30 June 2013

Cheesy Quick-Bread Loaf

From pommes boulangère to pain du boulanger. Well, not really. Even when you live in the land of really good bread, sometimes you feel like making your own loaf or rolls. In this case, I happened upon an American recipe that tempted me. I'm not sure what I was looking up when I found it.

It's a quick bread, which means it's leavened with baking powder instead of yeast. You don't have to wait for it to rise. And it's a cheese bread, which means you put grated cheese in the dough before you bake it. I think it appealed to me because I have good memories of eating what we call cheese biscuits for breakfast so many mornings when I was growing up. My mother made them.

If you don't know what the word "biscuit" means in American English, look here. Or here. Biscuits are bread — the indigenous bread of the U.S. South.

Anyway, this bread is made with a dough that resembles American biscuit dough, except that it has an egg in it. I was skeptical when I read the recipe, but it turned out great. It's a dough that just barely gets mixed together, and it's certainly not kneaded. Because it doesn't spend a lot of time rising — which would let the gluten in the flour relax — before you put it in the oven, you really can't work the dough much at all.

Here's my version of the recipe I found. The yogurt was my idea, replacing part of the milk in the original recipe. I recommend this bread as a snack or a slice toasted for breakfast, even though it's not at all sweet. I didn't think I would be able to slice such a bread with a knife, but it was in fact perfect that way. It didn't fall apart.

Cheesy Quick-Bread Loaf

3 cups flour (380 g)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper
a pinch or grind of black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
4 oz. cheddar cheese (125 g), grated or in small cubes
1 cup plain yogurt (2 yogurts or 235 ml)
½ cup milk
½ cup sour cream
3 Tbsp. olive oil or melted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
Heat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Oil or butter a loaf pan.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, peppers, and thyme. Stir in the cheese so that it's coated in flour — that will help prevent the cheese from sinking to the bottom of the loaf.

In another bowl, whisk together all the liquid ingredients, including the egg.

Fold the wet mixture into the flour and cheese mixture and stir until just barely combined. Do not over-mix or the bread will be tough. Spread the mixture into the loaf pan.

Bake for 45-50 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes and then remove from pan. Allow to cool for one hour before slicing and serving.
I made the bread with olive oil, not butter. And I put in grated cantal cheese with some grated parmesan. Swiss or cheddar would be good. The peppers and the thyme are of course optional, and you could substitute other herbs or spices. We just had two more days of gray, slightly drizzly weather, so this bread was a comfort. This morning, however, Walt got up and told me there was a strange orange ball glowing in the eastern sky...

29 June 2013

Pommes de terre à la boulangère : la recette

I have a feeling that people in many countries find potatoes more appetizing than greens (including chard, collards, kale, and spinach). That's not surprising, and polls show that the potato is the most popular vegetable in France too. It's not for nothing that we call them "French fries."

Yesterday I posted a photo and brief description of the dish of "baker's wife potatoes" that I made a few days ago. Here's the recipe, translated from the French recipe I use. It's what's called a gratin in French, or a kind of scalloped potatoes in English — "to scallop" means to cut a vegetable or meat (veal scallopini, for example) into thin slices.

Pommes de terre à la boulangère

2 to 2½ lbs. baking potatoes
2 medium onions (about 10 oz. by weight)
2 to 3 Tbsp. butter for the onions
1 to 1½ Tbsp. butter for the baking dish
3 cups broth (chicken or other)
salt and pepper to taste
a teaspoon or sprig of thyme
Put the broth on to heat up. Slice the onions and cook them on low heat in butter for 20 minutes.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices.

Butter a baking dish and arrange the potato slices and cooked onions in it in several layers. Season each layer with salt, pepper, and thyme. Pour on enough of the broth to not quite cover the potatoes.

Put the dish in the oven at 350ºF (180ºC) for about an hour. Keep at eye on it to make sure the potatoes don't brown too much or dry out. Add more (broth or water) as needed.

