My Montanha & My Soup

I arrived Monday afternoon in Bourg d’Oueil after a long but pleasant trip. My Pyrenean home is closer to Spain than to Paris and I am not kidding: it takes 15 minutes by car to reach the Spanish border and about 8 hours to reach Paris!  My travels began Sunday at 1:30 p.m. from our Brooklyn home and I finally reached Bourg d’Oueil on Monday at 3:30 p.m. local time or 9 a.m. Brooklyn time. After taking two planes, two buses, and two car rides I reached our little house in the village at the far end of the Valley. As my intention was to cook a soup on a live fire, the priority was to light the fire.

I had planned to get some veggies in town before my last climb up to the mountains. I arrived too late to get to the market, so my only option was the local supermarket. The offerings where pretty sad and I couldn’t come to terms with buying any of these mass produced veggies. I placed a call to my good friends Joseph & Paulette asking them if they had anything left in their Bourg d’Oueil garden. They had already winterized the garden but had plenty of veggies in their Luchon garden. Not to worry, said Paulette, Joseph will bring me leeks, celery, potatoes, chards, carrots & onions later on. Great! I can always count on them. I did hit the cheese counter and was pleased to be able to get a couple of local cheeses.


The most delightful part of the trip is the 17 kms climb from Luchon to Bourg d’Oueil. Despite the weather forecast there was neither rain nor snow but a slightly overcast sky that let me have a partial view of my mountains. Driving through the villages triggers images: In Benqué Dessus et Benqué Dessous,  it is Jules’ face, the Fournier’s house, and the cromlecs above them. Before Saint Paul d’Oueil,  the sign for Saccourvielle brings up my friend Emingo, who makes the best goat cheese I ever had, and Mme Labry, a writer who was my French teacher in high school. In Mayrègne,  I look at the old “kiosque” where I use to go eat crêpes in the summer as a child; I also think of the recently deceased mayor who was key on having me perform the Bi-Contimental Chowder/ La Garbure Continentale in the Valley.  Then comes Caubous, Cirès, and at this point I can’t think of anything else than trying to get a glimpse of the Peirahitta (my totem!)  that sits at the pass of Pierefite. And finally I reach Bourg d’Oueil the very last village at the end of the valley. I park the car and start schlepping my stuff to the house. It is almost impossible to reach the house by car, the street is so narrow,  evidence if need be that this place was not build for car traffic!



After a quick tour of the house, I lit the fire — we are at 1400m or 4600 feet  here, so the air is nippy on this November afternoon. Once the fire was going strong I started opening my stuff, got my art supplies out, opened a bottle of wine, got the cheese out and waited for Joseph et Paulette who brought the veggies at around 5:30 p.m. — they had added a jar of duck fat and one of honey, all home produced. While the soup was cooking I worked at a drawing that includes some attempts at writing in Gascon.
And then, accompanied by the sound of the stream running under the house, the crackle of the fire and the occasional ringing of the church bell, I savored my soup. The flavors are indescribable. They call on all my senses and the experience is totally gastoorgasmic!

So here is my soup:
2 generous spoons of duck fat
1 onion
2 small leeks
3 carrots
1 branch of celery
3 leafs of chard
Salt & fresh ground pepper
Grated brebis cheese

Sauté all the vegetables in order in the duck fat then add water and let cook until done. The soup is even better the next day, and of course feel free to add other veggies like beans, turnips, cabbage….

Now can you smell? Just try:

Scream for Mint Ice Cream!

Yes! Scream for my Mint Ice Cream, and there’s not even cream in it.! Not because I am concerned about cutting the calories down, no, but simply because for years I thought this was the way ice cream was always made. When I grew up at the family Hotel Poste & Golf in Luchon, I really enjoyed hanging out in the kitchen but especially when Crème Glacée was au menu. Yummy! I would always get the first taste and get to leak the giant paddle. I loved vanilla flavor the best, though coffee, chocolate, caramel where not bad either.
In French the generic term for ice cream is glace, so for a long time, and because of the recipe I am about to share with you, I didn’t know there was cream in ice cream and to me the cream
referred to was the one I watched the cook make on the stove. Well, I have found out about all the other ice creams, gelati, sorbets… but this is still my favorite recipe, so here it is:

The process starts by making a crème anglaise or custard which is what gives the rich, velvety texture with a clean refreshing finish. The recipe I used is based on an Escoffier recipe I have adapted.

