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For our two days in Bordeaux after our recent cruise, we had, weeks earlier, scanned the city’s restaurant websites, searching for one local specialty we hadn’t tasted for 40 years: lamprey à la bordelaise. It’s an ancient dish of the region, impossible to get in the USA and available almost nowhere else even in France. We finally found it listed at Brasserie Bordelaise, which appeared to be a handsome update on traditional French eating places of centuries past.
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The restaurant’s entire online menu looked so interesting, I immediately made dinner reservations for both of our evenings in the city. It was a very good decision.

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On the first evening we were given a nice little window table, located almost at the viewpoint of the photo above. Tom and I could speak enough French to be taken as serious clients, and our waiter could speak enough English to make everything comfortable. Both languages were helpful when the bottle of Château Lafon-Rochet Saint-Estèphe we’d ordered turned out to be corked. (Tom’s blog has that story.) No matter, we wound up with a fine bottle of Domaine de la Solitude Pessac-Léognan, with relief and good will all around.

To start, we shared a generous plate of charcuterie, with five kinds of cured meats, local butter, good bread, and wicked little hot peppers. The peppers surprised us: The French don’t often go in for hot spices. But their flavor worked very well with the essentially rustic flavors of the charcuterie.
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For our main course – naturellement – we both ordered the lamproie à la bordelaise. Lamprey is not food for the faint-hearted. It is an ugly, eel-shaped, boneless, parasitic fish, which migrates from the sea into the Garonne and Dordogne rivers to spawn. Our only previous encounter with the dish was in 1981, in the city of Saint-Emilion. In my notes on that dinner I called it “astonishing and wonderful. A whole different form of protein, not like eel at all and not like anything else. It came with logs of leek in a dense, dark sauce of red wine.”

Now at last, 40 years later, we had it again. It came with a similar wine-rich sauce (thickened with blood, as we learned), the traditional garnish of chunks of leek, and slices of toasted country bread. The lamprey itself was just amazingly good, and still a unique flavor for us. It came with a salad of several lettuces and excellent mashed potatoes.
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This was a truly sumptuous meal. We crowned it by sharing a small dessert, all we had room for: a sort of deconstructed profiterole.
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Our second day’s dinner at Brasserie Bordelaise wasn’t quite as significant an occasion as the first, there being no other long-looked-for, rare regional specialty on the menu. But we ate very well that evening too. Evidently we’d become clients, because we were presented with complimentary glasses of champagne when we arrived.

This time we decided to forgo a starter, to save our appetites for a selection from the good-looking cheese cart we’d noticed at the side of the room. I chose a main course of roasted chicken: a large, succulent breast-and-wing quarter au jus, with crisp browned skin and a square of stuffing. With it were fried potatoes and the same good salad as yesterday’s.
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Tom’s main course was, like the lamprey, listed on the “local dishes” section of the menu: joue de bœuf confite au vin de Bordeaux. Normally, calling a food confit means it has been preserved for storage by lengthy cooking submerged in fat. This beef cheek was preserved by cooking in the red wine of the region – for hours, apparently, until it was meltingly tender. It was served with roasted carrots and mashed potatoes.
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It was another remarkable dish. The cheek’s flavor was an immediately pleasing blend of meat sweetness and slight gaminess. Both elements merged beautifully with the wine-rich sauce, which cried out to be sopped up with mashed potatoes and country bread. I knew at once that I’d have to try making it at home. Fortunately, beef cheek is not as impossible to find in New York as lamprey, and I already have a cheek in my freezer, waiting for a suitable day.