Test the potatoes for doneness by piercing them with a fork or a skewer. Serve hot.
The key to getting the potatoes done right is to put in just enough broth to moisten and tenderize them as they cook, but not so much that they are swimming in it. If you put in too much, there's always the possibility of pouring some off (don't burn yourself!) or sucking some out using a turkey baster toward the end of the cooking time, to let the potatoes dry out a little.

In his book on cooking potatoes — Le Meilleur et le plus simple de la pomme de terre : 100 recettes — French chef Joël Robuchon writes: "In times gone by, it was the custom to cook potatoes this way in the same pan with a roast of lamb or pork, so that the potatoes would be flavored by the meat juices as they cooked."

28 June 2013

J'ai récolté mes blettes

Yesterday we had a beautiful sunny day in Saint-Aignan. I decided to go out and harvest ('to harvest' = récolter in French) the swiss chard (blettes) that I planted last fall. The plants had over-wintered in the garden. This wasn't the first time we had harvested leaves from these plants, but it was the last.

The chard plants had bolted, so they were tall and stringy, but they hadn't actually flowered yet. They were covered with tender young leaves, some large ones (toward the bottom of the stalks) and many small ones (toward the top). After pulling the plants out of the ground, I spent several hours pulling the leaves off, washing them in batches, and then cooking them.

I cooked them in chicken broth with just some salt and pepper. We had some for lunch, and I can affirm that they were worth the work. I did half of them in the morning, and then in the afternoon I sat down on the front deck for an hour or so, enjoying the warm weather, and pulled the leaves off the rest of the stalks. I ended up with 2.5 kg of leaves — that's 5½ lbs. Since we cleaned out the freezer earlier this week, there's plenty of room for some of them in there.

To go with the blettes at lunchtime, I made a dish of pommes de terre 'boulangère' — that's thin-sliced potatoes cooked in the oven with herbs and onions, moistened also with broth (chicken or other). They're called « boulangère » or "baker's wife" potatoes because that's the way the baker's wife would have cooked them in days gone by — in the hot bread oven after the day's bread had finished baking. And they are delicious.

27 June 2013

Trois plantes importées

There's an awful lot of reading to do this morning, after yesterday's two U.S. Supreme Court decisions on marriage laws and benefits. I'm pretty happy about both — especially the one requiring the federal government to recognized all marriages performed legally in all the states. I'm glad too that California can go back to being the enlightened, forward-moving state that I think it is.

Anyway, I'll do my reading and reflecting and post just a few pictures of some plants that I and relatives and friends have imported to Saint-Aignan over the past 10 years. The first is one that I got from my mother before she sold her house in 2005 and moved into an apartment, where she doesn't have to worry about maintenance (things like a leaky roof).

In 1997 I was on sabbatical from my job at Apple Computer (the software division, Claris, specifically). I flew to North Carolina from California that summer, and my mother and I went on a road trip. We drove about about a thousand miles (1600 km) from my home town out to Champaign, Illinois — where I lived in the 1970s — and back. In the town of Carbondale, we collected a few cuttings of a nice sedum plant that has bright yellow flowers (maybe Sedum floriferum). I think this sedum variety might originally have been a European plant.

My mother kept the plant growing in her garden for years. In 2005, when she was getting ready to move out of the house, I went to see her and help sort things out. I ended up bringing a few cuttings from the sedum plant back to France with me. I've tried planting the sedum in different places around the yard and garden, but without a lot of success — until now. Last fall I dug up a clump of sedum and set it in a big pot. Look how it's growing this summer.

Another sedum plant that I brought back from North Carolina is called Donkey's Tail (Sedum morganianum). I've never seen one anywhere else in France. The ones in the picture above came from a very small piece of a plant that I actually found on the floor in a garden center in my home town. I scooped it up and put it in my shirt pocket. I brought it back to France. It grew. I put some in a second pot. That grew well too.

A third imported plant that I have growing is one that CHM brought me from Virginia. It's a cactus, and I've blogged about it before. It's in flower right now, so I want to post a photo for CHM to see. Voilà.

