Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Our 2016 Noël Feast . . . and the continuing triple feline saga of Dirac, Eli & Ernest

The Calm One and I hope your holidays were joyful. After a nice long break, it's great to be blogging once again. French supermarkets having a foire du vin every autumn encourages squirrelling away bottles in our sous-sol's cool, dark cellier. There is ample shelving for pumpkins, onions, and potatoes from the potager along with space for growing mushrooms, crocks for fermenting various delices, and storing late-ripening tomato vines. A sanctum of plenty. And there are wine racks! A Pomerol from our stash was deemed the best choice for the holiday table. Don't worry, your vision is fine because that is a garlic press in the below photo. We'll blame the cognac that told me to take a sip, OK, several sips as I poured some into the shrimp bisque, not to mention that blindly rummaging the innards of a kitchen drawer with one hand while stirring several pots on the stove in rapid succession with the other renders corkscrews and garlic presses remarkably similar to the touch.

Our winter-flowering heather obliged with a small bouquet

Pomerol is the AOC referring to a small area within the right bank of the prestigious région viticole of Bordeaux. It has unassuming chateaux, no official classification, and not much recognition outside France until the American wine critic, Robert Parker, extolled its virtues starting in the 1980s. But it does have the exceptional blue clay of Petrus whose domain produces some of the most expensive wines in the world. The main cépage is the merlot grape variety. Pomerol is quite varied, from light to full-bodied. Though our moderately priced bottle did not come from Petrus, it still was wonderful, fleshy and fruity.

Last autumn, we got several, small wine glasses for a pittance at a flea market 

Since Pomerol pairs well with roasted, grilled, and braised meat, roast beef was chosen as the main course. With turf comes surf. Enjoying shrimp bisque at various restaurants, I always wanted to make one from scratch. Next week's post will have detailed instructions on this potent but silky mixture of shrimp, tomato, rice, cognac, mirepoix of carrot, celery and shallot, shrimp stock, cream, lemon, thyme, cayenne, and bay leaf. Until then, let's focus on the garnish, minced shrimp and chives, centred in a shallow soup plate.

The soup was ladled around that tempting little mound. Being of Goldilocks consistency, the bisque washed over my palate in a briny wave with an undercurrent of spice, nutty taste, slight sweetness, a bit of tang, and buttery savouriness, all laced with cream and cognac. It was the better the next day, and the day after, it reached regale status.

Last spring we forced some of the potager's rhubarb by overturning a large terracotta crock over a plant so there would be tender, pink puree in the freezer for our Noël dessert of rhubarb fool. Having made it before, I wanted to try something different which was adding crème anglaise which was folded completely into the whipped cream before partially folding in rhubarb. Having made also crème anglaise before, I, of course, wanted a new slant, so that lovely, thick custard sauce was made not with milk, but with cream. So what we have here is essentially unfrozen ice cream threaded with puree and topped with rhubarb coulis. Details on making the custard will be posted within this month. 

Beautiful billowy bounty

The day after, leftovers! A boon for both the chef, moi, and the dishwasher par excellence, The Calm One. Roast beef was sliced thinly and served with its reduced red wine/pan drippings sauce, along with mayonnaise, cornichons, pickled onions.

Once opened, wine is best consumed within several days

Buttered Brussels sprouts and roasted potatoes were reheated in the oven. Some astuces for great roasted taters is to give the pot of drained, quartered (if smaller, halved), cooked-till-nearly-fork-tender potatoes several good shakes to create texture, and then put them in a roasting pan in which butter was melted till bubbling either in the oven or on the stovetop depending on the pan's functionality, carefully coating all the pieces with the sizzling fat. Leave some room between each piece. Roast at any temperature that is convenient, until well browned. In a hot oven, it takes around thirty minutes.

Meanwhile, in The Furry Kingdom, where Dirac the Cat may be . . .

Eli the Kitten, formerly Eliza the Lost Kitten (who has found a home, ours!), is not far behind. We now think that he was very young when I found him dashing across a busy street, probably closer to two months than the three that we had guessed. Hence, his youth made it difficult to identify his sex. But as he got huskier, I realised, oh, it's has to be Eli, not Eliza. Eli likes to suckle the crook of my arm, especially if it is clothed in my favourite flannel shirt. Only recently has he started to meow, before it was more of a rumbling burple which was heart-rending in its innocence. He regards Dirac as his lost mama, running under his big stepbrother's belly for some determined milking. One is disappointed, the other, beyond irritated.

Ernest the Sous-Sol Cat (formerly Ernest the Stray Cat) continues his half-wild, half-tame ways. Some cold nights, he stays in the mud/potting rooms where his bedding, food, and litter are kept, during others, he is out-and-about, eventually returning, often in a disheveled state, but always pleased with himself.

Ernest loves to lie on the chopped-down mustard plants which had served as an overwintering, living mulch

À la prochaine!


Shrimp Bisque
Rhubarb fool made with custard and cream

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