20 May 2018

Mousse de foie de lapin

So there were those six big rabbit livers, and the 12 kidneys, attached to the râbles de lapin I had ordered from the poultry vendor at the market in Saint-Aignan. I already knew that both the liver and the kidneys were good to eat, because I've often cooked them with the meat of the rabbit in stews and braised dishes. Usually I buy a whole rabbit so I have just one liver and two kidneys — not enough to do anything elaborate with.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that lately I've been figuring out how to make good pain de mie (sandwich bread) because few local bakers have it on offer with any regularity. The reason for my sudden interest in sliced loaf bread was what I did with the rabbit's liver and kidneys. I made a kind of potted meat or pâté called a mousse with them, using a recipe that would normally be made with chicken livers.

I carefully cleaned and trimmed the huge rabbit livers to make sure there were no veins or green spots on them. The green would be bile, which tastes bitter. I also trimmed up the plump, round kidneys, removing some of the fat that surrounded them.

Then all I had to do was sauté the livers and kidneys lightly. I wanted them basically cooked but not over-done and dried out. I used duck fat as the cooking medium, because I thought the taste would be good. You can use butter instead. I first sautéed a chopped shallot or two, and I seasoned the pâté mixture with salt, pepper, thyme, lemon juice, and armagnac (cognac).

Then I put the lightly cooked livers and kidneys in a deep pitcher and I pureed the mixture with a stick blender. When the puree cooled down in the refrigerator, it thickened into a smooth, flavorful, and spreadable paste. I put it in small glass or plastic containers at that point, and I covered each portion of "chopped liver" with a shallow layer of melted duck fat. When the fat hardened, it would keep the pâté fresh. I froze some containers of the mousse for later.

Cold mousse de foie de volaillefoies de lapins in this case — is delicious spread on slices of breads like toasted pain de mie, pain de campagne, or the flax seed loaf I found at one local bakery. Cornichons (pickled gherkins) and a glass of good wine are fine accompaniments. Mousse de foie de lapin is a kind of poor man's foie gras... Here's a link to a Jacques Pépin recipe for chicken liver pâté.

19 May 2018

Du lapin au petit déj...

...mais pas pour moi. Bertie the black cat had rabbit for breakfast this morning. He seems to find rabbit particularly delicious. Tasha the sheltie pup tried to nose in and get some of Bertie's food, but I chased her away. I really like rabbit too — but mine doesn't come out of a foil cat food packet. It's sold fresh in French supermarkets or open-air markets and is considered to be a member of the poultry family. Out here in the country, some people raise them for food in outdoor cages.

Walt and I have cooked rabbit (du lapin in French) for lunch or dinner at Easter every year since 1984. We were living in a flat on Capitol Hill in Washington DC back then. Easter rolled around, and we talked about what we would have as a special meal. Thoughts of the Easter Bunny made rabbit jump (get it?) into my mind. We hadn't been back to France in about two years at that point, and I missed having rabbit as a regular choice on restaurant menus, the way you do in Paris and all of France.

I don't know where I found a rabbit in DC, but I did. Maybe it was at Eastern Market, a market hall located close to where we lived. I'm talking about farm-raised, domestic rabbit, not the wild beast. I probably cooked it « en gibelotte », which is a stew made with a cut-up rabbit, some onions, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, bacon lardons, and white wine. As I've said, that was the first of some 35 Easter rabbits we've enjoyed feasting on over the years, prepared in many different ways. One classic is rabbit in a Dijon mustard sauce.
This year, instead of a whole rabbit, I decided to buy just the choicest cut in all rabbitdom, the "saddle" or râble. I ordered six pieces, not knowing how much each would weigh, and figuring we could put extras in the freezer for later. The râble is the piece that runs from the shoulder to the back legs (which are the second-best pieces to eat), and includes the two plump strips of white meat that run along each side of the animal's spine. It also includes two thin "wings" of meat that are the abdominal muscles, as you can see in the photos above. You might decide to cut those off and dice them up to add to the stew.

The râble also comes with the rabbit's liver and kidneys, and all those morsels are very good to eat too. They can be cooked in a stew or braise with the rest of the rabbit pieces, or they can be made into a separate dish. And using those flaps of abdominal muscle folded and pinned around it, one option is to fill the râble with stuffing and roast it. The liver and kidneys can go into the stuffing, along with sausage meat, onions, herbs, and bread crumbs. But that's not what I did...