Ingredients:

1 quart of whole milk (organic pasture is best)
7 egg yolks
1 cup of sugar
a dash of vanilla
1 fresh bunch of mint

Recipe:

Boil the milk.
In a bowl stir energetically the egg yolks and sugar with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes almost white and  the texture can form  a “ribbon” when lifted.

Poor the milk in the mixture slowly and mix thoroughly.
Poor the mixture back into a clean pan over low/medium heat.
Stir constantly making an “8 shape” in the pan with a wooden spoon.  Never bring it to a boil, your cream will curdle and will be ruined* . Your cream is ready when thick enough to coat the spoon.


Once the cream is cooked, add the clean fresh mint and let infuse until the mixture cools down completely. Strain and reserve in the fridge overnight.  The next day your cream will have thickened more and you are now ready to churn it. I use a Cuisinart ICE-30BC Pure Indulgence 2-Quart Automatic Frozen Yogurt, Sorbet, and Ice Cream Maker, a great present from my son Joseph & his wife. It takes less than 25 minutes to churn it. Once your cream is frozen reserve in a container — or a mold— and save it in freezer until you are ready to serve it.

And by the way, this cream can be used for other desserts like Ile flottante, or served with fresh fruits & pound cake. It can also be flavored with saffron, coffee, caramel….be creative.

I didn’t get a chance to take a picture but I served this one with strawberries  topped with melted chocolate and garnished with roasted almonds. C’est bon!

*though if that happens, try pouring the cream in a bottle, close tightly and shake vigorously.


March, march, march…

MARCH—collage/drawing from N.P.  Calendar Series

Yeap! We are in March and I saw some crocuses “piercing” the ground on 71st street yesterday. It cheered me up. The general mood has been down with all the international and national events, catastrophes, health care mess… Even my hometown, Luchon, was seriously affected by a storm coming from the Southwest with winds at 200km/h. It killed one man, pulled out thousands of ancient trees, lifting roofs, and closing bars for one day! No one remembers seeing or hearing about such an event in a place that is so naturally sheltered from the wind. Who says there is no global warming? The same idiots who feel threatened by universal health care? The same idiots who worship a god that knows neither nature nor health. We need D.A Bennett  The Truth Seeker all over again, I just read that book and it is amazing how the problem of religion in politics has remained the same for two century ago and is far from being solved.

Anyhow, life must go on and I have been busy. The “d’Artagnan 25th Anniversary Art Show” at The World Bar is still on. Works by French painter Michel Calvet and 3 large collage/paintings of mine are on display.  The World Bar serves delicious cocktails and their $8 happy hour special is totally worth it. I had a “peace cocktail” concocted by the excellent (1/2 french) mixologist Jonathan, all fresh juices and premium liquors — a real treat! We will have another event there soon as the opening was affected by the storm. So don’t feel bad if you couldn’t make it; D’Artagan has agreed to provide us with more patés and saucisson for another event, so stay tune!

Below you will find my detailed calendar of events for March, four events still coming up, it is all exciting especially the Umami festival one, which is leading me into fascinating research about yeast and beer in Mesopotamian time. As a result of all this action the fridge as been consistently empty and home made Miso soup (see recipe here)and rice has become a staple.

Breakfast Rice

I cook two cups of brown rice twice a week and eat it in different forms. The breakfast version is becoming a house favorite and even Pierre who is not a brown rice aficionado really likes this one:

-Warm up some rice milk in a bottom of sauce pan. Add 1/2 cup of cooked rice per person, one small apple cut into small pieces, 1/2 banana, raisins, cranberries, goji berries, maple syrup. Just warm it up. Before serving add chopped roasted almonds, pistachios, walnuts. That’s a tasty healthy breakfast!

Chicken

When we finally made it to the coop a few days ago we got the making for a chicken soup. I had been craving it since Dawn Clements (now showing an amazing piece at the Whitney Biennial click here) served me the most delicious one at her studio in early February.  That recipe is also very easy:  throw it all in the pot and let it happen while the smell of the broth takes over the house. This is what I threw in the pot of cold water:
-1 organic chicken (with feet!)
-3 celery ribs
-3 carrots peeled and cut
-2 “fanned” leeks
-1 onion with 3 cloves planted in it
– 1 spice/herb bag with: fresh parsley, thyme, laurel leave, 1 cardamon pod, 6 blk pepper corn.
– Sea salt.
Then you can either delicately lift some of the meat and eat it separately or debone  the whole thing and return it in the pot. You will have to add some salt and pepper to taste and you can of course add some pasta or rice or potatoes. I just had a bowl and this is ever so restauring and satisfying.

