November 28, 2008

Sunday Thanks for a great year of friendship

Tuscan Black Kale **

While you home-friends are thinking of leftovers and retail therapy on a big scale (aka day after Thanksgiving), here on the French Kitchen ranch in Southwest France, we are just getting ready for the big day. Just like extended and distant families have to rearrange Christmas and school holidays, this bi-cultural life means accommodating the American mindset within a French framework. Sunday is a better day to invite 12 bi-cultural people for a mid day meal.

So I did order a turkey from the village butcher, have yet to find cranberries (I've got an alternate idea...see later*) and I am scouring the last of the potager for some bebe romanesco- those goofy green pointed outer space cauliflowers.

Like a pin-striped muscle car, the potager is lined in frosty threads. After an unusally mild and long Indian summer, the famous Garonne River Valley fog has just arrived with the first frosty nights- resulting in that most ephemeral visual morning treat- a hoar frost. So as I sing 'chick, chick, chicka, che' to my ruffled feathered friends who are busy discovering the freshly arrived kitchen peelings, I ran around the garden in my nightdress, jeans and hoodie to gather a few ideas for Sunday Thanks and these first winter images.

Sunday Thanks Menu Ideas-

fennel fronds and boats with hot anchovy and black pepper dressing

Three Greens
(wilted collard greens, black kale and savoy cabbage
tossed with crispy lardons and garlic)

Armagnac-caramelized Sweet Potatoes wedges

Turkey Roti
(just salt, pepper and duck fat inside and out)

My mother's cornbread stuffing
(the only reason to eat all this!)

Just Pumpkin Pie
& other sweet fantasies

However, the most important ingredient, usually buried beneath the parades, the football games, the piles of colorful sweaters, the too many too early Christmas toys, is the friendship that has gathered around this French Kitchen table during the last year.

During 2008, dozens of new and old friends have stopped, cooked, learned, taught, inspired and been inspired in my simple French Kitchen. On this 2-acre 'American' island of good food and convival gatherings in the most French part of France, I count my blessing, small and grand.
I thank all of you who have made your way to my woad blue door, put up with Bacon's exhuberent greetings and contributed your own good energy and laughter to making the French Kitchen table so memorable.

this is just a sampling...

* French Vodka Cranberry Martinis

**And thanks to Judy for her own kale post!

November 22, 2008

Pork & Beans- a very faux cassoulet

When the Diva, Judy Witts asked me 'what are you making for supper?' I was almost embarrassed to say not Cassoulet. And when she suggested that we post a 'come one, come all' let's cook together on our ongoing, occasional Whole Hog blog, I realized that a simple 'you too can do this tonight' version of French Pork & Beans was the answer.

When not cooking a full-blown Camp Cassoulet version (see the official recipe here!), I sometimes just wet the beans, add anything vegetable lying around and toss in some artisanal bacon at the end. Eh Voila! my version of pork and beans. Next, toss some leftover cheese in a pan with a slice of baguette on top and this is a simple supper that stands up to a bottle of new wine, Beaujolais or otherwise.

My non-recipe recipe goes like this:

Take 500 grams or about 1 lb of dried beans ( I used the fat pillowy Coco beans we grow here in Southwest France), put them in a pot of water to soak during the day.

Drain the now plump beans and put them in a pot. Cover with just enough water, about 3-5 cm or 1 1/2 - 2 inches. Put over a medium hot burner.

Add a couple of carrots, an onion, a few shallots, and two cloves of garlic chopped in small bean-sized pieces. Add a bay leaf, some fresh or dried thyme, a few black pepper corns and some lovage or celery leaf. Cover, let come to a boil, then turn down and simmer for about 45-50 minutes or until the beans are tender. Taste and salt as desired.

While the beans are getting done, fry up some good thick pieces of bacon, a hunk of ventreche, salt pork, ham or a couple of sausages. That's the Pork part. Then toss the meat and any fat into the Beans, stir and serve.

Too simple, too delicious. And it takes about 5 real minutes of chopping, and 45 minutes of cooking. That's less than an hour; less than the time it takes to run out to the store or order mediocre takeout. While the beans are cooking you can read a book, take a walk, or just watch the leaves drop from the trees. And you don't even need a can opener.

As I said, it's not cassoulet, but it is very tasty. And the next day there are leftovers for lunch with an egg dropped in the pan to poach in the bean liquor.