18 May 2018

Spilosoma lubricipeda or Diaphora mendica ?

Those are the names of two lepidopterans — moths in this case. One of them sat for a few hours on the glass of our sliding deck doors earlier this month. I took photos.

If it's Spilosoma lubricipeda, it's commonly known as l'écaille de la menthe in French. Spilosoma evidently means "body with spots." Lubricipeda means "slippery feet" and describes the feet of the fast-crawling caterpillar, not the adult moth. This one was doing a pretty good job of clinging onto a slick plate of glass.

From what I've read, Spilosoma lubricipeda caterpillars can also feed on ortie (stinging nettle) leaves and the leaves of several other plants, including dandelions and broom. Another name I found for the moth is l'écaille tigrée — but don't tigers have stripes?

And then again, it might be a female Diaphora mendica, called l'écaille mendiante in French. The male of this species is brown, while the female is white.

I don't pretend to be an expert, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I just take pictures. You can look the two moths up on Wikipedia in English or in French.

17 May 2018

Fleurs d'acacia

They say you can eat the flowers commonly called fleurs d'acacia, which grow on trees all around the edges of the vineyard. The trees are covered in white blossoms right now. They certainly are fragrant.

I've never tried making the beignets with acacia flowers that people at least talk about making here. Our neighbor across the street used to make them, she says, but she and her husband are not often here in the spring these days. That's when the trees are in bloom.

There's a Julie Andrieu video here showing how the beignets are prepared. I wish she'd come to Saint-Aignan and make some so I could try them. The dictionary gives "fritter" as the translation of the French term beignet. The flower bunches are dipped in what is basically a crepe batter and then deep-fried. There's a recipe on this blog.

The acacia flowers grow on trees that were brought to France 400 years ago from the eastern part of North America — the Appalachians and the U.S. Midwest. They resembled a native tree called l'acacia and that name was applied to the imported plant.

So it's actually a false acacia. I knew these as locust or black locust trees when I lived in Illinois back in the 1970s. Nobody knows what the locust tree's native range was originally, because it has been so widely planted and naturalized all over North America and on other continents, including Europe. Sometimes I wonder what our European ancestors did for food before their "discovery" of America brought them tomatoes, potatoes, squashes, peppers, and all.

16 May 2018

Mon croque-monsieur, mon pain de mie

Isn't croque-monsieur a funny name for a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich? In this sense, the French verb croquer means "to bite, to crunch" with your teeth, as in eating toasted bread. Croquer une pomme means "to bite into an apple." So the sandwich is one that a Frenchman (un monsieur) might bite into and crunch on. There's also a sandwich called a croque-madame, which is the same thing but more elegant and fancy, with a sunnyside-up egg on top.

An aside: When Walt was a student in Paris in 1981, he lived in a boarding house (une pension de famille) for a few months. One of the employees there was an older man who didn't appear to be in great health and who staggered around the place with a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. The American students called him "croak monsieur" because they thought he might croak at any minute.

Anyway, I made croque-monsieur sandwiches yesterday, using slices of that loaf of pain de mie ("sandwich bread") I made on Monday. Such sandwiches are a café standard in France, especially in Paris, as a snack or a quick lunch. There's nothing very complicated about them. Sliced bread, sliced ham (jambon blanc a.k.a. jambon de Paris), and grated cheese (Gruyère, Comté, Emmental, or even Cantal). Toasted. You eat it with a knife and fork.

The most complicated part of making a croque-monsieur, assuming your bought your bread at the supermarché or in a boulangerie, is making a sauce béchamel. That sauce replaces the mayonnaise that we might put on a ham-and-cheese sandwich in the U.S. Béchamel is a white sauce made with butter, flour, and milk. You spread some on the bread inside the sandwich and on the top, before you sprinkle the grated cheese on it (there's cheese inside too). Then you stick the sandwich in the oven and bake it until the cheese on top is slightly browned.

There's something I didn't tell you about the loaf of pain de mie that I made on Monday. I used three kinds of flour: 150 grams of French farine de blé dur (bread flour), 300 grams of French farine type 55 (all-purpose flour), and 150 grams of American white corn meal (brought back from a trip to North Carolina). It's an interesting bread, but certainly not traditional. It made a good croque-monsieur anyway.

Here's a link to a recipe in French for the type of croque-monsieur I made, with photos.