Now the schedule and if I don’t see you there, please stay in touch!

Sunday March 7th
Sunday Best Reading Series
4PM $7
The Lounge, Hudson View Gardens
Pinehurst Avenue and 183rd Street
183rd & Pinehurst Avenue
New York City

Friday March 12th
UMAMI Festival
Featuring Sarah Klein, Murray’s Cheese, Tom Cat Bakery, Ithaca Beer Company
& NP w/ Rosie Hertlein ( violin)
6:30PM
click here for
reservations
Astor Center for Food and Wine
399 Lafayette (at 4th Street)

Sunday March 21
NP & Pierre Joris, Nick Flynn, Major Jackson, Douglas Unger
6PM
Poets for Peace at Erika’s
85-101 N. 3rd St # 508
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(between wythe and berry
and it is the bedford stop on the L train)

Monday March 29th
NP w/ Pierre Joris & Michael Bisio (bass)
THE LOCAL 269

269 E Houston Street NYC

Ongoing until Agust 2010
D’Artagnan 25th Anniversary Art Show
Michel Calvet / Nicole Peyrafitte / Jean-Pierre Rives
The World Bar /The Trump Tower
845 United Nation Plaza
New York NY 10017



Lo Magret goes to Paris!

André Daguin, chef/owner of the Hôtel de France in Auch (Gers) until 1997, tells how he gave a new life to the tasty magret de canard — and made it famous in the process:

magret

“The magret was served only as “confit” in soups, cassoulets and everyone would find it dry. The only way to avoid that was to cook it less, but no one dared. I had arguments with my customers; they couldn’t believe it was duck meat! Bob Daley, the New York Times journalist, reported on the discovery of this ‘new’ meat.”

In Occitan-Gascon the word magret —from the latin magre, literally means “lean”. It is definitely the leanest piece of the canard gras — that is the fattened moulard duck raised for foie gras. To make moulard ducks fat, force-feeding is required for a few weeks.

A bas relief depiction of overfeeding geese

This ancient technique seems to be referenced as far back as the 5th century BC. The Moulard duck is a hybrid cross of Pekin and Muscovy duck. Do not confuse Moulard with the very lean wild Mallard duck.

magret

The magret is the breast that is detached from the carcass once the liver had carefully being extracted. In the canard gras nothing goes to waste. The skin is rendered for fat; the fat is then used to simmer the legs and manchons (wings). Once cooked this meat is known as le confit. Le confit is then stored in earthenware pots, covered with fat to seal it, and used throughout the winter in various preparations. The hearts (look here), livers, gizzards are pan fried with garlic and parsley, the carcasses (called “demoiselles” —or the misses) & tongues are grilled in the fireplace for snacks.

Speaking of carcasses: in 1990, while  doing an internship at the Daguin’s restaurant I witnessed a “concours de demoiselles” organized by the Château St. Mont in Plaimont (Gers). The goal of the “carcass eating/cleaning contest” is to eat as many demoiselles as possible in the least amount of time while leaving the bones clean as a whistle. The winner then stepped on a Roman scale and the opposite pan was filled with cases of Château St. Mont wine until it balanced!

carte tour Eiffel

Another anecdote related to magret took place at the top floor restaurant of the Eiffel Tower in December of 1967. Jean & Renée Peyrafitte, my parents, & André & Jo Daguin, Ariane’s parents, were handed over the restaurant for La Quinzaine Midi-Pyrénées à la Tour Eiffel —two weeks of French Southwest fare in the skies of Paris — kind of the birth/ recognition of Cuisine du Terroir. I didn’t get to go, but I was 8 years old and I still remember all the excitement. The opening event was a banquet for the food writers and VIP’s. One of the most exciting items on the menu was the newly ‘dressed’ magret de canard. The magrets had been shipped from the Gers to arrive just on time, but on the morning of the event they had not yet arrived. The magrets were replaced with lamb and as in the Vatel story —though unlike Vatel my dad & André Daguin kept their calm and didn’t need to end their lifes over the problem— the magrets arrived during the luncheon. André Daguin, who like his daughter is never short of a creative idea when it comes to p.r., announced to the press that the magrets had just arrived; he showed them what they looked like, explained how to prepare them and one their way out all the diners were handed a magret wrapped in foil.  They got many write-ups, lot of word of mouth publicity and the restaurant was packed for the two full weeks!

Today you can purchase magret through the d’Artagnan website. Some specialty store have duck breast but most of the time there are Muscovy Duck breast, which are good but smaller.  One of my favorite recipe that I used to make often at the family restaurant is Magret with walnut and honey glaze. I made it the other night and yum! it is tasty.

