21 May 2018

Aujourd'hui, un pain de viande

Yesterday I mentioned that my whole series of experiments in baking sandwich bread started because I wanted nice toasted slices to have with the mousse de foie de lapin that I had made. Well, that was part of the story. The other part is that our village baker decided a few months ago to end door-to-door bread deliveries in the area.

When we first came here to live here 15 years ago, the bread lady — la porteuse de pain, in French — would drive by five days a week, honk the horn, and wait for us to come out and buy a loaf of bread, or a few croissants, or even some butter, cheese, or milk, which she also carried in the van. A few years later, a new baker arrived and cut the service to just four days a week. Then again another new baker took over the boulangerie, and he cut the service to three days. Now it's been done away with entirely, except for people with "mobility issues" — a disability, old age, or no car — who can order by phone in advance and receive deliveries.

One day, years ago, I asked the porteuse de pain at the time if our baker made and sold pain de mie. She said no. She got out of the van and went around to the back. She opened the doors and handed me a loaf of factory-made sandwich bread in a plastic bag. She said that was what people bought when they wanted pain de mie. I tried it, and I didn't think it was good at all. The slices were tiny, and the bread was dry and crumbly. I could get better loaf bread at the supermarket.

When our bread deliveries ended, I started looking around in local bakeries to see what new breads I could find — handed lemons, I was trying to make lemonade. There are half a dozen boulangeries withing five miles of our house. One day, back at the beginning of April, I made the rabbit-liver pâté. I happened to go to a good bakery in Saint-Aignan around that time and I noticed, in a glass display case, a beautiful, very long loaf of pain de mie. I made a mental note to go back there are buy one of those one day soon.

When I did go back and ask about that kind of bread, I learned that the owner-operator of that bakery made a loaf or two of pain de mie on Saturday mornings only. That's market day in the town. The clerk at the bakery said I would need to come in early on a Saturday morning if I wanted some, because it normally sold out almost immediately. She didn't mention ordering in advance, and I neglected to ask.

That week, I drove "the boulangerie circuit" and looked for pain de mie in different nearby boulangeries. Only one of the four establishments where I stopped actually had pain de mie available, but I didn't like the look of it. The slices were cut far too thin and they were huge — almost the size of dinner plates. That was over in Thésée, which is a fairly long drive for us. In our village, the clerk at the boulangerie confirmed that the baker still does not make pain de mie. Over in Noyers, the baker whose shop is fairly close to the Intermarché supermarket — where I go frequently — told me that pain de mie was available only if ordered in advance.

So there you go. It occurred to me that I had always wanted to have one of those metal loaf pans with a slide-on lid. The time had come. I ordered one from Amazon France, and it arrived a few days later. I started experimenting. Now I've made
the fourth in a series of loaves in it. I made it yesterday, using about five cups (600 grams) of all-purpose flour, 400 milliliters of warm water, two packets (11 grams) of yeast, a tablespoon of honey, a teaspoon of salt, and about two tablespoons of softened butter in the process. The dough rose nicely, doubling in volume on its first rise, and on its second rise in the pain de mie pan with the lid on it, it actually overflowed slightly. The result was the loaf you see in these photos.

Besides mousse de foie, we've enjoyed eating American-style "pimento cheese" on slices of pain de mie. I made the pimento cheese using aged Gouda and Edam cheeses, both Dutch-made and available at the supermarket. The cheese is grated, mixed with mayonnaise and/or softened cream cheese (fromage à tartiner), and garnished with diced roasted red bell peppers along with salt, pepper, and a little powdered cayenne pepper. Today I'm making a meatloaf (un pain de viande — remember, pain means "loaf") with beef, veal, and pork, and this week, we're bound to enjoy lunching on more than a few sandwiches made with leftover meatloaf.

20 May 2018

Mousse de foie de lapin

So there were those six big rabbit livers, and the 12 kidneys, attached to the râbles de lapin I had ordered from the poultry vendor at the market in Saint-Aignan. I already knew that both the liver and the kidneys were good to eat, because I've often cooked them with the meat of the rabbit in stews and braised dishes. Usually I buy a whole rabbit so I have just one liver and two kidneys — not enough to do anything elaborate with.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that lately I've been figuring out how to make good pain de mie (sandwich bread) because few local bakers have it on offer with any regularity. The reason for my sudden interest in sliced loaf bread was what I did with the rabbit's liver and kidneys. I made a kind of potted meat or pâté called a mousse with them, using a recipe that would normally be made with chicken livers.

I carefully cleaned and trimmed the huge rabbit livers to make sure there were no veins or green spots on them. The green would be bile, which tastes bitter. I also trimmed up the plump, round kidneys, removing some of the fat that surrounded them.

Then all I had to do was sauté the livers and kidneys lightly. I wanted them basically cooked but not over-done and dried out. I used duck fat as the cooking medium, because I thought the taste would be good. You can use butter instead. I first sautéed a chopped shallot or two, and I seasoned the pâté mixture with salt, pepper, thyme, lemon juice, and armagnac (cognac).

