Sunday, November 11, 2012

Grease, The Cooking Class ...

So I forgot to mention, amongst other things, that as I was wandering through the lost aisles of Carrefour, where there be monsters and all manner of fabulous beasts including otherwise perfectly-formed men with but a single great foot which they hold over their heads to protect them from rain, rather than the more standard but admittedly boring unipedal locomotion favoured by other one-legged species (credit here to Pliny, who made it all up years ago), I came across the little brother to my birthday sauteuse.

And so, as it was looking lonely, I bought it, and brought it, home. Spot the superfluous grocers' comma. But anyway, by sheer coincidence I happened to have some frozen scallops, and one thing lead to another, as it will ... have I mentioned before that I really, really like stainless steel non-non-stick pans? I mean apart from not getting a dose of Teflon every time you cook, the sheer pleasure of a micrometrically flat stainless steel/copper sandwich base which heats quickly and gives you (if you wish) burnt crunchy bits for sauce?

Also, a sauteuse has high, vertical sides - kind of like a flatter saucepan - which means you can actually shake things around in it so that they at least stand a chance of browning evenly without them flying all over the stove-top. Which, for those that have to clean up afterwards, has to be good.

And if you happen to have, as I did, a duck breast in the fridge, you could probably do worse than to cook that along with pommes sarlardaises and goldenrod broccoli, from Digby Law's excellent "Vegetable Cookbook". (And no, I am not going to pull it out of the cupboard to check the publishing date. Suffice it to say that my edition must date from 30 years ago, at least. Thank you, Bennett's Bookstore, where I spent many a happy hour trying to memorise recipes and even jotting notes on scraps of paper, until I started earning enough money to be able to actually buy the books.)

The trick here is to slash the skin of the duck breast and then fry it, skin side down, for about ten minutes: the skin will crisp and it will render a phenomenal quantity of fat, which is why I have a never-empty jar of duck fat in the fridge - no matter how much I use I never seem to be able to get rid of it all. A decent forensic cook could probably tell what I prepared six months ago just by observing the colour of the different fat strata in there.

Anyway, having done that and spooned most of the fat out, it is time to fry some lardons - or chopped bacon, if you prefer - in there, and when that gets crispy, add the diced potatoes. You might need to spoon a bit more duck fat back in, just saying - when they start to brown cover the pan, turn the heat down, and start to worry about the broccoli.

This too is remarkably simple: boil and drain - or steam - the broccoli, taking care to remove any caterpillars as people who find those in their meal often tend to show off about it, and make a bechamel with the smelliest cheese you have floating around, and a good dose of Worcester sauce. To this shall you add the chopped white of a hardboiled egg, and then pour it all over the broccoli which you'll have thought to put in a gratin dish. Then, using the small sieve you just happen to have lying around, sieve the egg yolk over the lot, salt and pepper to taste, and pop it into the oven whilst you turn your attention back to the main attraction.

Now, where were we with that? Oh yes, crispy bacon with potatoes. Now that they're all done, and there's still a bit of fat left in the pan, just add a finely chopped onion (red, if you like the colour contrast) and a couple of handfuls of frozen peas, and stir all that around a bit before slapping in that duck breast again: skin side down for a few minutes, just to crisp it up again (for it will have gone soggy), then flesh side down for another five minutes or so, depending on just how rare you like your duck. Personally, bloody is good, but tastes differ.

And after all that, it's just a question of letting the meat rest for a few minutes before slicing it and serving (in the pan, why not, saves on dishes), accompanied, if you want my opinion, with some redcurrant jelly. Whatever.

I made the mistake of moving my keyboard the other day, due to an unfortunate drink-related wine-spill. (Probably more ecological than Exxon Valdez, certainly less voluminous.) I have to say that those Microsoft "ergonomic" keyboards (which they do not, sadly, seem to make any more) are not only very comfortable to use (once you get used to them, which some people apparently never quite manage) but also extremely robust.