Recipe for Magret aux Noix et au Miel:

magret sauteed

2 Moulard magrets can serve 4
1 Shallot finely chopped
½ cup of Armagnac or Brandy
1 cup of stock or 2 tablespoon of demi-glace
2 teaspoons of honey
2 Tbsp shelled walnuts
1 tbsp of unsalted butter

Score the skin of the duck magret. Do not cut into the meat, only the skin.
Salt and pepper both side.
Place in a warm skillet on the skin side — no need to add  fat, the skin will render plenty.
Cook for about 8 minutes or so on the skin side —if you like it pink. More for well done.
Flip it over on the meat side for about 4 minutes.
Remove from the pan keep the magret between two plates to avoid loss of heat.
Drain the fat from the pan except for about 1 tablespoon—keep fat to sauté potatoes.
Sauté ½ cup of shallots until translucent.
Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of Armagnac and flambé —I alway turn off the fan when I do it.
Add 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 cup of broth or better, some demi-glace.
Let reduce, then add 2 Tbsp shelled walnuts —do not let the walnuts sit too long in the pan as they will give a bitter taste to your sauce.
Cut you magret in slices horizontally, pour all the juice in the sauce pan.
At the last minute finish your sauce with a dollop of soft butter, salt & pepper to taste.
Serve with your favorite starch.
Thanks again and again to Renée Peyrafitte for saving & scanning the original documents.
Merci à André Daguin de répondre à mes questions.
And taben mercès pla ta l’amic Marc per l’ajude dab los mots en Gascon!
Adishatz!



Barked Memories

cia
August 21st 2009 / Lunch Time
Culinary Institute of America
The American Bounty Room

I am back in the Mid-Hudson Valley to accompany Miles for the last three days of the Muttnik shoot. I cannot resist returning to the C.I.A. This time I’ll have lunch at one of the “big” restaurants, preferably at the “Escoffier” or the “Villa de Medici.” No, I didn’t make a reservation and therefore I will not be “accommodated” in either of these rooms. Now my choices are: the “American Bounty Room” or return to the “Apple Pie Bakery Café.” No hesitation, I am on my way to the “American Bounty room.” I am ushered to a table for two facing the open kitchen. The setting before me is removed; I sit on the banquette across the “Julia Child Rotisserie Kitchen.” Two rows of antique rolling pins frame the sign. Below it, two impeccable pastry students are busy setting up dessert plates. The reverent & courteous student/waiter brings me the menu and offers cocktails. A quick look confirms that I will have the Dr. Frank Rkatsitelli, Vinifera 2006 from the Finger Lakes. I have read the online wine and lunch menu; it is easy for me to scan through and to decide on:

Sautéed Halibut ($16)
Sweet Manila Clams, Soffrito Rice, white Wine Broth
(sorry no pix, remember? not allowed inside the school)

And then starts an annoying conversation with two of my selves (I’m a Gemini):
Moi 1: “I am really overindulging by coming twice for lunch at the CIA in the same week.”
Moi 2: “But, I am here for a reason.”
Moi 1:“Oh! Yeah and what is the reason?”
Moi 2:“ Well, I’m gonna write about it on my blog!”
Moi 1: “Again?”

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy writing the blog, but sometimes it feels like self-inflicted homework. English is not my first language and I am not a born writer. Why do I do it then? In different ways, whether I draw, sing or write, I find myself doing the same thing: I dwell on a particular situation and seek its “essence.” Using the blog gives a very convenient format, as it allows for all my interest to converge. But today feels like having a “still day.” I put my pen down, close my notebook and sip my wine.

Yum! the wine is crisp, clean & light. It reminds me some of the wines from Luxembourg. Rkatsitelli is an ancient grape from Georgia (Old world not USA!). I had it once before and liked it.  Dr. Konstantin Frank wines are always interesting.

What is that human barking coming out of the kitchen? Every time one of the kitchen doors opens — there is one on each side of the kitchen window, one to get in & one to get out — we can hear the “aboyeur” (literal translation: the barker) dispatching orders. In this case an “aboyeuse” as it is a female announcing the orders to the appropriate station of the kitchen.  This is a strategic position in a brigade system kitchen. Wow! I am having a flashback, and next thing I know I pick up pen and notebook:

I am a little girl in the corridor of the “office” of the family hotel. The “office” was the upstairs kitchen where some dessert and cold foods were prepared and most of all where the manual dumb waiter delivered the food from the downstairs kitchen. The orders were shouted into a speaker-phone. Then one copy of the order slip was sent down, the first carbon copy pinned on to the board next to “le passe” —that’s how we called the dumb waiter— , the third carbon copy was kept by the waiter to add any supplements and then sent out to the cashier to make the bill.