The fine Château de Pez Saint-Estèphe we’d been enjoying with our main courses ratcheted itself up another level as we moved on to a plate of cheeses: brie, chèvre, tomme de savoie, and cantal.
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This was a splendid final meal in Bordeaux, and after glasses of old Armagnac and fond farewells to the restaurant staff, two very happy people strolled back to their hotel for a peaceful night’s sleep, with blissful memories of that fabulous lamprey dish.
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Wine Bar Lunches in Bordeaux

I’m recently back from another French river cruise. Regular readers may recall my posts about dining on and off cruises on the Loire, the Rhône, and the Seine. The latest one was on the Garonne, in southwest France, which flows into the Gironde estuary and on to the Atlantic Ocean. Same cruise company, Crosieurope, and a slightly bigger ship, MS Cyrano de Bergerac.
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This time I won’t be writing about shipboard dining, which wasn’t noteworthy, unfortunately. Instead, I’ll focus on two days Tom and I spent on our own in Bordeaux, after the cruise. We were staying in the historic St. Pierre district, rich in opportunities for strolling, sightseeing, eating, and wine drinking. This post will be about our lunches there.

Now, we don’t like to eat big lunches; and at home we almost never drink wine with lunch. When traveling, it can be hard to find small midday meals that are as interesting and pleasurable as we hope for as vacationers. That’s the beauty of wine bars, where we can enjoy tapas-style small food items, with wines that we don’t get at home. And Bordeaux is unquestionably world-class wine country.

We took our first day’s lunch at the wine bar of the city’s official Maison du Vin de Bordeaux. Its spacious, quiet, comfortable Bar à Vin offered 30 wines by the glass from all the Bordeaux appellations, and half a dozen assortments of cheeses, meats, and foie gras. Prices were very reasonable: each food plate €10, wines €5 to €10 a glass. Everything on the menu looked wonderful. And in fact, it all was.

We started with two glasses of a 2018 Les Hautes de Smith red Pessac-Léognan (There’s more about all the wines on Tom’s blog) and a plate of charcuterie: pork terrine, cured ham, smoked duck breast, and a dry sausage.
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Next we chose a wine comparison: one glass of a Médoc, 2011 Château La Cardonne, and one of an Haut Médoc, 2012 Château Larose Perganson. With them we had a plate of duck foie gras served with flakes of a special sea salt infused with Merlot wine.
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Even the breads served along with the small dishes were exceptional, especially the lightly raisined brown breads in the picture above. This was a small but perfectly satisfying lunch, leaving us contented and capable of looking forward with enthusiasm to dinner.

On our second day, remembering the many attractive choices we didn’t make for the previous lunch, we went right back to the Bar à Vin. We started with two glasses of a white Pessac-Leognan: 2019 Château Olivier, accompanied by rillettes of trout. It was surprising to see the rillettes arrive in our own little sealed, labeled jar, but the menu said it was a local product.
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Next, it was was back to red wine: two glasses of 2018 Chateau Tour du Termes St. Estèphe, along with the eponymous Bar à Vin assortment of edibles. The plate had three kinds of cheese – Cantal, Saint Nectaire, and Tomme de Savoie – and two cured meats. One was a Swiss air-dried beef, and the other an Italian salted and dried pork coppa.  Each was a paradigm of its kind.
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With all that, we needed one more glass of wine. A 2018 Pavillon du Haut Rocher Saint-Emilion concluded another thoroughly satisfying lunch.

.My next post will be about the equally fine dinners we enjoyed on those two days in Bordeaux.

 

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Two Provençal Vegetable Salads

Hiding out from the heat wave in an air-conditioned apartment for much of the past weeks has given me lots of time to browse my older cookbooks for not-too-demanding hot-weather recipes that I hadn’t tried before. First result: two vegetable salad dishes I’ve made from Mireille Johnston’s aptly named The Cuisine of the Sun. What could be more appropriate for New York City in August?!

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Cold Corn Salad, Simmered in White Wine
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While the French have long considered corn only as animal fodder, Johnston says that in Nice it’s “prepared in many exciting ways for human enjoyment.” That sounded good. I was a bit shocked to see her calling for canned corn. No way in a New York summer! When I cook corn on the cob (four minutes in boiling water) I always toss a few extra ears in the pot, then cut off their kernels and package them in plastic bags for the freezer, to use in the dark days of winter. I pulled out one of this year’s first bags for this recipe.

