10 August 2009

Cousins, Cousines et Nos Chers Amis

Ineke, Jack's darling cousin from Paris, was here visiting for the month of August and we had a lot of fun, mostly centered around cooking and eating (wow, big surprise, huh?) We started off the evening of her arrival, with a large block of fois gras, which Ineke had brought from France. I am just a huge fan of fois gras, which Ineke knows, so she very generously treated us to some of the best, procured from a chef friend of hers. When she unveiled it, I knew we were in for a fattening month.

Melt-in-your-mouth divine!

We planned a feast with friends for the following Saturday night. Giles, Mia and Taylor were coming from New York, so we would have a full house chez nous.

On Saturday, our kitchen was crowded with busy cooks, preparing various parts of the evening's meal. It never ceases to amaze me how many cooks we can fit in our kitchen, all doing different things at once: opening the refrigerator and the ovens, stirring pots on two stovetops, chopping and slicing on all the countertops, and generally making a huge mess. I mean, our kitchen is not that big, but it can host a lot of activity! Somehow it always works, with no one getting a paring knife in the ribs, or a black eye from bending down at the wrong moment.

My three iron chefs: Drake, Jack and Giles

Jack made bread, which he does frequently. He never measures anything, just goes by instinct. I will write a future post on his bread making, with step-by-step photos (and measurements).

The rising dough always emits a tantalizingly yeasty aroma!

Two loaves, dusted with fennel powder, ready for the oven

Giles and Mia had brought their Old Smokey meat smoker with them from New York (along with the baby, her stroller, portable crib, numerous bags, a guitar, and the dog.) About mid-day, Giles began preparing a dry rub for the ribs. The colors of this mixture, before the ingredients were mixed together, reminded me forcibly of the earth in Provence, especially in the area of Rousillon, where the soil is every shade of ochre - reds, oranges and yellows - spectacularly gorgeous.


Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Ground Cumin
Sweet Paprika
Hot Paprika
Kosher Salt
Cracked Black Pepper

(All amounts are to taste.)

Removing the membrane from the bone side of the rack eliminates the bitter flavor the membrane can have.

Step One - Rub the ribs.

Step Two - Put wood chips in the bottom of the smoker and start to heat.
These are Hickory chips.

Step Three - Ineke and Giles load the hot smoker.

You can smoke different kinds of meat on different tiers within the smoker. Of course, this alters the flavors of all of them.

Drake assembled fresh cut, juicy chunks of pineapple, wrapped in apple wood smoked, maple sugar cured bacon.

Drake's hors d'oeuvres ready for the grill

Ineke prepared dessert, a fruit soup invented by her son Brian, who is a pastry chef in Paris and Brusssels.

Preparing the fresh strawberries from the Hingham Farmers Market

Ineke simmering spices in simple syrup


Simmer in equal parts sugar and water (simple syrup):
Star Anis Pods
Seeds scraped from Half a Vanilla Bean
Cardamon Seeds
Whole cloves
Small Cinnamon Stick
Whole Black Peppercorns

After the spices have imparted their flavors to the simple syrup, strain well, through several layers of cheesecloth, so that the liquid is clear. Let cool.

When cool, add the syrup to Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice. Stir to blend. Then add sliced Strawberries. We also added halved Blueberries and chopped fresh Mint from our herb garden. (Every time we use this mint we think of our friend Renato, who brought the seeds back from one of his trips home to Italy, and gave us some - real Menta Triestina. I made a mental (no pun intended!) note to let Renato know later that evening, that we had used his mint, since he and Dolores would be joining us for the feast.

The finished soup would chill until later.

Meanwhile, as Giles's ribs smoked outside, he was back in the kitchen, stirring the makings for his barbeque sauce. He then let it simmer for several hours over low heat.


Cider Vinegar
Full Grain French Mustard
Worcestershire Sauce
Ground Cinnamon
Ground Cumin
Chile Powder
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Ground Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

(All amounts are to taste.)

It's worth making a lot of this sauce, as it keeps well in the refrigerator, and can be used to complement a variety of meats.
Hours later, the smoked ribs are ready for a dousing of barbeque sauce.
Just out of the smoker

Giles coating the ribs with sauce, as Ineke, Mia and Taylor look on.