Hotel Poste & GolfI was born in this hotel, in my parents’ bedroom just above the action and almost in the midst of it. It was June 18, 1960 at noon; the restaurant was running at full capacity. There was a banquet for a 100 top, the annual banquet luncheon for the Master Accountant Guild of the Southwest France region. The interesting fact is that my maternal grandfather, Maurice Gallot, was the president of the guild! My father didn’t get to see me until after the banquet was under control. My mother and I were in good hands between the midwife and her uncle who was a surgeon. My mother still remembers that my maternal grandfather bought champagne for the entire party! As far as the memory of the birth itself is concerned, she would always say: “C’est le mal joli,  quand c’est fini on rit!” “It’s the pretty pain — once it’s over one laughs!.” She is always very positive! In case you are curious to know what was served the day of my birth, here it is taken from my grandfather  agenda/menu book. The left side of the page  is the regular Menu du Jour and the right side is the menu for the banquet.

Menu June 18th 1960

Page left:
Lunch:
Hors d’Oeuvres (I have a post on this here) & Cantaloup
Trout Meunière
Entrecôte & Pommes Frites
(always served with Beurre Maître d’Hôtel)
Wild Stawberries & Fresh Cream

Dinner:
Soup du Jour
Braised duck with Garniture Printanière (diced spring veggies)
Asparagus (most likely served with hollandaise sauce)
Peaches

Page right:
The Banquet Menu
Consommé en tasse — cold consommé served in porcelain cup.
Langouste à la Parisienne — rock lobster in a sort of aspic glazed or a.k.a chaudfroid
Grilled chicken à l’Américaine — chicken crapaudine that is first grilled, then covered in a mustard sauce, then breaded and finished in the oven.
Salade Rachel — according the Escoffier cookbook: Equal parts of truffle shavings, rooster kidneys, celery ribs cut into thick julienne, asparagus tips. Light liaison with a thin mayonnaise.
Coupe Poste & Golf It could be anything my grandfather felt like making! probably some sort of home made ice cream with liquor a fruits topped Chantilly and served with a cookie)

Café/Armagnac/ Liquors
Vin Nature de Champagne Abelé Sourire de Reims

I would like to make that menu for one of my birthdays! maybe for the big 50!
By the way I thank you very much for your comments about the blog on Facebook, but I would really appreciate if you would comment directly on the blog. Merci!

Wild Wild Roast

Leg of Izard

“No, I’m not coming to eat endangered animal meat,” says Miles. He is talking about the leg of izard, a.k.a:  Rupicapra pyrenaica or Pyrenean chamois I cooked on a string before an open fire a few days before our departure from Bourg d’Oueil.
Too bad & more for us! It is a very special occasion as Pierre, my husband, waited patiently for close to twenty years to taste this exquisite & very hard to hunt Pyrenean wild goat. And no, it is not an endangered animal (Miles overstated his case), though it is indeed a protected species.

My close friend Joseph Garcès had heard from my dad that Pierre never tasted izard, so he brought us a leg that was hunted as ethically as possible by his nephew Jean-Claude. In the Pyrenees getting izard meat as a present is a significant gauge of friendship and esteem, all the more so if you are offered the gigot (the leg), as it is the best cut.  It is short notice, but I am inviting Joseph and his partner Paulette to eat with us.
The leg is frozen as it was killed during the short and very regulated Izard hunting season last year. Once a year a team of garde chasse —government paid national hunting wardens— goes out to count the animals and apportion how many it will be safe to kill in a particular district. If the lot of apportioned animals is killed before the end of the hunting season, then the hunt is shut down for that year.

isards

Izard hunting is not just a walk in the woods. It takes serious hiking and the chase can last a few days. The beautiful, elegant and fast wild goats rarely hang out below 6000 feet, except in the winter when there is snow and they come under the tree line to find food in the forest. Their weight averages about 60 lbs for a height of about 3 feet. They love to be on steep rock debris covered slopes, and often “perch” on top of a dramatic mountain peak. It is impressive to see them climb straight up these abrupt terrains with a fast and sure hoof. The izard is the totem animal of the Pyrenees.