26 June 2013

Enfin le couvreur vint

The weather widget on my Windows desktop says 5ºC this morning for Saint-Aignan. That's 40ºF. On June 26! At least it's not raining.

We had a decent day yesterday, and as my title says, the roofer (le couvreur) finally came back. (The original expression is a very famous one in literature and the history of the French language.) He came in and looked at our kitchen ceiling. He said he could fix that for us too, but later, after we see if the roof has finished leaking.

Then he climbed up on his ladder and worked on the valley (la noue) between the main roof and the lucarne or dormer for three or four hours. He removed a good number of tiles, cut them with a saw to make more space between the two sections of roof, and put them back. When he'd finished, I told him it was hard to see any difference.

Then he stuck his hand down in the space between tiles, with sheet-metal flashing or zinc at the bottom, to show me — from a distance, of course, because I didn't climb up the ladder — how wide and deep the gap is now. In theory, water will flow down faster and carry with it any debris that might be tempted to try to accumulate in there and cause a backup.

Bertie came out and did a "slink-by" inspection of the job for us. Callie, as always, barked like a mad dog when Monsieur Aubert climbed up the ladder. We had warned him that she would do that, because we didn't want him to be too startled.

So now I wish it would rain. I'm never satisfied, you must be thinking. In fact, I don't want any more rain with one exception: it would be nice to have an extremely intense fifteen-minute downpour. Then we'd start to see whether Aubert's repair, which he said he can't guarantee à 100 %, has solved the problem. Aubert also said that if he needed to do more extensive work on that section of roof, he'd give us a credit for the 300 euros this job cost us. He seems to be pretty honest.

25 June 2013

Beaucoup de bonnes nouvelles

The sun is out this morning, and the roofer's coming this afternoon. How fine is that? Maybe we won't have to worry about leaks any more.

Yesterday we cleaned out the freezer. We threw out quite a bit of old stuff, mostly UFOs ("Unidentifiable Frozen Objects"). Spring cleaning in summertime.

I washed clothes last night and this morning I'll be able to hang them out on the line to dry. Simple pleasures.

I'm going to try to get my hair cut this morning. Madame Barbier has been absente and her salon de coiffure has been fermé since about June 1. I called her number on Saturday and the message on her répondeur told me she planned to re-open the salon today. Mes doigts sont croisés.

A week from tomorrow I'll be taking the train to Paris to spend a few days with CHM and do some shopping, dining, and sight-seeing. I wish Walt could come with me but somebody has to stay here with the dog and the cat. He and I are both hoping for good weather next week.

24 June 2013

Multicolored linings

You might have noticed that I've been posting a lot about food for a week or more now. That's because food is about the only pleasure and source of comfort we've had, given the lousy weather. Today I'll try to focus on a different silver — or multicolored — lining: plants and flowers.

Roses are having a very good year in 2013. These are on a neighbor's fence.

It really is necessary to try to identify a positive aspect to all this. For example, this morning the temperature outside is 11.4ºC. That's cold — 52.5ºF — and I'm tempted to go turn on the heat. Since the boiler had its annual service last week, I'm pretty sure it works. But at the end of June it seems like abandoning all hope to turn the heat back on.

Regardez ! Le ciel a été bleu un instant !

The fact is, all the fruit trees in the area are loaded down with fruit. Cherries, for example. Our tree has millions on it, but they are still small and mostly green. We will have billions of apples this year, and a lot of pears too. Everything needs a little ray of sunshine and a few extra degrees to come to fruition, as it were, but when we do have some warm, sunny days it's going to be amazing.

As I said, roses... these are a few of ours.

All the rains (it rained off and on all day yesterday) and the "mild" (trying to avoid the term "chilly") temperatures have been good for flowers too. That's the multicolored lining to all the gray skies we've been enjoying. I'll decorate this whiny post with a few photos of flowers in our yard and out in the vineyard.

23 June 2013

Spicy stir-fried cabbage

With that honey-and-soy-roasted turkey leg, we had stir-fried cabbage. The two dishes went together really well, and the honey & soy sauce from the turkey went really well on the cabbage too.