The vegetable condiments for a salad to serve two were easy to prepare: two minced scallions, half a garlic clove, a piece of bay leaf, a teaspoonful of whole peppercorns, and a small sprig of marjoram (the last, my substitution for the recipe’s dried thyme).
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I heated olive oil in a pan, tossed in all those ingredients, and sauteed them for five minutes. The recipe said to use a high flame but I couldn’t – the scallions would have burned. I don’t know how Johnston would have managed that. On my stove, three minutes at medium heat were more than enough.
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Turning the heat to low, I stirred in the corn, a good sprinkling of salt, and a scant four tablespoons of white wine.
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Five minutes of gentle simmering, and the dish was done. The last instruction was to chill the salad for at least three hours. I couldn’t see why it needed that long, but I dutifully did. The peppercorns stayed right in the mixture.

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Warm Bean Salad in a Spicy Vinaigrette
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This is one of a trio of “white salad” recipes in the book – i.e., for potatoes, cauliflower, and white beans – tossed with the same dressing. In my pantry there was just the right amount left of a bag of good Rancho Gordo cranberry beans for two portions, so I used them instead.

Having given the beans an overnight soak, I put them in a pot of water with a few chunks of carrot, part of a red onion, a clove, and an “unbundled” bouquet garni (sprigs of parsley, marjoram, and bay leaf).

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Covered, brought to a boil and reduced to a simmer, the pot of beans cooked along gently while I turned to the dressing. This was the most elaborate “vinaigrette” I’d ever concocted. I use quotes here because vinegar and oil were the least part of the dressing. The bulk of it was parsley, and there was also scallion, garlic, tarragon, anchovies, nutmeg, salt, black pepper, and Tabasco, along with the modicum of olive oil and red wine vinegar.
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I’d made sure to finish the cooking of the beans shortly before dinner time, so they could be drained, tossed gently with the dressing, and served while still warm.
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So, for dinner . . .
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. . . we had both salads alongside slices of a broiled, rare flank steak. Delicious!

The beans had happily sucked in the pungent dressing and made its garlicky fragrance their own. We couldn’t discern the tarragon or nutmeg, but perhaps they would have made more of a contribution to white beans. Cranberry beans have stronger flavors of their own.

The corn salad made a good, mild contrast, except for the tiny sharp bursts when you bit into a peppercorn. Otherwise, the dish tasted mostly of sweet corn. That wasn’t bad, but if I make the recipe again, I’ll add more of the other vegetable ingredients. And probably crack the peppercorns, so their flavor spreads more.

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Desserts are a culinary category in which I do not excel. I’m okay with simple cakes, pies, and fruit dishes, but nothing so fancy and fussy as floating islands, those cloudlike puffs of meringue sitting in a pool of custard. However, during our Seine river cruise in June, Tom twice had oeufs à la neige, a.k.a. île flottant, and adored them both.

On shipboard: with caramel syrup

At La Grenouille: with pistachio sauce

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Ever since, he has been teasing me about making one for him. Finally, I surprised him by agreeing to try. I found a reasonably short, straightforward-looking recipe in Raymond Oliver’s classic cookbook La Cuisine. Regrettably, his recipes don’t give numbers of servings, and I had no idea what quantity the listed ingredients would produce. So I tried a half recipe’s worth. After the fact, I suspect that the full version would feed the Paris Saint-Germain soccer team.

In any case, the first stage was to prepare the meringue. I separated four eggs and made up ¾ cup of superfine sugar by whirling granulated sugar for 30 seconds in the food processor.
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My egg whites took an unusually long time to foam up in the mixer that day. Why, I don’t know. As I gradually added the superfine sugar, they strongly resisted rising to the prescribed stiff, glossy peaks. That was worrisome. Eventually I settled for sticky, glossy mounds – as close as I was going to get.
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Then I prepared the poaching liquid for the meringue “islands.” In a broad, shallow pot, I dissolved ⅔ cup of granulated sugar and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract in 2 cups of milk, brought that to a boil, and reduced it to a simmer.