Izard by Nicole Peyrafitte

There are good reasons why izards are protected. The more disconcerting problem is the outbreak of the strange “Border Disease Virus” (BDV), a worldwide virus usually affecting only domesticated animals, that was detected around 2001 in the izard population. The pestivirus  Border disease virus, is closely related to Bovine virus diarrhea and Classical swine fever virus, not to be mistaken with the swine flu. At this point it is difficult to get accurate public information, but the general sense is that after the epidemic peaked around 2005, the situation has improved. It is still unknown why some areas of the Pyrenees are more affected than others.  My area is one of the less affected ones. There is always a few braconnier –poachers—, who hunt off-season, preferably in the winter when the animals are more vulnerable and easier to track. They use forbidden sniper rifles with silencers. If they get caught they can serve jail time & pay high fines. Another problem talked about is that the deer, introduced into the Pyrenees only in the 1970’s, deplete the resources the izards survive on, especially in winter. I will refrain from discussing the polemic subject of animal introduction or reintroduction in that region; this is a very heated topic especially when it comes to the bear issue.

This being said, it’s been more than 10 years that I ate a leg of izard. My brother Pierre, a barbeque expert, had roasted it inside his fireplace hanging on a string, and that’s the way I’m going to do it too:

Two days ahead I take the leg out of the freezer. The night before dinner I immerse it in a marinade of red wine, onions, garlic, herbs, pepper and a touch of honey —the one Joseph collects from his bees. I also install the nail inside the top frame of the hearth of the fireplace. I wanted to have about 3 hours before Joseph and Paulette were to arrive, but I got delayed visiting my dad and doing errands in town. I have only a couple of hours.  The priority is to start a roaring fire and get the leg going, I have no idea how long it will take. Remember, I have never done this on my own, though I draw heavily on my vivid recollections of that day I sat with my brother and watched the leg roast while we sipped wine by the fire and gave the leg a little push once a while. I must admit that I am a bit nervous although I am trying to underplay Pierre’s anxiety. Yes! I started a little late, but I will play with the adjustable length of the string and will prop the leg as needed to make the cooking as efficient as possible. I know how to do that! I make the spaetzle with fatback and dried cèpes —I had hoped for fresh ones but none were found while we were there, the terrain was too dry. The guests arrive. Pierre says “it’s gonna take for ever!” I ignore the comment and rush them into having apéritifs. Everybody is more relaxed after the first whisky! I sensed that Paulette was also a little suspicious of my undertaking. The leg is definitely roasting well and there is plenty of food to nibble on while we wait. We serve some sardine tartines and the delicious pâté de chevreuil —venison pâté—Paulette made, followed by fresh goat cheese & tomato toasts.
It is intense: one side of my brain is totally engaged in the conversation that reveals some aspects of my family history Joseph & Paulette know a lot about, and the other side is directly connected to the leg in the fire! I occasionally sit down for a sip of wine and a bite of pâté, but I am mostly standing next to the fire moving the leg around, brushing it with olive oil & garlic until it finally looks done. At which point we all gather around the fire, I poke the leg with a long knife and the verdict is unanimous, there is no blood running when I pull the knife out, which means the meat is cooked! Joseph masterfully carves the burgundy colored red meat, showing off his 20 years of Maître d’H experience —14 of which were spent working at my family hotel. We all eat a lot of meat. It is tender, moist, it melts in the mouth and it is not as gamy as
I remember it.
I love the rare slices close to the bone. The red burgundy wine Joseph brought complements it beautifully (sorry I forgot to write down the info).

carving

We are sated but …what about a little slice of Poubeau cheese? O yeah! Just a tiny piece to finish the wine! And we can’t possibly ignore Paulette’s scrumptious and light fondant au chocolat.  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, now let’s wash it all down with a 25 year old Armagnac to make sure we digest well!
Merci Joseph, Paulette et Jean-Claude!

Joseph & Paulette

The party is over!

DSCN4114


The party is over in the Pyrenees, we will return home tomorrow. I will post a few more things about my trip, but with much regrets it will be from New York State. Miles and I have to return early as Miles is being called to finish Muttnik.
Today we had our last concert in Peyragudes and I will post a few pix and videos later. We had a blast and after the concert  as we had a drink at our favorite watering hole, “le Faisant Doré,” one of my brother’s friend paid me the funniest comment ever: “How come you speak English wich such a perfect accent and French with such a  thick one!”. Yeah! go figure!