The cabbage is cooked with julienned carrots, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, white wine (mirin or sherry), spices, and coriander. It gets tossed with the seasonings in hot oil, and then covered for a few minutes to steam. You can cook it as little or as much as you want to, with either a crunchy or a softer texture. The recipe is below. I found it in the New York Times.

Spicy stir-fried cabbage
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 star anise, broken in half
2 teaspoons soy sauce (more to taste)
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
1 small cabbage, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds, quartered,
cored and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch shreds
1 medium carrot, cut into julienne
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons minced chives, Chinese chives or cilantro

Combine the garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes and star anise in a small bowl. Combine the soy sauce and wine or sherry in another small bowl.

Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or a 12-inch skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two when added to the pan. Swirl in the oil by adding it to the sides of the pan and tilting it back and forth. Add the garlic, ginger, pepper flakes and star anise. Stir-fry for a few seconds, just until fragrant, then add the cabbage and carrots.

Stir-fry for one to two minutes until the cabbage begins to wilt, then add the salt and wine/soy sauce mixture. Cover and cook over high heat for one minute until just wilted. Uncover and stir-fry for another 30 seconds, then stir in the chives or cilantro and remove from the heat. The cabbage should be crisp-tender. Serve with rice or noodles.

22 June 2013

Rôti de cuisse de dinde au miel et au soja

I love to cook and eat turkey legs — cuisses de dinde, which means thigh and the drumstick. They respond well to slow cooking with spices and a vinegar baste, or to simmering in wine, red or white, with herbs. They also are good just roasted. This one is roasted but with a glaze of honey and soy sauce. I saw a chef prepare it on a French cooking show.

A turkey leg roasted and basted with honey and soy sauce

One little refinement on this particular method of cooking a cuisse de dinde is that the thigh section is boned out, seasoned inside, and then rolled and tied to make it into a nice roast. I seasoned the meat where I cut the thigh bone out with thyme, ginger, salt, and pepper. Then I tied it up with kitchen twine. You can vary the seasonings: garlic, rosemary, oregano, or other combinations of aromatics would be good.

Removing the thigh bone

It's pretty easy to tie up the de-boned thigh piece. You can use three or four lengths of twine, or, as I did, just one long piece looped carefully around the meat and then tied off at each end. I'm not a pro, and my ficelage is pretty rustic, I guess. It works, though. Anyway, you take the string off before you bring the roast to the table for carving and serving.

A turkey leg with the thigh section de-boned, rolled, and tied, seen from both sides

To cook the roast, rub it with vegetable oil and put it in a hot oven (450ºF, 240ºC). After 10 or 15 minutes, when the skin is starting to take on a golden brown color, pull the pan or dish out of the oven and drizzle or brush honey all over the skin. Pour some soy sauce and maybe a little white wine into the bottom of the pan. Add some crushed red pepper flakes if you want. Then put the pan back into the oven, turn the temperature down to 350ºF/180ºC, and let the roasting continue.

After a few minutes in the hot oven, the roast is ready to be glazed with honey.

Baste the turkey roast every 10 or 15 minutes with the sauce and drippings. I will be cooked after 45 minutes to an hour. You be the judge. It can't really be over-done, as far as I'm concerned, as long as it doesn't dry out too much. Add a little water to the pan as necessary — sparingly — to keep the sauce liquid (but not too watered down).

The combination of honey and soy sauce in the baking dish makes for a delicious sauce.

When the roasted cuisse de dinde comes out of the oven, remove the twine it's tied up with. Then you can easily carve the thigh meat into slices. Serve the meat with the cooking liquid. And some rice. Or stir-fried vegetables. We had stir-fried cabbage with ours.

21 June 2013

Tornades, inondations et maladies

There was a tornado — or was it a straight-line wind event? — in northern Burgundy a day or two ago. Whatever it was, it damaged a hundred or so houses near the town of Châtillon-sur-Seine (halfway between Dijon and Troyes), tearing off roof tiles and letting in rainwater that soaked everything. Storms like that are rare in France — but they may be becoming more frequent.

