread here is the perfect partner and that is enough, no apples nuts or other things needed. Do not even think of mentioning baked brie !We've all heard it before, bread, cheese and wine is a great combination but I don't know if most everyone can appreciate the greatness of that combination until they have traveled to Western Europe. France offers hundreds of different kinds of fromages and for those of you who do not eat cheese, wait until you visit there and you just might change your mind I know you probably will.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Time to refill,

That would be wine refill. My sister lives in a small town who has a  wine cooperative producing the regional wines that I have become fond of. The small producers of grapes sell their fruit there and the cooperative makes the wines which are distributed all over (at least what is left over after we the locals got our cellars filled for the year) . For red wines they use Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Tannat ( the one that has the most beneficial antioxidants, resveratrol anyone ?) and for white wines it is mostly sweet wines of the late harvest variety made with Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Arrufiac or Petit Corbu. The local producers have the latitude to blend different amount of each variety as long each variety is present in the wine. This is just great as it gives us the opportunity to discover wines which match our personal tastes closely and stick with any producer we like, it is all about supporting the little guy.
Right before lunch we stopped by to refill on the local Rosé which we like and drink everyday. I got to taste different wines and this set up reminded me of the way we do business in Texas, friendly and willing to help. No Chateau Lafitte here which by the way is very expensive, even here. Fortunately there are many many very affordable wines of great quality to please everyone. Looks like my cellar in a couple of years will be looking just fine and I can't wait ! Only a Frenchman would have his cellar ready before the house is ready to move in . Yep, that would be me !

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chef's lunch for Chefs

Ok some of you will probably gag but we French eat most everything and today I got to eat one of my favorites .  I visited an old friend ( from the 70') and being a Chef too he prepared a lunch that few people (mostly Chefs) would like. My friend Arnaud is a retired Chef and simply living the right way when it comes to food. He only uses fresh ingredients and cooks the local way with traditional methods and techniques. I really like that and would like to go back to it when I do return to live here the majority of the time.
For the aperitif we drank a glass of chilled Jurançon which is the local sweet wine and no fancy hors d'oeuvres here, just a few peanuts, after all we would not fill up on snack food now would we ? This was the best wine in its category "Passerillé en Novembre" meaning the late harvest with the December harvest being the best but also the most expensive since there is much less of it.

We started with the traditional pate made of pork liver and pork jowl with time tested seasonings, crusty bread (yeah we are in France and when we say crusty, it is just that) and cornichons. Then it was time for the local version of cured ham "jambon Bearnais" with good butter, yummmmmmmmmmm ! this is just  a great combo of flavor, tradition and culture all in one. Then for another much different bit came the "bulots"which are some version of sea snails, very fresh and cooked in the shell served with scratch mayonnaise.
 I am not too fond of anything slithering but being a good guest, I did try it. A bit chewy but flavorful and very fresh. So far it would have been enough for me but we do not want to upset the host now do we ?

Next came the "gras doubles" which in America are called tripes, yes you read it right, that would be the insides of a cow or veal. These are slowly braised for about 12 hours with tomatoes,onions,carrots,white wine and basic aromatics . Just served with boiled potatoes and that crusty bread,it is what I would call French comfort food for a dreary and cold day.I love it,I love I love it. Then came the local cheese made with sheep's milk and the "greuil" which is the local version of fresh cheese made after the first batch of curd has been removed. For wine, a bottle of good Beaujolais nouveau which matched everything then back to the Jurançon with the traditional King's Cake for dessert.

It was all about our own corner of the world. We really did not care what was happening anywhere else. The French have a way to elevate the simplest thing in everyday's life to precious moments and forever memories. I know, I know what you all are thinking but once you are here you'll change your mind.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cooking for joy,eating for pleasure

I did some cooking tonight for some of my sister's friends and my new friends since they are just great and we all get along just fine. Wait, are we talking about French people here ? yes we are, in case you do not know times have have changed and new generations  are showing signs of maturity and applied knowledge. Wait again, I am French and I do notice the difference, what happened ? Well the world has changed and we all have our own challenges wherever we live. Duuuuuuuuuuuuh. I just had a great evening and I did all the cooking, now it is not a big deal since I have been doing it all my life but it is a big deal for the people around me as they think it takes as much or more time that it would take them ! No pictures taken, so I will just give you the menu: Terrine of foie gras with Artisan bread (and I mean cooked that afternoon too) a rack of really fresh pork stuffed with dry plums, Porcini mushrooms as a veg and tiny potatoes cooked in foie gras fat. Forget about this salad stuff this was for pleasure and no guilt feelings. Then, some French cheeses and I do mean the traditional stuff , Camembert, Pont L'Eveque and Munster. My sister does not believe in putting her cheese in the fridge and I agree, since they eat cheese every day it is not a problem but for you guys it might not ring right, trust me the flavors are incredible and sooooooooooooooooo genuine. Dessert was a simple (for me anyway) chocolate mousse with a dab of fresh caramel sauce and raspberries. For the wine I had some Petit Manseng with the foie gras which I got from a small farm right out of the barrel and it was the perfect marriage for the foie gras. The rest of the meal was enjoyed with a middle of the road Bordeaux ( now I know I am home, really). The conversation was great and the end was just before midnight. No mess, no fuss, is there any other way ? If this is any indication of what life in Coarraze will be when I move back (I know some of you are not buying it) I am already excited and believe more and more that it will be the right move for me. Stay tuned, I'll be back .

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Getting it while the going is good,

Absolutely gorgeous weather today, blue sky, warm with a light breeze. Wait it is december ! I'll take it so do not beam me up. I love the size of the French supermarkets : huge with most everything you might need. My ultimate one stop shopping. I am cooking dinner tomorrow and this is just perfect. I walk around the aisles of this cavernous place lamenting about the markets in the US. Just no comparison and all the food is fresh and of great quality. After the shopping we go to the store cafeteria for lunch and this is not Luby's or Highland Park Cafeteria, everyday French food well prepared and presented. I see this young woman sitting at the next table with a hamburger and could not help but starring at her: she was eating the burger with a fork and knife from beginning to end. I am thinking that it is time for her to visit the good old US . I inquired later and was told that the French do not like to get their hands messy at the table. I already told you , I have to come back here to show them how it is done.( I am working on it, the coming back part). This afternoon, more family visit and this time is spent with my cousins Pierrette and Roger. They are retired just great and always glad to see me. Pierrette disappears for a while and comes back with a platter of freshly made delicious crepes. Now when was the last time you had a crepe and loved it ? Can't remember, means it has been too long. The best part was that she made them from scratch, not a big deal in this house as Pierrette is a great cook, as for Roger he is the wine guy and pops a bottle of Monbazillac,( it five o'clock somewhere) now I know I am back home and almost feels that I never left. I love these moments  of simple pleasures and short trips on memory lane.
Time is flying by and I have been here almost a week. I am looking forward to visiting a "marche du gras" in Pau on Saturday and check the foie gras and fat ducks business. No museum for me on this trip ! More later.