Anyhow, 2 days ago Pierre decided to go back to Bourg d’Oueil early after a day in Luchon to be able to stop for dinner at the Sapin Fleuri. We had a marvelous meal full of remiscences for me. This is what we had:

Potage de Légumes (both of us)
vegetable soup

Truite Meunière (Pierre)
Pan fried trout
Ramequin (Nicole)

Faux Filet (Pierre)
Truite Meunière (Nicole)

Tarte aux Fruits
Fruit Tart

Our wine was a simple clean & chilled Saumur Champigny (Cabernet Franc). This was a lovely way to say good by to Bourg d’Oueil. The Ramequin where definitely a wink to my grandfather’s version called “Le Ramequin Poste et Golf” ( a light a divine crust less quiche, remind me to give you the recipe. It will make a great low-cal brunch item). My father always said : Jeannot Toucouère (father and co-owner of the Sapin Fleuri) was one of the best cook they had at my family restaurant. The hotel-restaurant is now run by Jeannot (father) Olivier (son) & Sylvie (Olivier’s wife) and I even saw Adrien (their 3 year old son) helping out super efficiently in the kitchen! They are all very dear to me and eating there is always an emotional moment. I will have a last glass of wine and then close down the suitcase for tomorow early call. Can’ wait to be back!





I Say Poubeau Cheeese!

Poubeau Cheese

While in the Pyrenees, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte (my younger son) and I have two gigs at the mountain resort of Peyragudes. Our first one was last Thursday and the next one is this coming  Thursday (08/13/09). Peyragudes is located at the top of the Peyresourde pass (If you follow the Tour de France bike race you might have seen this breathtaking valley on TV, the pass has been part of the race since 1910).
When we drove up for tech rehearsal Miles noticed a road sign pointing to “Poubeau”. He asked me if this village was related to the Poubeau cheese. “Yes Miles! and if we have time we should stop on our way down” I replied. Thanks to my brother Jean-Louis’ efficiency our session was smooth and short and we could stop in Poubeau on the way down.

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It was rush hour at the farm, the cows had been milked and many customers where lined up for fresh milk and cheese. Jean-Pierre Lavigne, the cheese maker with whom I was good friends when we were young, recognized me immediately and greeted me very warmly. We waited patiently for our turn while being entertained by the banter between Jean-Pierre and the customers. When our turn came we were brought to the cave to taste and pick our cheese. Jean-Pierre apologized for the lack of older cheese: “I got burglarized this winter and lost a lot of cheeses, so there is no way I can give you anything too aged, but this one should be good”. We got one wheel of cheese and 1½ liter of fresh milk. I promised Jean-Pierre that I would return before my departure to take more pictures and chat a little. On the way down Miles started drinking the milk out of the bottle and then asked:
“Is there another place where they make Poubeau cheese?”
“No, why do you ask?”
“You guys talk so much about this cheese that it is hard to believe it all comes from here!”
Miles grew up with the Poubeau cheese mythology. One year my mother managed to fool the US customs and sent an entire wheel through the mail for Christmas – that was before September 11th 2001. Another year our friend Eric Paul, then in charge of the dairy section at the Albany Food Coop, was determined to import Poubeau cheese.  A cheese distributor assured him he could get him some. Twice Eric called to urge me to come to the coop; the shipment had arrived and I should be the first tasting the Poubeau cheese. Sadly I had twice to tell him that it was not Poubeau cheese but a generic pasteurized Pyrenean cheese that was not remotely close to the Poubeau.

Jean Pierre Lavigne


I told the story to Jean-Pierre and he confirmed that there is no way his cheese could travel overseas via a distributor. As a matter of fact, he is not allowed to sell his cheese beyond a 80 kms radius. He went on to explain that his operation functions with a special dispensation. His mode of fabrication doesn’t comply with all the super cumbersome European Union norms. He sells about 1700 cheeses a year, mostly at the farm. He has 2 retailers in the town of Luchon and a couple of restaurants in the area.
Jean-Pierre minds a herd of 14 Brown cows and makes cheese every other day, he has one helper coming a few hours a day and hopes to be able to take one day a week off, once Gabriel –the new helper- is trained.