In the southwest, meanwhile, serious flooding has destroyed houses and cut many villages off from the rest of the world. The town of Lourdes has been under water for several days.

And you know about the devastating hailstorm that hit the Vouvray area three days ago.

These are the vines in our back yard from which I gathered leaves for the dolmas we made this week.

It's getting hard to keep up with current events. Here in Saint-Aignan, we had a decent day yesterday, weatherwise, and we actually sat out on the terrace with friends for a couple of hours in the evening.

This morning is gloomy and dark, but I'm not sure we're supposed to get any rain. We certainly don't need any. And just think: today is the first day of summer. You need to look at a calendar to know about it.

Yesterday, I talked to two guys who work in the vineyard out back. Earlier this week, we saw them hauling away all the posts they had pulled up in the vineyard plot I mentioned a while back. I asked them what was going on.

These are the vines that are going to be ripped out because of a maladie.

Are those vines being pulled up? Yes, they said. Is there a maladie? Yes. Will new vines be planted there? Yes. What varietal are the sick vines? Sauvignon Blanc, and the vines are only 24 years old.

I'm glad they plan to put in new vines.

20 June 2013

Dolmas — Greek stuffed grapevine leaves

We have a row of grapevines in our back yard. They're table grapes of some kind. They're planted in the shade of several trees and I think they don't get enough sun. Therefore they don't produce very many grapes, and the grapes that do form never really ripen — they're small and sour. The vines were there when we bought the house, and we are slowly letting them die out.

A fresh grapevine leaf...
So the vines produce almost no good grapes, but plenty of nice green leaves appear on the plants in the spring. In a wet year like this one, the leaves are expecially beautiful and tender. We don't ever treat the vines with any chemicals of any kind, so our grape leaves are completely organic. We eat them.

...and one that's been blanched

The way you eat the leaves is to make “dolmas” — grapevine leaves rolled up around a little ball of stuffing. You can make a stuffing of meat, or just use rice. In fact, now we know that you can use millet in place of the rice, and it's delicious. What makes it delicious is a combination of flavor ingredients that includes olive oil, onion, garlic, raisins, mint, parsley, and lemon juice.

Blanched leaves soaking in cold water
Yesterday morning, before it started raining (again), I went out and cut about 40 nice green leaves off the grapevines. I washed them well in water and then blanched them six or eight at a time in boiling water. It takes only a minute or two for the leaves to soften and change color in the boiling water. Then they get plunged into a big basin of cold water to stop the cooking.
The millet-raisin-mint stuffing

Meanwhile, you cook a batch of rice or millet (or some other grain: quinoa, bulgur wheat...). The stuffing for three dozen or so dolmas requires about 200 grams (1 cup) of millet or rice and 40 cl (1½ cups) of water or chicken broth. You want the grain just partially cooked, so it doesn't need more water than that. First, sauté some onion and garlic along with the raw grain in olive oil, and when the onion is transparent add the liquid.

When the rice or millet has absorbed all the liquid, turn off the heat and stir in about a quarter of a cup of the little raisins that we call "currants" and which are really raisins de Corinthe (or use chopped raisins) and about the same amount of finely chopped fresh mint (or some other herb). Add salt and pepper (and, optionally, a pinch of crushed hot red pepper) and the juice of a lemon. Stir it all together and let it cool down. Save the squeezed lemon because the rind will cook with the dolmas later.

Roll up the leaf around a lump of the millet or rice stuffing.

When the stuffing is cool enough to work with, spread a blanched grapevine leaf out on a work surface and put a lump of the stuffing mix on it (for the best appearance, lay the leaves out with the underside up). Fold the side "flaps" of the leaf over the stuffing and then roll the whole thing up into a little log shape. Repeat this operation about three dozen times.