Next instruction: “Shape the egg whites into ovals with two tablespoons.” I wish! The gooey meringue refused to smooth: Bits of it stuck to itself, stuck to the spoons, stuck to the sides of the pot. The gobs I was able to detach seemed to poach all right – two minutes to a side – but fluffy bits dropped off like calving icebergs as I turned them and as I removed them to a cloth to drain.
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And there was so much meringue! When I reached a dozen shapeless lumps, I abandoned what was left in the mixing bowl.

Now I needed to use the poaching milk to make custard – a standard crème anglaise. I’d done that before, from a Julia Child recipe, where you start by beating egg yolks with sugar until they thicken and turn pale. Here, the sugar was already dissolved in the milk, so I beat the yolks by themselves. And beat them. And beat them. No good: without the assistance of granulated sugar, they refused to change consistency.

I dipped all the remnants of meringue out of the hot milk and gradually beat it into the yolks, where it eventually produced a pourable custard, topped with a huge layer of foam. I transferred it all to a quart-sized measuring cup and arranged the least unsightly “islands” on a serving plate.
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I put plate and cup in the refrigerator to chill until the evening. By then, most of the custard’s foam had dissipated, but the islands looked as wretched as ever. I chose four to use for two dessert portions.
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Despite the messiness of these constructions, Tom said he liked his floating islands very much. He certainly consumed them with speed and gusto. I was less enthusiastic about mine. The whole effect of this dessert, even at its best, is too purely sugary for me.

The remaining islands went back into the refrigerator, along with the custard, and Tom had another round of them the next day. He said they were still perfectly good. Also on the third day, when he finished the last of them. Bless him!

Addendum by Tom:

Diane is right that her floating islands weren’t pretty, but they were really very tasty, and compared favorably both in flavor and texture with those I ate in France: one more item to add to the culinary category of ugly-but-good. Given the depth of Diane’s birth pangs, however, I have promised not to ask for them again. Besides, three straight days of floating islands used up my lifetime quota.

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I haven’t yet resumed ambitious cooking after returning from my recent trip to France, because both Tom and I almost immediately came down with breakthrough Covid. Mild cases, but fatiguing. So, instead of a cooking tale for this post, I’ll write about two seafood lunches we enjoyed while on the latter part of the trip.

After our three days in Paris, we had a week’s cruise on the Seine, meandering through bucolic Normandy to the river’s estuary at Honfleur and back, on the MS Seine Princess.

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It was a very pleasant trip, but like previous river cruises we’ve taken with the Croisieurope line – on the Loire and Rhône – the dining was not a particular highlight for us. Only one menu is ever served for each three-course lunch and four-course dinner, and the style is international hotel standard, with few nods to seasonal or regional dishes.

Tom and I are not fond of large meals in midday, so when the ship spent two days docked in the charming town of Honfleur, we took the opportunity to skip the set lunches and check out the many little seafood eateries right at the port. Promptly at noon, we settled ourselves at the enclosed porch of La Grenouille.
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First Lunch

The enticing menu had a wealth of shellfish choices. This sumptuous assiette de fruits de mer – oysters, scallops, shrimps, whelks, periwinkles, and dog cockles – made Tom a very happy man.
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I’d been told by friends that, in Honfleur, you absolutely have to try moules frites, the local specialty of mussels marinière with French fries. I did, and received a huge pot of them and some of the best fried potatoes I’ve ever eaten. The mussels were smaller than those we usually get at home, with a different sort of salt-spiciness. Very nice.
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With this light but satisfying lunch we drank half a bottle of a crisp, fresh Muscadet – plus one extra glass, just for the pleasure of it.
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And then strolled back to our ship for a post-prandial nap.  It’s very stressful, being a tourist.

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Second Lunch

Our second day’s objective at La Grenouille was oysters. We’ve always considered American oysters much better than European varieties, and here was a perfect chance to give that preference another test. We ordered the plateau d’huîtres, which has six each of three kinds of oysters: Claire, Isigny, and St. Vaast.
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All very large, they looked similar, but our waiter carefully explained the arrangement on the plate. (Interesting that they were served opened, but the top shells still attached.) Almost sparkling with freshness, they were the best we’d ever had on the eastern side of the Atlantic.