I have had keyboards which have died when exposed to a few drops of pure water, godnose what would have happened with half a glass of Cabernet: my faithful old MS one, even though the letters are wearing off the keys so I would have to guess half the time exactly what I was hitting were it not that my fingers know their way around it, sneers at such things.

I suspect there's a drip tray in there, all you really have to do after such an incident is turn it upside down and shake it, then wipe up. Which rather brings me back to my original point, which is that over the years there's an awful lot of stuff that builds up in and under keyboards, and some of it you might not want to know about.

Okay, a bit of dandruff is perfectly acceptable and dead skin cells are falling off all the time. Biscuit crumbs? Why not, I doubt I'm the first person to nibble whilst hunched over the keyboard. But honestly, a dead spider? And hair? And that's just what falls out of the thing, along with the drips of wine.

Fortunately, paper towels were invented for just such an eventuality but just when you start cleaning up is when you notice that under the small mound of dislodged detritus the previously-hidden surface of your desk appears to be covered in what you could only call, being honest, grey greasy stuff.

With lint, apparently, being rubbed into it: almost as though someone's started out making linoleum there. There are also small scraps of paper that have crept away to die, bits of lead from the Rotring pencil, and lots of whatever it is you call the bits that come off a rubber when you use it on paper.

And in my particular case, there were a couple of crop circles or something: I suspect that some mould got started and later died from lack of food. Whatever, quite a revelation. Who knew all that stuff was lurking under there? I'm sure it can't be entirely healthy.

Whatever, 'tis the season and all that so it was grey and wet as I wandered around the market (and as I write, it is fair pissing down) which is probably why, in addition to the grenaille and the sweet potatoes (to go, eventually, with the bit of lamb shoulder that's nesting in the fridge) and the clementines, I threw caution to the winds and bought a pomegranate.

I have always liked the looks of them - like jewel boxes, with those ruby seeds spilling out - but never quite known what to do with them, or even what they really tasted like. So it seemed like a good idea.

Sadly I still had no idea at all what to do with the damn thing, although certain people of my acquaintance told me just to eat it as it was, without embellishment: unfortunately as far as I'm concerned that's a non-starter because if you can't do something with it then just what is food for? So obviously, I resorted - as any fule kno - to Google.

Now there's any number of recipes out there which call for pomegranate juice, or molasses (which, oddly enough, I happen to have, in a tightly-stoppered bottle in the cupboard where the sauces and spices lurk. Which reminds me that I managed to stock up on some decent Madras and Bombay curries at Toulouse so the trip definitely wasn't wasted, also that there is some hampe in the down-below fridge and they are just made for each other ...) but not that many for the unadorned fruit.

So I came across one for an apple and pomegranate crisp and the idea tempted me mightily, but if I might just warn you, do not use brown sugar as this one called for. The raw sugar taste overpowers the delicate flavour, and on top of it the juices come out looking like Ganges mud rather than brilliant crimson. Come to that, I'm not sure that the cinnamon was called for, either.

I mean, it wasn't actually bad as such, but not what I'd been looking for. Let's call it a mitigated disaster, and make a mental note for next time. Maybe it'll be better cold.

In other news, our prodigal son, who has to do the return trip from Nîmes to Alès every day, has decided that life would be a whole lot easier if he had transport (for bus services do not necessarily coincide with the working hours of a boulanger). So he went off and enquired about such things and for only €800 or so he can get his scooter licence.

In all fairness, I should point out that this sum also covers a brand-new 125cc scooter so it's a kind of package deal, buy the scooter and get the licence chucked in for free (for he gives us to understand that the actual test is not particularly rigourous, provided you don't actually fall over and can spell your name or a close approximation thereof it's in the bag).

Less cheerfully, he had his three-month old laptop nicked on Friday, which is definitely a bit of an arse. He went off and did all the formalities, but I guess that's one machine he won't be seeing again. Not covered by our insurance, either. On the brighter side, as he's a poor apprentice earning 75% of the SMIC, seems he should be eligible for aide au logement, which might be a couple of hundred a month. We'll see.

Anyway, time to go scavenging for more coffee, and stick another log on the fire. See you.

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