On the Kale Bandwagon !

If you want Kale in most parts of rural France you need to grow it ….

kalenpolentaLuckily it seems to be quite an easy thing to grow (once you learn to deal with the caterpillars that will fight you for it).  But if you grow it, you can choose what kind you wish to eat ….  Thanks to my dear friend Carol Reid of Mailhos fame (who is also responsible for this recipe idea), I grow mostly the Cavolo Nero variety. Nice straight leaves, which I find more palatable than the really curly stuff.


AND weirdly, my slightly fussy 7 yr old son loves it !  So the Kale is in full force in the garden at the moment and yesterday it was sautéed kale with garlic and chili served on top of a nice simple polenta and a few slices of duck breasts.

kaleThe Kale was simply thinly sliced and sautéed in olive oil with quite alot of garlic and some fresh or dried and crumbled chilis thrown in for good measure…  just until tender.  I used “this recipe” for the polenta using a wonderful locally grown ancient variety of red corn called the “Grand Roux” and a dangerously good un-pasturised butter (no cheese this time).  The Duck breast comes from the farm down the road and just cooked down on the (scored) skin side until most of the fat has cooked off.  Let the duck rest for about 10 minutes and then slice and serve atop the polenta and kale ….

Bon appétit !

Oeufs Cocotte or Baked Eggs

We have been experiencing exceptionally warm and often sunny weather this winter, encouraging us to get the solar oven out !  Here is a great simple recipe we like to make in the Solar oven but works great in your normal oven as well 🙂

eoufs cocotteThis is a very versatile recipe, with little “rules”…  All you need is individual ramekin dishes, nice fresh farm eggs, butter, cream (is optional) and then let your imagination take over and tuck some leftover meat, cooked veg and loads of herbs in the ramekin before cracking in the egg.

Our latest Oeufs Cocotte creation (above) was simply some little bits of cooked lardons or crumbled bacon, lots of chopped fresh parsley and chives at the bottom of the buttered ramekins.  Crack in your eggs (we made 4 little pots) and top with a couple slices of nice fresh “raw” butter and some sea salt and freshly ground pepper….

Place the ramekins into a warm water bath then bake in the oven (or solar oven) until the egg is set to your liking.  This should take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes (the latter when using a solar oven.  For a normal oven 180°C should do it.

Serve with nice crusty bread for dipping and a lovely salad.  1 or 2 ramekins per person makes a lovely lunch …

Nice additions for Oeufs Cocotte:
Chopped herbs such as parsley, chervil, coriander or chives
Leftover cooked meat
Shredded duck confit
Leftover cooked veg
Crumbled bacon or pancetta
Chopped and cooked chorizo & chopped grilled peppers
Chopped artichoke hearts
Sun-dried tomatoes
Top with a bit of nice cream instead of butter
The list goes on and on . . .

Bon Appétit  !

four solaire

Jamón Ibérico anyone ?

Also known as “Pata Negra”.  In Vancouver, the closest I had ever come to tasting such a thing would have been the italian Prociutto that was sooo good and seemed as expensive as beluga caviar …

My arrival in France was in Bayonne, home of the famous “Jambon de Bayonne” (amongst other things).    I liked it, but as soon as I got my first taste of “Serrano ham” accross the border in Spain, I tasted the difference immediately.

The black Iberian pig lives primarily in the south and southwest parts of Spain.  We now prefer to buy even more local breeds here in France mostly small farms in the hills of the basque country, but we do break down and buy a bit of the good quality Spanish stuff…

Immediately after weaning, the piglets are fattened on barley and corn for several weeks. The pigs are then allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns, and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches. At that point, the diet may be strictly limited to olives or acorns for the best quality jamón ibérico.

The hams are salted and left to begin drying for two weeks, after which they are rinsed and left to dry for another four to six weeks. The curing process then takes at least twelve months, although some producers cure their jamones ibéricos for up to 48 months.

In the part of Spain that we frequent, the usual decor in the bars in whole hams hanging from the rafters above your head with triangular plastic  cups to catch any drippings on a warm summer day.  My friend Lisa is still getting over the lack of refrigeration in Europe compared to North America (AND europe and europeans have been around for some time now)….

During my last trip to Spain, I thought I would buy some lovely ham to take to a party that very night.  Waiting my turn in the shop, I managed to reserve a vacume packed ham bone (thinking pea soup) and told Sylvain to use his “perfect spanish” to ask for the ham hock that the lady in front of us seemed to get “thrown in” for free.

The ham man, was terribly sorry that he had no end bits left, but thought he had something even better !  He disappears under the counter and pops back up with……  A ham HOOF !  Yes the bottom bit of the leg bone, with residual meat, hair and the hoof intact.  He was really smiling, so we thought this must be a great honour.  He wrapped it in a bit of paper and we walked out with our hoof in hand, walked through the center of Bilbao, took the tram etc…..    with absolutely no one blinking an eye.

So the said HOOF is still in our fridge waiting for  Sylvain to find the appropriate tool to cut it into small enough pieces to fit in the freezer…..  Pea soup recipe to follow 🙂

Crispy Duck Pancakes

Are your meals ever inspired by a single ingredient?  Often, I would say…..  Today, its a lovely organic cucumber that someone gave me (in the middle of winter).  Thinking, I’ll make the best of this, not going to compost it just for being “out of season”.  So what does this cuke make me feel like eating?  Then I think of the vacuum packed duck “confit” that I bought at a local farm recently…..  Hmmmmm …  Crispy duck pancakes !


This is really “moreish” food and can’t be done without the cucumbers and spring onion. Are you thinking, its not spring onion season either?  Well I learned from a veggie grower, that if you stick an onion that is sprouting in the ground and leave it, it will grow lovely “spring” onions in the middle of winter.

This is a nostalgic dish for me, since moving to rural France (the land of bad chinese restaurants) from Vancouver (the land of amazing chinese restaurants).  When I first figured out that I could make the pancakes myself, I was then a bit stumped of what to put in them instead of the Peking Duck from chinatown???

Then it came to me !  Duck confit….  which happens to be a big thing in our region.  The texture of the duck meat is very similar to that delicious duck from Chinatown..  If I doctor it up a bit with a bit of chinese 5 Spice and some ginger, it may even be BETTER !!

The duck farmer is not too impressed with my new inventive ways of using her product, but I’m hoping to win her over to the idea, and will have her round for Duck Confit “Peking” Pancakes soon enough 😉

Crispy Peking Duck Pancakes

1/2 cup flour
2 Tablespoons Cornflour
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter (or duck fat)
1 Peking duck (or 4 duck confit drumsticks) Chinese five spice & grated ginger
6 green onions
1 cucumber
Hoisin sauce to serve

Combine all ingredients up to and including 1/2 the butter and stick blend or process until smooth.  Cover and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes or so.

Heat a pan over a medium heat and brush with remaining butter.  Pour a tablespoon of batter into the frying pan and let spread to form a thin pancake.  Cook for about 1 or 2 minutes per side and pile up on a plate until ready to serve.

Remove the skin and meat from the duck and shred the meat.  Warm it up slightly in a pan with the chinese 5 spice and ginger.  If you have some crispy skin, keep that too.

Cut onions and cukes into thin strips and lay them out on a serving platter with the duck meat.

To serve, spred some hoisin sauce on a pancake and top with a bit of duck, cucumber and spring onion before rolling it up and gliding it directly into waiting mouths ……

Bon appetît !