Least pleasing were the St. Vaasts – a little too sharply salt-watery for our taste. It was hard to choose between the other two, the Isignys more strongly flavored – not brinier, but more shellfishy than the more elegant Claires. All three kinds were enhanced by mignonette sauce, which we don’t like at all on American oysters, and excellent brown bread and butter.

Bottom line: We still like our own oysters better – they’re more richly flavored and far more varied – but (in Michelin’s terms) these Norman bivalves certainly vaut un détour, if not an entire voyage.

Our gastronomic researches were lubricated by a full bottle of the same classic Muscadet we’d had the day before. It tasted even better with the oysters. Then we needed something small and sweet to round out the meal. Tom declared his floating island, with pistachio cream, the best he’d ever had, and I loved my pretty apple tart.

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There’s much about Honfleur I’ll remember with pleasure: its 15th century all-wooden church, the largest one in France; its cobbled streets of colorful half-timbered houses around the old port; its huge ferris wheel and old-time carousel; its short, flat car bridge that swings open like a gate, for boats to pass through the harbor; the small marsh just past the bridge, where we watched lapwings playing (all told, 30 species of birds seen on the trip!). And, by no means least, these two lovely lunches at La Grenouille.

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Tom and I are just back from a trip to France. We spent the first three days in Paris, staying in a small hotel on the left bank, near the Sorbonne. I’d made two advance dinner reservations at long-favorite restaurants, and for our first evening we wanted to try finding someplace simple in the neighborhood.

We absolutely lucked in.

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This is Au Père Louis – an old-fashioned (in the best sense) bistrot and wine bar just a block from our hotel, and a little gem. The friendly but properly serious young staff greeted us with courtesy, albeit mild amusement at my so-careful French. Asked for une table tranquille, they gave us a virtually private one in a low balcony room, overlooking the active bar area. Most of the clientele seemed local.
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The menu was everything we’d hoped for, with classically simple traditional fare, at very reasonable prices. We each started with os à moelle – roasted marrow bones topped with fleur de sel sea salt from the Guérande and served with lightly grilled bread. The marrow was so fragrant and luscious that I forgot to take a photo until we’d almost finished our portions.

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Having the bones sawn lengthwise as these were makes extracting the marrow much easier than digging it out of the round hole in a cross-cut section of bone. I was tickled by the menu’s picturesquely calling that technique en gouttière, which means gutter-style.
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My main course was magret de canard grillé, avec purée maison. The large, rare duck breast came with a red wine sauce that had an intriguing hint of cherries, and with very flavorful mashed potatoes.
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Tom had saucisse au couteau d’Auvergne – a hefty piece of spicy pork sausage, served with the same good mashed potatoes. Preparing sausage au couteau means coarsely chopping the meat with a knife, not putting it through a grinder. It’s said to preserve more flavor.
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These were two very rich, filling dishes, so for dessert we shared a slice of a rich, filling (!) apple tarte tatin, which came accompanied by whipped cream so thick it was almost butter.

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Our dinner wine was a 2020 Chinon from Marc Brédif. Here are Tom’s comments on the wine.

Marc Bredif is a century-and-a-quarter old Loire winery, with fabled deep aging cellars – really caves – cut into the hillsides. It was taken over in 1980 by Baron de Ladoucette, one of the most esteemed producers of Loire wines, and has since grown in stature as a specialist in Vouvray and Chinon. Our bottle was a classically lovely Loire red, rich with soft Cabernet franc flavors.

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Finally, for digestifs, Tom had a glass of clear eau de vie distilled from Normandy apple cider, and I a glass of Louis Roque’s La Vieille Prune Reserve, a fine plum brandy. Both were excellent, and both did their digestive work quite efficiently.

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This supremely satisfying meal – pure perfection for a first evening in Paris – cost only €146, which is $154. In Manhattan, it could easily have been twice that, and we’d have been hard put to find a restaurant that actually had a quiet table. When we stopped back two days later for a light lunch, we were recognized and warmly greeted. That’s part of the charm of Paris – not just international éclat but also neighborhood warmth.