Millet-stuffed grapevine leaves ready to be cooked

Arrange the stuffed leaves on a thin film of olive oil in a shallow pan so they they are packed in enough to hold together as they cook. Pour on enough hot water to just barely cover the dolmas (or even less — you can add more during the cooking.) Chop up the lemon rind and scatter the pieces over the top, along with some branches of parsley and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Put the pan in a hot oven (200ºC or 400ºF) and after 15 minutes turn the oven down to 325ºF or 160ºC. Let the dolmas cook slowly, covered, for another 45 minutes. Add water as needed so that the leaves won't stick to the pan.

The dolmas after an hour in the oven

After an hour in the oven, during which the stuffing and the leaves will finish cooking, take the pan out and let it cool. Then take the dolmas out and put them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours (or a day or two). Serve them cold as an hors-d'œuvre or appetizer. They are good with a yogurt or cream sauce made with grated cucumber and more mint (or dill) and lemon juice.

19 June 2013

Rain, rain, go away... and don't come back until November

The weather report says we should expect more severe thunderstorms today in this part of France. So far our luck is holding. Yesterday was a fairly nice day, with some sprinkles of rain in the morning and again in the afternoon, but nothing to write home — or a blog post — about. Today's forecast is for more than an inch (30 mm) of precipitation.

Sunday morning was nice. I walked through some woods on the edge of the vineyard with Callie.

The work of assessing the damage in the Vouvrillon — the area around the village of Vouvray where all the Chenin Blanc grapes are grown to produce Vouvray wines — is just getting under way. A lot of the growers in that area (and surely in others) are not insured for this kind of damage. The insurance is expensive, and many growers just take their chances, apparently. The last time there was such a devastating hailstorm in the area was in 1976.

Grapes in the Renaudière vineyard — as yet untouched by hailstones

Meanwhile, we'll keep our tarps and other sheets of plastic at the ready, just in case we have downpours intense enough today to cause our roof to leak again. We've accepted the roofer's bid for the repair work and sent in our 30% deposit on the job. Now we have to wait for the roofer to schedule the work. Of course, he can't do anything as long as it keeps raining. I hope he doesn't plan to go on vacation in July and August, as many people do.

These woods are one of the places where Callie loves to walk, because there are often deer grazing there that she can chase.

Yesterday I took the car in for a recharge of the air-conditioning system. It had stopped blowing cold. We don't have AC in the house, but in the car it's very nice not to have to ride around with the windows rolled down to get a breath of air. The AC compressor also defogs the windshield. Now if only we could get a little hot, dry weather, so that spending 80 € on AC wouldn't seem so frivolous.

18 June 2013

« Des grêlons gros comme des œufs de poule »

“Hailstones the size of hens' eggs.” That's how they are describing the disaster that struck the Vouvray area early yesterday morning. They say that about three-quarters of the 5,000 acres of vines in the Vouvray wine appellation might have been severely damaged in just 15 minutes' time. There was a foot of ice on the ground in some areas. Roof tiles were broken, cars heavily damaged, and so on.

We were luckier here in Saint-Aignan, which is 35 miles southeast of Vouvray. We heard the thunder in the distance early in the morning. But our weather was fine until mid-afternoon, when a light but steady rain began to fall. It's supposed to rain all week, but so far we haven't had any intense downpours of the kind that caused our roof to leak earlier in the month.

Still, I decided yesterday morning that it would be a good idea to put the car in the garage, just in case we ended up under a shower of hailstones. The car was one less thing to worry about. For now, our garden and our neighbors' vines have been spared. 

This morning it's raining and incredibly dark and gloomy for mid-June. We spent the weekend working in the yard and re-potting plants to set out on the terrace. But now the terrace is all dressed up with nowhere to go — it's too damp and chilly for us to enjoy being out there.

There are articles, slideshows, and videos of some of the damage in the Vouvrillon (the area around Vouvray) on web site of the local newspaper, La Nouvelle Républiquehere and here — if you want to see and read more.

17 June 2013

Splashes of red

Walt picked these in the yard yesterday. They are fraises des bois — "woodland" or wild strawberries. They're very small, but they are also very sweet and tasty. Walt baked them into a cake yesterday afternoon.