Then I put the lightly cooked livers and kidneys in a deep pitcher and I pureed the mixture with a stick blender. When the puree cooled down in the refrigerator, it thickened into a smooth, flavorful, and spreadable paste. I put it in small glass or plastic containers at that point, and I covered each portion of "chopped liver" with a shallow layer of melted duck fat. When the fat hardened, it would keep the pâté fresh. I froze some containers of the mousse for later.

Cold mousse de foie de volaillefoies de lapins in this case — is delicious spread on slices of breads like toasted pain de mie, pain de campagne, or the flax seed loaf I found at one local bakery. Cornichons (pickled gherkins) and a glass of good wine are fine accompaniments. Mousse de foie de lapin is a kind of poor man's foie gras... Here's a link to a Jacques Pépin recipe for chicken liver pâté.

19 May 2018

Du lapin au petit déj...

...mais pas pour moi. Bertie the black cat had rabbit for breakfast this morning. He seems to find rabbit particularly delicious. Tasha the sheltie pup tried to nose in and get some of Bertie's food, but I chased her away. I really like rabbit too — but mine doesn't come out of a foil cat food packet. It's sold fresh in French supermarkets or open-air markets and is considered to be a member of the poultry family. Out here in the country, some people raise them for food in outdoor cages.

Walt and I have cooked rabbit (du lapin in French) for lunch or dinner at Easter every year since 1984. We were living in a flat on Capitol Hill in Washington DC back then. Easter rolled around, and we talked about what we would have as a special meal. Thoughts of the Easter Bunny made rabbit jump (get it?) into my mind. We hadn't been back to France in about two years at that point, and I missed having rabbit as a regular choice on restaurant menus, the way you do in Paris and all of France.

I don't know where I found a rabbit in DC, but I did. Maybe it was at Eastern Market, a market hall located close to where we lived. I'm talking about farm-raised, domestic rabbit, not the wild beast. I probably cooked it « en gibelotte », which is a stew made with a cut-up rabbit, some onions, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, bacon lardons, and white wine. As I've said, that was the first of some 35 Easter rabbits we've enjoyed feasting on over the years, prepared in many different ways. One classic is rabbit in a Dijon mustard sauce.
This year, instead of a whole rabbit, I decided to buy just the choicest cut in all rabbitdom, the "saddle" or râble. I ordered six pieces, not knowing how much each would weigh, and figuring we could put extras in the freezer for later. The râble is the piece that runs from the shoulder to the back legs (which are the second-best pieces to eat), and includes the two plump strips of white meat that run along each side of the animal's spine. It also includes two thin "wings" of meat that are the abdominal muscles, as you can see in the photos above. You might decide to cut those off and dice them up to add to the stew.

The râble also comes with the rabbit's liver and kidneys, and all those morsels are very good to eat too. They can be cooked in a stew or braise with the rest of the rabbit pieces, or they can be made into a separate dish. And using those flaps of abdominal muscle folded and pinned around it, one option is to fill the râble with stuffing and roast it. The liver and kidneys can go into the stuffing, along with sausage meat, onions, herbs, and bread crumbs. But that's not what I did...

18 May 2018

Spilosoma lubricipeda or Diaphora mendica ?

Those are the names of two lepidopterans — moths in this case. One of them sat for a few hours on the glass of our sliding deck doors earlier this month. I took photos.

If it's Spilosoma lubricipeda, it's commonly known as l'écaille de la menthe in French. Spilosoma evidently means "body with spots." Lubricipeda means "slippery feet" and describes the feet of the fast-crawling caterpillar, not the adult moth. This one was doing a pretty good job of clinging onto a slick plate of glass.

From what I've read, Spilosoma lubricipeda caterpillars can also feed on ortie (stinging nettle) leaves and the leaves of several other plants, including dandelions and broom. Another name I found for the moth is l'écaille tigrée — but don't tigers have stripes?

And then again, it might be a female Diaphora mendica, called l'écaille mendiante in French. The male of this species is brown, while the female is white.

I don't pretend to be an expert, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I just take pictures. You can look the two moths up on Wikipedia in English or in French.

17 May 2018

Fleurs d'acacia

They say you can eat the flowers commonly called fleurs d'acacia, which grow on trees all around the edges of the vineyard. The trees are covered in white blossoms right now. They certainly are fragrant.

I've never tried making the beignets with acacia flowers that people at least talk about making here. Our neighbor across the street used to make them, she says, but she and her husband are not often here in the spring these days. That's when the trees are in bloom.

There's a Julie Andrieu video here showing how the beignets are prepared. I wish she'd come to Saint-Aignan and make some so I could try them. The dictionary gives "fritter" as the translation of the French term beignet. The flower bunches are dipped in what is basically a crepe batter and then deep-fried. There's a recipe on this blog.

The acacia flowers grow on trees that were brought to France 400 years ago from the eastern part of North America — the Appalachians and the U.S. Midwest. They resembled a native tree called l'acacia and that name was applied to the imported plant.

So it's actually a false acacia. I knew these as locust or black locust trees when I lived in Illinois back in the 1970s. Nobody knows what the locust tree's native range was originally, because it has been so widely planted and naturalized all over North America and on other continents, including Europe. Sometimes I wonder what our European ancestors did for food before their "discovery" of America brought them tomatoes, potatoes, squashes, peppers, and all.