Ready for presentation to the assembled party

Meanwhile, in the upper garden.....

Lisa looked happy, as Drake did some last minute assembly with toothpicks.

...then grilled his pineapple/bacon hors d'oeuvres, which were so incredibly juicy, they dripped profusely when we ate them. They were the perfect combination of sweet, salty, crispy, chewy and juicy.

A variety of sausages were grilling, topped with rosemary leaves.

Jack's bread had been baked, sliced and then toasted on the grill with garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese.

Yee haw!

Madeleine and Matt (I call them Maddie and Mattie)

Lisa, Drake, Ineke and Dan

Austin, Sam, Alec and Drake anticipating dinner

As the Italians say, a tavola.

Dolores and Renato

Ineke serving her dessert soup

After a feast that included roasted, marinated beets, and grilled eggplant, as well as various other veggies, olives and cheeses, we tasted Ineke's dessert, which was light and fruity with an almost elusive hint of spice. Both tangy and sweet, it was a perfect way to top off our meal.

And then the music started. We had four guitars going, with various singers entertaining us. Madeleine sang a lilting rendition of the Beatles' "Blackbird"; Cindy put in a superb imitation of Norah Jones; and the piece de resistance was Alec, rapping and ad lib-ing about all of us there - in both Spanish and English. I was laughing so hard, I barely got any photos of that.

Madeleine singing

The incredibly talented Joe, who plays numerous instruments

Alec the rapper, accompanied by Jack, Joe, Austin and Giles

Jack playing lone flamenco

Madeleine and Ineke share a hug

Suddenly, Ron has picked up a new talent... "Baby, I'm the guitar man."

End of a terrific evening. My three Iron Chefs, slightly looser than in the previous photo.

Ah...breakfast the next morning. What better way to start the day than with a slice of fois gras?
Ineke and Jack's sister, Anne

Slow Food Picnic on the Farm follow-up

Several of you have written asking how the Slow Food Farm Day at my sister-in-law's organic farm went, since I had written about it in two previous posts (click here and here). I actually created a blog post for them recapping the day, on their new official blogspot, so check it out.

I have to admit that my pie did not win the prize; it was classified a "tarte" because it was in a square French pan and made with puff pastry (goodness, who knew?) but I still had fun making it, and the winning pie, a blueberry & strawberry mix with lattice top, was absolutely delicious.
The pie contest - mine is the square one with cherries


Make puff pastry. [Astuce (tip): the frozen version of puff pastry available in all supermarkets is really quite good, and a lot quicker than making it from scratch.]

Brush tarte pan with melted butter, and line pan, pressing the pastry up the sides. Prick dough all over with fork, but do not weigh down with pie weights. Pre-bake only until very light brown; then let cool. Then press down the puffed up crust. It will crumble, but be very flaky and light.

Pit 3 cups bing cherries.

Poach cherries until tender in the following mixture: 1 bottle red wine (I used a light Chianti), 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 handfuls of raw sugar. When cherries are quite tender, but still holding their shape, drain the extra liquid out of them, reserving the poaching liquid for later.

While the cherries are poaching, make the frangipane filling:

In a food processor, grind 1 + 1/4 cup blanched almonds, until they are a fine, slightly grainy powder. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together 1/2 cup unsalted butter and a scant 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Beat for several minutes until quite light in color. Add 1 egg, the ground almonds, 2 + 1/2 tbsp. dark rum, 2 tsp. almond extract, and 1 tbsp. pastry flour (or regular unbleached flour).

Pour the frangipane into the cooled crust, spread evenly, and chill for one hour.

Preheat oven to 425*. Remove tarte from refrigerator and dot all over with the poached and drained cherries, carefully pressing them into to thick frangipane filling. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until both the crust edges and the top of the frangipane are light golden brown.

Serve at room temperature. (The flavor intensifies if it sits for a few hours.)

If you wish, reduce the poaching liquid to a syrup consistency. It can be drizzled around the tarte slices, and is also wonderful over vanilla ice cream.

My old fashioned cherry pitter, which I've had for years -
It always comes out during cherry season.

Purple hands

Poached cherries

Et voila!

The assorted contest entries all looked mouthwatering.

The judges

Finally, the public was allowed to join in the tasting.
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