In winter, when the cows are stabled for most of the day, he supplements his income working at the Peyragudes ski resort. He works has a ski patrol/rescuer and loves the change of pace and action on the slopes. When Pierre and I went back to take pictures and talk to him I should have asked more practical question on how to make the cheese but we started reminiscing about the past and Jean-Pierre’s loved sharing his salsa dancing passion. One of thing we discussed though was that due to the lack of land available in the area, he had to buy land 70 kms away to be able to make enough hay to feed the cows in winter. The land that could be available for farming is slowly being taken over by the more lucrative business of tourism and second homes.  In order to buy the land mentioned above he went to see his banker to get a loan. The banker was being very demanding in terms of guarantees. Jean-Pierre appropriately pointed out to him that if he would walk right into a car dealer’s lot he would get instant credit to buy a 30 000 euro car (same amount of the loan he needed to purchase the land). How come he could get a car in one afternoon and not get land to feed his cows? It is not an easy life to be a farmer anywhere, but it sounds like the European system is applying a lot of the agri-biz policies the U.S is trying to recover from. One hope though is that José Bové was recently elected at the European parliament and is working on agricultural issues.
We returned to the valley with another cheese and left Jean-Pierre with his beautiful children who had been serving us the most beautiful pretend-food throughout our stay. If you want to taste Poubeau cheese you will have to visit the area, however Pierre and I  tried to describe it:
A fresh and clean cow milk taste, with a complex nutty undertone. The texture is supple and subtle. The rind is not too thick and I always eat it —I like tasting the mold of the aging layers.

Chabro or Drunken Broth

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Faire chabro is an ancient custom that is still very much in practice in the Southwest of France. It consists in adding about 1/3 of a glass of red wine to your soup plate once you have eaten two thirds of your broth. The proportions are very subjective to your taste, however you need to know that it would be totally unappropriate to pour your full glass of wine into the full plate of soup! Chabro needs, and is best with, a pungent broth. It is divine with the broth of a pot roast, a poule au pot, a strong consommé or a garburo. It is very important to drink it the way it is demonstrated by my older son Joseph (above) and my husband Pierre Joris, (below) — that is, to sip directly from the plate.
Frederic Mistral gives a Latin origin to the expression faire chabro. It would come from  cabroù (goat in provencal) derived from the Latin capreolus and would mean: to drink like a goat. In our family we always observe this tradition but only when the broth is  worth it and no matter where we are.

This specific occasion occurred at the excellent traditional hotel-restaurant La Rencluse is Saint-Mamet, where their broth (and food in general) is always outstanding. Jean-Marc and Françoise Chaléon are long time friends and very dedicated hoteliers-restaurateurs. Jean-Marc’s father, Pierrot Chaléon, had also apprenticed with my grandfather Joseph Peyrafitte. To this day there is still some reminiscing tastes of my grandfather’s recipes. I usually make several visit to their restaurant and mostly eat the menu du jour. It is a great deal and always good. Joseph and Yoori had some of the à la carte dishes. Yoori loved her escargots and Joseph the smoked salmon oeuf cocotte. Enjoy the pix and if you come to visit la Rencluse tell them Nicole sent you! I urge you to try to faire chabro if you haven’t already. Ah! & one more thing: it is very important to add one, or two, twists of fresh ground pepper before sipping it.



Pyrenean Fast Food!

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The other evening we fell into an aperitif trapère! We stopped at our favorite local bar-restaurant “Le Faisant Doré” to meet my brother Jean-Louis to have an apéritif (before dinner drink) before making our way back up to the montains with our good friends Peter Cockelberg and his wife Delphine Grave for dinner. The one drink turned out to be a round per person. Jean-Louis was already sitting there with his 2 good buddies, that made a total of 7!  Thanks god I was drinking small ballons de rosé & managed to skip a few. It is always one of my great pleasure to hang out with my bro, he is the funniest and the most entertaining guy. Not really a politically correctest dude, but I adore him and put up with his most salacious & sarcastic comments!

Anyhow we safely returned to the mountains and managed to cook dinner in a flash. Again, no time to wait for the fire to make enough embers to slowly cook the beautiful slab of veal from chez Jammes. I pulled out my frying pan and cooked it all on the open fire.

Tranche de Veau Sauce à l’Ail et au Basilic
Pan fried veal with basil & garlic cream sauce
Tomates Provençales
Pan fried tomatoes with persillade

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Render enough fatback (see previous blog) to lightly coat the pan and cook the meat medium. Reserve and keep covered in a hollow dish.

In the same pan render a little more fatback add the tomatoes cut in half or quartered, depending on their size. Add the persillade when the tomatoes are almost done, sauté a few minutes and reserve.

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Still in the same pan, add some brandy and flambé. Add the juices that have rendered in the meat dish. Add one cup of heavy cream, the garlic and let boil on the fire. Once the cream starts thickening add the freshly (at the last minute or it will darken) chopped basil. Boil a few more seconds, add salt, pepper and some ground piment d’Espelette (see last blog). Pour the sauce over the meat and voilà! Eat and lick your plate!

Veal Tomates