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I’m away on a non-cooking vacation just now and wanted to leave something to amuse my readers while I’m gone. Friends have told me that sometimes my posts about recipes that didn’t work are more interesting to read than ones that did. For your culinary schadenfreude, therefore, I proudly present some of Diane’s Greatest Misses.

Not Very Mexican Corn Soup

Here’s a recipe I really had to struggle through, arguing with it all the way. Though it produced something edible in the end, I couldn’t feel it was worth the effort. Hard to tell how it was supposed to turn out.

 

Swordfish Bocconcini

I have to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for this one. I didn’t pay enough attention to the instructions, so I did something foolish. The disappointing result probably served me right. Justice can be cruel.

 

Rillettes: A Sad Story

This failure was entirely due to my not being able to find the right cut of pork for the dish. Not wanting to postpone my culinary experiment, I bought what I hoped would serve just as well. Poor choice: It didn’t.

 

French Irish Stew

This time I blame the famous cookbook author. I followed his recipe faithfully, but this dish, which he highly praised, was totally uninteresting. A notorious egoist, he would have been outraged by my opinion.

 

How Not to Make Wine Jelly

I’m not sure why this one failed. As an experienced jam maker, I thought I certainly should be able to make jelly. The instructions were clear, the procedures straightforward. Unfortunately, there was no jelling.

 

One More Strawberry Dessert

This summer pudding took a pretty elaborate effort to make, and it gave only a very minimal reward. There was nothing wrong with the process or the ingredients. The combination just didn’t sing for me.
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Well, however poorly these culinary experiments turned out, they were interesting – and in most cases educational – for me. Win or lose, cooking is an endlessly fascinating activity. If you dip into these little tales, I hope you’ll find my experiences interesting – and maybe a bit instructive – to read.
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If you mention gougère these days, culinarily inclined people are likely to think of bite-sized cheese puffs. These small, savory cousins of eclairs and profiteroles are charming to serve with aperitifs (and I do), but the real glory of gougère shines forth in a big, golden, shaggy, crunchy, fragrant, deliciously cheesy pastry.

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Gorgeous, isn’t it? And that one is not even quite full-sized. The recipe I use is practically an heirloom. It was given to me decades ago by a friend at work, who would occasionally bring one of his homemade gougères to casual meetings of the junior staff. Andrew was a brilliant, witty guy, and when we finally persuaded him to give us his recipe, it turned out to be a two-page masterpiece of jaunty prose.

Preparing the choux paste base for gougère is often considered complex and tricky, but Andrew’s recipe makes it seem easy – and it has always worked fine for me. Here’s a short version of the procedure.

In a saucepan, melt butter with water, salt and pepper.
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When it comes to a boil, turn off the heat, dump in all the flour at once, and stir rapidly until the mixture turns into a ball of dough and cleans the side of the pan.
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Add eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously until the egg is thoroughly combined into the mixture.
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Stir in diced cheese; by rough spoonfuls transfer the mixture to a buttered pie dish that has been previously heated in the oven; sprinkle more diced cheese over the surface.
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Bake at 450° for 35 to 45 minutes until, to quote Andrew, “Your eyes and nose will tell you when it’s done.”

And once it’s done, the only problem is holding off long enough to prevent scalding your mouth when you take the first forkful. Ambrosia! Here’s another view of it.

 

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And now, as a special gift to my readers, here’s an image of the ancient, battered, original document from which I’ve been making fabulous gougères for all these many years. Thank you, Andrew, wherever you are!
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Butcher’s Wife Eggs

Once upon a time in France, it seems, a woman married to a butcher used one of her husband’s products to create a baked egg dish that featured ground beef and tomato sauce. The result was Oeufs sur le Plat à la Bouchère, which, I’ve just discovered, makes a very pleasant breakfast or lunch dish.

The recipe is in the Eggs & Cheese volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. It’s a simple enough dish, and it would have been quick to make if I’d had a small amount of tomato sauce on hand, as I often do. But this day I had to make one up, so I followed the book’s recipe.

