30 November 2015

Collard green casserole topped with polenta

This getting out of bed and finding the house all warmed up is going to take some getting used to. That's the new boiler in action — the new thermostat, actually. It's a four-by-six-inch tabletop unit that you can use to program and adjust the boiler temperature. Over the years, I had gotten used to getting up to a house at 12 to 15 degrees Celsius (55 to 60ºF) on winter mornings, going down to switch on the boiler, and waiting an hour or so for the living room to warm up enough to feel comfortable.

This morning when I got up at 5:45, the living room was already at 19.2ºC. That's pretty much the temperature we want to maintain all day — about 67ºF — until evening, when we let the place gradually cool down. To be honest, it actually feels too warm when I first get out of bed. I guess, as I said, I'll get used to it. It's also abnormally warm outdoors this morning.

Collards cooked in tomato sauce with a mix of beans and some chunks of lamb

Meanwhile, I got sidetracked this morning by a comment from an anonymous reader who wanted to know where one might be able to buy fresh collard greens in Paris. I suggested the organic market on Boulevard Raspail on Sunday mornings, the Marché d'Aligre, and the Marché Richard-Lenoir at Bastille as possibilities. It would be worth shopping around at other outdoor markets in Paris too. If you have any tips for this reader, please leave a comment.

We had collard greens for lunch yesterday. A couple of days ago, I had thawed out some collards that I'd cooked with tomatoes, chickpeas, and lardons and put in the freezer. To those, I added the leftover French flageolet beans we had eaten with lamb on Friday, some cooked black-eyed peas I found in the fridge, and some chunks of rare lamb that I sliced off of what is left of the gigot d'agneau. (Thanks to Tim and Pauline for some of these ideas — see their comment on my first blog post about leg of lamb.)

My first idea was to make that into a kind of thick soup, but Walt suggested it might be a good casserole or gratin. I didn't want cheese with it, and we talked about putting a layer of breadcrumbs on top of the mixture and baking it in the oven.

Then it dawned on me that a layer of polenta spread over the collard-green mixture might be a better option. Bread crumbs could get soggy because of the moisture in the greens and beans, but the cooked creamy polenta would stand up to that kind of treatment. That's what I did and we liked it.

29 November 2015

Leg of lamb, day 2

When I lived in Paris all those years ago, gigot d'agneau was a more frequent dinnertime food for the people I spent time with. Maybe it was less expensive back then. In the early 1980s, I was lucky to get to know and spend time with two French women — it's a  long story — sisters who were then in their early 80s. They had been born in Auxerre, in northern Burgundy, but had spent most of their childhood and adult years in Paris.

One of them lived in Fontainebleau and I would go spend weekends there with her, her sister, and other family members. The woman who invited us would cook a leg of lamb the way I cooked one on Friday and posted about yesterday. We'd have it for dinner. That same day, for dinner, we'd have cold lamb slices with home-made mayonnaise as you see in the photo below. This was the finest kind of home cooking.

Home-made mayonnaise is so simple to make with a stick blender, un blendeur à main, that it's almost silly to buy mayonnaise in jars at the supermarket. The fresh stuff is so much better, and isn't so sweet (unless you want it to be). One whole egg, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of vinegar (or lemon juice), 1 cup of vegetable oil (8 fl. oz.), and some salt and pepper. Put everything into the bottom of a tall pitcher or other deep container, stick in the business end of the hand-held blender, and blitz away. It emulsifies almost instantaneously and makes a thick white mayonnaise. Thin and season it with a little more vinegar or lemon juice if you want to. Flavor it with herbs or garlic, or in different ways like the one in this post for different uses: rouille, tartar sauce, thousand-island dressing, and so on.

With our recent lamb lunches (and others), we've been enjying some 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau red wines. Friday's was the one shown above, marketed under the name Pisse-Dru. Dru means heavy and abundant, in describing rainfall, for example. La pluie tombe dru means it's raining hard and heavily. The word has Gallic (Celtic) origins. One explanation for the name of the wine is that it's made from ripe grapes that are so full of juice that it's just squirting out. We both enjoyed this Beaujolais Nouveau more than any of the three or four others we've tried over the past week.

Anyway, there's the lamb, cooked fairly rare and sliced thin. We steamed some little red potatoes to eat with the lamb and, especially, with the mayonnaise. And then we had a big salad of lettuce dressed with vinaigrette (a recipe for the dressing is in this post). Plain and simple food, with good bread and wine.

28 November 2015

Le gigot d'agneau annuel

Every year at Thanksgiving, and for 20 or 30 years now, we cook a nice leg of lamb. I'm not sure why we started having lamb in November, except that we got tired of cooking poultry twice in one month's time at the end of the year — for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We'll have turkey or a capon or a guinea fowl for the December holidays.

Thanksgiving is a good occasion for a special treat like lamb. We seldom cook a second leg of lamb during the year. A gigot is really too much for the two of us, so when we cook one we eat it for three or four days running (if not longer), serving it several different ways.

The first day, it's a leg of lamb the French way, served with little green flageolet beans. The lamb is cooked rare in a hot oven and seasoned with garlic and thyme. Some years we have a vinaigrette-dressed green salad as part of the lamb feast, and some years we have some other green. Haricots verts are good with the flageolets. Yesterday, giving thanks for the new boiler, we made our dinner with lamb, beans, and collard greens cooked with tomatoes.

Today, we'll have cold rare lamb with home-made mayonnaise. It's something I learned to make more than 30 years ago, when I lived in Paris. The flageolets can be served warm with some chopped garlic and parsley added to them, or cold with vinaigrette. Add a green salad, especially if you didn't have one the day before.

There will be much lamb left over still. The rarest part of the meat, close to the bone, can be chopped or diced and made into a hash with onions, diced carrots, mushrooms, and some flageolet beans if there are any left. Collard greens will go well with that. Another option is to use the hash to make a shepherd's pie with some creamy mashed potatoes.

And so on. There's always the option of freezing some of the meat for later. This year, we got the leg of lamb from David Audas, a butcher down in Saint-Aignan. He's good, and he's our normal supplier. 

The other day, I needed to go to the local Intermarché supermarket for some things. I checked the butcher counter there, which is also very good, and I saw gigot d'agneau from the United Kingdom for about 18 euros a kilo. Call me chauvin, but I'd rather have French lamb.

Then I went up to SuperU for some other things and checked out the butcher counter there. Leg of lamb, from where I don't know, was priced at 23 euros a kilo. I decided the trip to David's butcher shop would be worth it. There, I got a 2.2 kg gigot, beautifully trimmed (un gigot raccourci) and "dressed" for just 18.50 euros per kilo. It's French-raised lamb from the Limousin region south of us, and the leg cost me just over 40 euros. We'll get six, eight, or even 10 delicious servings out of that, as described above.