Just on the south side of our hedge, along the road, red poppies — coquelicots — are growing. We didn't plant them; they just came up. Wildflowers are like that.

Finally, these are petunias, which we did plant. They're in jardinières on the terrace. They haven't had time to grow much yet, but they are going to give us good color all summer, I think.

The area just north and west of us is experiencing violent thunderstorms this morning. Walt found a photo on a weather site showing one- to two-inch hailstones that fell on Vouvray this morning. The storm cells are moving toward Paris over Vendôme and Chartres, and all the way up to Rouen and the Channel coast. So far, we are in the clear and the temperature here is supposed to hit the mid-80s ºF (28 to 30 ºC) this afternoon.

16 June 2013

Couscous de lapin

I cooked the other rabbit. I had bought two that were sold as un lot — a package deal — and with the first one I made Brunswick Stew. With the second one, I made something similar but at the same time completely different: a North African couscous. Normally, you'd find it made with chicken and/or lamb.

A huge serving of North African couscous. Tomatoes, carrots, green vegetables, and turmeric provide nice colors.

Browning the rabbit
As with the Brunswick Stew, the first step was to cook the rabbit by browning it lightly and then simmering it in a seasoned liquid to make broth. I browned the rabbit in a combination of canola and olive oil, and then I poured on enough water to cover it.

The rabbit cooling after simmering for an hour

The seasonings were three small onions, three garlic cloves, half a dozen allspice berries, a dozen black peppercorns, and three bay leaves. Plus salt, of course. It simmered for an hour, and then I took it out of the liquid and let it cool. I strained the liquid to use as a base for the couscous broth.

Couscous is a kind of tomato-based soup or broth of meat and vegetables that is served with the cooked couscous "grain" — it's not a grain, actually, but a form of pasta. I had a big can of whole tomatoes in juice, and I had a lot of little bowls of cooked vegetables in the refrigerator or freezer, leftovers from recent meals. The main vegetables that you usually put in the couscous broth are onions, carrots, green beans, tomatoes, summer squash (green and yellow), turnips, and chickpeas. As you'll see from the photo below that I took and labeled, I had a greater variety than that, and it worked out really well.

Ideas for vegetables you can put into couscous broth

As for the rabbit, I decided to do what I did when I made Brunswick Stew week before last. I pulled all the meat off the bones after the rabbit had cooked and cooled down. The rabbit cooking liquid made a good base for the couscous broth, and the large and small chunks of rabbit meat went into the soup, along with the juice from the tomatoes and the cooking liquid from all the other vegetables. Turmeric, cumin, hot red pepper flakes, and other North African spices gave it good flavor.

"Pulled" rabbit meat and tomatoes from a tin

The other meat you usually have with couscous is the spicy little lamb and/or beef sausage called a merguez [mehr-GUEHZ]. We didn't have any merguez sausages, but we had some similar but fatter sausages that we got at SuperU. They were sold as « chorizettes » — little Spanish chorizos (see the photos above). They were really good with the couscous. In France, you can find merguez sausages in any supermarket.

Couscous "grain" — pasta, really — steamed with raisins

Finally, you cook the couscous "grain" or semoule. It can be steamed over the broth in a special pot called a couscousier, or it can be quick-cooked according to the directions on the package it comes in. We did the quick cooking this time, and we added a handful of raisins to the semoule. You serve some couscous grain on your plate and then you put vegetables, meats, and some of the spicy broth over it.

Another indispensable condiment to have with couscous is some of the hot red pepper paste called harissa. If you like your couscous extra-spicy, take a ladleful of the broth and squirt a tablespoon or so of harissa paste into it. Stir it with a fork to mix it all up and then dribble it over the pile of semoule and vegetables. Try it — you'll like it.

The combination of hot peppery broth and sausages, sweet carrots, and even sweeter raisins that explode in your mouth when you bite into them... well, it's amazing. And you get all those vegetables and the rabbit (or chicken) meat as a bonus.