I briefly sauteed a little chopped onion in olive oil, added chopped garlic, parsley, basil, and chopped canned plum tomatoes, plus salt and pepper, and simmered until the sauce thickened.

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Meanwhile, I buttered two terracotta gratin dishes, crumbled up five ounces of raw ground sirloin, and made a ring of the salted and peppered meat inside each dish.

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I should say here that I was winging the recipe’s quantities a bit. It was given for six servings, with one egg in each of six dishes. With only two to feed for lunch, I decided to be generous with the eggs, the meat, and the sauce. I carefully broke two eggs into each of the rings.
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After spooning melted butter over all four yolks, I put the dishes into a 450° oven. The recipe said to bake 10 minutes, until the egg whites were cooked but the yolks still soft. With my larger dishes, it took a few minutes more for the whites to become opaque. In fact, I may have left them in too long, since the yolks were no longer at all runny. But they weren’t solid yet, either, and we don’t know how much softness the butcher’s family liked.
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For serving, as you can see, I dotted the tomato sauce around the edges of the dishes. It was supposed to be poured around the eggs, but I was too pleased with my lively, chunky little sauce to want to smooth it out.

Despite the yolks’ not being as liquid as we like them, we enjoyed our eggs very much. Together, the three components enhanced each other more than we had expected. It’s not a dish I’ll make often for just the two of us, but if ever I find myself in need of a mildly festive breakfast or lunch for a few guests, the butcher’s wife’s eggs would be a tasty and attractive choice.

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Apple Tart Mapie

There are so many good desserts that can be made with apples! Available year-round and delightful in cakes, pies, tarts, crisps, crumbles, and cobblers, apples almost seem to be trying to make amends for that unfortunate incident in Eden.

Be that as it may, here’s an unusual kind of apple tart that I made for the first time the other day.

 

I found the recipe in the Pies and Pastries volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. All the recipes in the series are gleaned from other books, making for broad, interesting collections. This tart is from La Cuisine de France, by Mapie, the Countess of Toulouse-Lautrec, an early classic of French recipes in English. What struck me about it was the ingredient list. As well as apples and sugar, it included four eggs and a whole stick of butter. But no milk at all, so the filling wouldn’t be a custard. What would it be like? I’d give it a try.

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First I melted and browned the butter.

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You can hardly see the liquid butter under its insistent foam. Happily, I didn’t have to skim that off in this case. I just stirred the entire contents of the pan into a bowl holding the sugar. The recipe called for 1½ cups of granulated sugar, but I felt that would make the tart too sweet for our taste, so I used only 1 cup.
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Next was to beat in the eggs, one at a time. It was actually a pleasure to be able to do that with a spoon, not a machine.
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The last ingredient in the filling was three tablespoons of flour. Here I felt it would be wise to switch from a spoon to a whisk, to prevent clumps.
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The addition of flour produced a thick, glutinous slurry, which I set aside while peeling, coring, and chopping two Fuji apples. I’ve found the Fujis available this season quite good for baking.
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Earlier, I’d taken some short pastry dough from the freezer, Now I rolled it out, fitted it into a nine-inch pie dish, spread the apples in the tart shell, and poured on the slurry. At that point, the penny dropped: This was a filling very like that of a pecan pie!

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The filling was a tight fit. Good thing I’d chosen a fairly deep pie dish, in case the filling might overflow the crust. The tart behaved pretty well in the 400° oven, though it took almost twice as long as the recipe’s indicated 30 minutes before the center tested done. As you may have noticed in the image above, there was a small breakthrough but the dish contained it. (My eggs were jumbos. Maybe I should have used only three.)
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It was indeed an unusual apple tart – rich and dense, in style quite like a pecan pie, but mercifully not as cloyingly sweet as pecan pies often are. I was glad to have cut back on the sugar. The apples came across as not so much the principal ingredient but more just a fruit flavoring for the sweet, gelatinous, filling base. I missed the lively brightness of an all-apple filling. So, while Mapie’s tart was an interesting experiment and technically successful, it’s not a dessert I’m likely to make again.

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