Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ooh, the pain ...

After 16 years of doing business with us, our accountant finally invited the pair of us out to lunch! At La Maniguette yet, in rue Juiverie. It used to be (many years ago, I must admit) La Tête du Lard, and offered copious quantities of Savoyard specialities: there it was that Margo and Phillippe split a mountainous tartiflette one hot August night, rolling (for anything more rapid was definitely not an option) - gently steaming - out into the humid evening. Which was, in my opinion, rather a foolish thing to do, given that tartiflette is, as I think I've explained before, nowt more than potatoes, onions and bits of bacon cooked slowly in the oven with cream, and a halved reblochon on top so that it melts through the whole mess as it cooks.

These days it's definitely more cuisine raffinée, with the emphasis on jus and artistically-arranged vegetables with morilles and things like that, but it's very well done, the desserts are excellent and you don't heave yourself out of the place feeling absolutely bloated at the end of the meal. Which is pleasant.

Whatever, rather to my surprise Chekhar took us in there, asked us to choose whatever took our fancy from the menu and the wine list, and didn't even disappear to the toilet when it came time to pay the bill. He's not exactly a scintillating conversationalist, and I fear he'll always be an accountant, but I have to admit that as the years go by I appreciate the guy more and more. I'll end up liking him one of these days; this is grave.

Before I forget, thanks to Sue for sending over a massive envelope with copies of missing years from the archives. I'll get around to scanning them (or, given that they were originally printed with a clunky old dot-matrix printer and underwent photocopying, retyping them) and posting them, purely for the sake of completeness, as time permits. In other words, it would be unwise to hold your collective breath while you wait.

Now that the primeveres have come out in the lawn and the wee birdies are doing noisily disgusting things in the eaves we've got a sudden cold snap. Like, I think the high today was perhaps -1°, and if you happened to have the misfortune to have to go out in the bise, our vicious northerly, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was more like -15°.

Which makes me glad that I managed to order a new washing machine. It's always nice to head off up the road to see our Aussie friend Sue, who generously let us use hers in the interim (the first time she even brought it all back on Sunday morning, neatly folded - unironed though, which was a bit of a let-down), but you don't really want to do it more often than you absolutely have to in weather like this. Basically, you stay inside unless there's a bloody good reason to go out.

Having nothing better to do on Thursday afternoon, I spent what felt like a small eternity on the phone with the buyer from the SNCF. I'd made Jean-Pierre an offer for an extension to the little fibre-optic/Ethernet bridge we developed for them, and he started pushing the purchasing office to get the order through, so the buyer had to try and justify his existence by getting me to lower the price. Christ, you'd have thought we were in an Arab souk. I swear that at one point he told me that I should just lower the price "symbolically" so that he could sleep happily, his wife and children would be delighted because he wouldn't beat them, and I would be serene in the knowledge of having performed a good deed.

And over what? At the end, he was asking me just to knock 200€ off the price, to take it down to a round 7000€. WTF? This is just petty cash! And because I have principles (where money's concerned, anyway), and because I personally find it insulting to be asked to lower an already-low but honest price, as if I were trying to gouge them, I stuck to my guns. It's not as though there's a lot the guy can do anyway: the order's been approved and it's not as though competitive bidding is an option in this particular case. Still, it annoys me.

El Reg has excelled itself recently. Their double-entendre squad came up with this one: Man killed by own cock. I admit that on the face of it it's a bit gross, but go take a look anyway.

One of these days I shall have to write a cookbook come travelogue. I know it's been done many times before, but this is not necessarily a Bad Thing: it means there must be a market out there. Provisional working title at the moment is "Bimler's Bastards: Hurried Meals for the Harried Cook, or Haute Cuisine for Alcoholics". I'm slowly building a selection of suitably rude or scatological recipe titles, starting off with bastard Béarnaise and bastard puff pastry ... of course they should all involve alcohol, at least peripherally, and preferably an amusing/erudite anecdote or two. This is called "padding", and is apparently prevalent in the publishing trade.

If any of you have any favourites - or even ideas for an obscene dish - do let me know. You won't regret it when I'm a celebrity chef.

Which brings me on to the topic of Meals I Won't Cook for Margo, which is basically anything involving fruit.  (Oh, there are other things as well - tripe, for instance, or cauliflower - but that's normal, for they are foul.) This is a bit narrow-minded, if you ask me, but she absolutely will not eat meat when fruit is involved: prefer to vomit unobtrusively on the table. On the bright side, this means there's more left over for the rest of us ... like with Norman Chook, perhaps better known as Poulet Vallée d'Auge. This is rather good, and drinking cider rather than wine will make a nice change for you. Although there's no law - to my knowledge - that says you can't drink both.

First of all, you should peel, core and slice a nice apple into rings, and then fry those in butter until golden. Sprinkle it with sugar while you're doing this: it'll thank you for it, and on top of it the caramelised bits will add a really lovely taste to everything else (which you will cook, of course, in the same frying pan). Right, fish the apple slices out and stick them on a plate somewhere - do not forget them, please, because you will need them later on. Now stick the chicken pieces in and let them brown all over. (Did I mention you needed chicken for this? Sorry, an oversight. Three good-sized bits of leg+thigh should do the job for three or four people, may need more if you have adolescents.)

While that's going on, have a glass of wine - or cider, if you insist - and while you're at it, chop another apple into small slivers: chuck that in with the chicken and while that's browning nicely chop 150gm or so of mushrooms and put them into a saucepan with about 250ml of dry cider and let that simmer.

After ten minutes it's about time to get serious, so have another glass before you flambé the chook with a glassful of Calvados. If you've none of that to hand, use whisky. Whatever. When the flames die down and you've checked that you still have a full complement of eyebrows, nostril hair or whatever, strain the cider in (keep the mushrooms, not finished with them yet), cover the pan and let it simmer gently for 30 minutes or so.

This is good, because it gives you time to get a salad ready and have yet another glass. What the hell, open another bottle. You deserve it. Anyway, when the chicken's done fish the bits out and keep them warm in the oven, and start seriously reducing the sauce: when it's gone down by half turn the heat right down and stir in 100ml of cream and the mushrooms and simmer that until it thickens. At which point you should pour it over the chicken, and arrange the fried apple slices on top.

Serve with salad, heaps of buttered noodles, and even more white wine. And the rest of the cider for the kids, why not?

You've probably guessed by now that this is what Sophie and I had for lunch on Saturday, and you'd be quite right. I did make one mistake, as we were eating - nothing so disastrous as picking my nose with the snail fork, rest assured - I explained braised lettuce to Lucas. Now nothing will do but I must make filet de boeuf Richelieu. Should that happen, it'll be a proper dinner for six, and all of us will be there armed with bread to scarf the sauce.

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