Buy good beans, use good water, kiss your butcher, pay attention. That's what makes the difference!This is Simple French Food.

beans at the Santiago de Compostela market

November 19, 2008

Season Changes- weekend cooking breaks from Cassoulet to Confit de Canard

Gotta love the l'ete Indienne we've been having this year. If there could be a more perfect fall, it would have to be like this one in a favorite painting of Monet's little studio boat that he rowed along the Seine and her tributaries.

Here along the Canal de Garonne, my own canal has been aglow with turning leaves that rolled from acid green to yellow, from gold to deep ochre with a splash of plum and bright red thrown in for fun.

It's just as well the weather held, as this was the time to do a bit of boat repairs.
Taking advantage of the bluer skies and still warm nights, Mark Wiggs, master marine carpenter and boatwright from Angleterre, has been sorting out 50 years of failing plywood and rusty screws.

As you can see, what that really meant is that Mighty Mark took the entire wheelhouse down with his trusty hammer and saw! Now he is building, from the steel frame up, a brand spanking new traditional solid red cedar and glass room perfect for winter morning cafe-au-lait and late summer evening suppers.

Here are a few pix for posterity and just to prove how mad I truly am. Twenty-two years of the Julia Hoyt and we're both ready for a facelift!

Stay tuned for the final unveiling soon!

Along with these structural changes, the season has changed, too, from the gastronomic overload of Fall's abundant markets and menus to the quieter space between the plates, the mid-week pause and to the gracious unhurried weekends.

To celebrate Winter's tardy arrival, I am offering a handful of weekend retreats, culinary quiet time and just enough good food and market color to usher in the festive time ahead. Interested in a weekend break in the French Kitchen? Just click here at French Kitchen Adventures for more details! In the meantime, just keep drifting on the current...

November 06, 2008

Stirring the Pot at Departures Magazine- Cassoulet Cassoles

November is a funny month.
Funny Strange.
Changes seems to begin at the end of the Fall season. New Presidents for some- Nov 4, Remembrances of past peace efforts for others- Nov 11, Turkey and Thanks- Nov 27, and yet another year under the belt- Nov 29. For better or for worse, November is my month. The last couple of years I have been celebrating its gloomy and drizzling arrival with the warmest of all French regional dishes...Cassoulet.

Camp Cassoulet continues to be a popular cooking weekend program here at the French Kitchen and abroad. Lisa and Tony Geer of the Mendocino Coast's Ledford House restaurant joined Tiffany and Michael from Seattle and Olivier and Carole from NYC and Paris at the end of a wonderfully warm Indian Summer October to market and cook yet another great Cassoulet. Here, even the experts can learn a new trick or two.

My Fall season started early over 18,000 kilometers away with teaching and cooking cassoulet for over 400 people in New Zealand in August. In September, I returned home to Southwest France for another round of convivial weekends in front of the French kitchen cheminée and enough beans to flat a raft of saucisse de Toulouse and duck confit.

But the fire really started to blaze when I got the news that Departures Magazine, that arbiter of all things luxe for American Express Platinum cardholders published an article 'Cassoulet Style' by Sylvie Bigar, New York journalist and delightful culinary snoop, about cassoles and mentioned a new little scoop of my own.

It's time to reveal what's been cooking on the French Kitchen back burner. The Hill Sisters (my little sister Stephanie and I) are opening our own, on-line French Kitchen Piggery Pantry & Boutique. And guess what's in stock now?

Cassoles, cassoles and more cassoles! Authentic, traditional, purpose-built clay pots, hand thrown by the Poterie NOT Freres along the canal du Midi near Castelnaudary. In her article, Sylvie gives a good argument for a rounded bean pot, but I must agree with Jacques Pepin that the shape is not as important as what goes in it. (click here for the official Camp Cassoulet recipe and cooking trucs here!) However, as far as cassoles are concerned, what is important is the actual quality of the pot- be it clay, enamel cast iron or stainless steel.

Fortunately you can now have your beans and eat them, too. Because these clay cassoles that the Not family have been throwing for since 1830 are hand-crafted from a special mix of local clay and silica, blended and fired at high temperatures to produce a rock-hard natural terre-cuit or French stoneware. Unlike softer terracotta pots, these are meant to be baked in hot ovens for long hours; they ring like glass when tapped.

The thick glaze is a rich earth color like the well-baked crust of a cassoulet. there are glaze drips and thumbprints that speak of the atelier and roughened hands that make these sturdy bowls. Cooking only deepens the colors and ages the bowl in a duck fat sort of glow. My own cassoles are over 20 years old now and a deep dark brown.

I love these pots; and the men who make them. Like the Artisan Food School teachers we work with, Ton-Ton Robert and the next generation of potters infuse their hand-built cassoles with the sort of love and attention we use when cooking here at the French Kitchen. At the Not Potterie, the cook with clay.

Interested in owning your own authentic Poterie NOT Freres Cassole?

The price is 75 euros (approx 100 US$) plus shipping and handling and is payable with Paypal or credit card (Amex included, of course!). Just click on the "buy now' button upper right. You will be contacted about shipping options available. I drove down in the rain last week to pick up a small order ready for shipping. These pots, made by hand, one-by-one are available in very limited quantities.

The standard size is big enough to prepare a generous cassoulet for 8-10 people using one kilo of dried beans (I use 100 gr, per person) and measures approximately 30cm/12 in. x 11 cm/5 in. and weighs 2.5 kilos or 5.5 pounds.

Since the Not Pottery does not ship, I asked Robert Not to stamp these special cassoles for me so that you would know they are the real deal, straight for France and full of French Kitchen inspiration. And if that is not enough to tempt you, I'll tuck a box of the very secretive Épice Rabelais as well as the official Camp Cassoulet recipe booklet!

(NOTE: FOR THOSE ORDERING A CASSOLE AFTER 19/12/08, the special offer including free Tarbais beans is now over. The 2008 harvest is now depleted.)

To order one or more cassoles, please click on the sidebar at right or email me directly at kate (at) thefrenchkitchen (dot) com. Cassoles weigh 4 kilos packed and are shipped by the French post service, La Poste, International economique and shipping costs are approx. 35 euros depending on destination.

October 06, 2008

French Kitchen News- Autumn Cooking Classes

I have, at last, solved the age old question.

What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Here at Camont, where once all sorts of farm animals roamed at large alongside the canal, there is no doubt. It's the chicken.

Well, actually it not THE chicken, it's SEVEN chickens. So first we got some chickens and THEN we got some eggs. It's that simple. First chickens and THEN eggs.

New to Camont, a simple movable chicken coop placed in one of the garden squares in the potager. Painted woad blue with natural pigment from my friends at Bleu de Lectoure, who also graciously offered the French Kitchen a beautiful pair of black Gascon chooks. They joined a Chilean couple of Araucanas, single White Sussex and two work horse Cou Nu (Naked Necks) laying hens who are doing all the work at present.

It is absoulutely silly how long one can stand and watch the friendly flock scratch and peck. When I can't stand at the stove any longer, just wheel me out to the garden and let me be a chicken voyeur!

So after pulling myself away from the new kids on the farm, I take a stroll around the lower French forty, just to see the changes happening as October takes control.

  • The canal side trees reflect a varied palette in the still water.
  • The mother fig tree is still bent over with hundreds of small but sweet fall fruit.
  • Poplar leaves are beginning to breakdown into compost next to the orchard bridge.
  • Wild watercress is beginning to dominate in the spring run off and promises winter greens.
  • A dozen new raspberry plants have taken hold and offer the promise of jars of next summer confiture.
  • and the beans... the Tarbais beans are heavy with pods drying in this warm fall and have produced just enough beans for this month's Camp Cassoulet cooking classes.
Camp Cassoulet begins October 24 and runs for 5 weekends. For more information click on and consult the calender at the bottom of this blog. Authentic original NOT Poterie cassoles will be available for sale beginning November 1.

Now, what does one do with two beautifully fresh eggs? Just ask my good friend Robert Reynolds at the Chef's Studio in Portland Oregon. mmm...oeufs en meurette.

October 02, 2008

Home Sweet Gascon Home

Travel days suck the minutes out of the day and here I am, a month later having returned from la belle NZ still trying to catch up. We've been cooking, cooking, cooking at the French Kitchen nonstop since I returned and there is a several more weeks of Camp Cassoulet and private classes to come.

The fall days color this private corner of my French world with a luminous haze, a golden silver net of spiderwebs and dew, red rosehips and falling leaves. Five new hens are pecking in garden and a tentative crow from a young rooster trails in the morning mist. The Autumn equinox descends on Camont leaving Orion as its calling card hanging above the pigeonnier tower. Pumpkins and mushrooms fill our baskets while the last figs simmer into yet another jar of confiture des figues epices.
This might be my favorite time of year.
In France.
Wish you were here...

August 14, 2008

45 degrees below... winter words in summer

Live from the 45th parallel.
Christchurch, New Zealand.

This busman's holiday in the southern hemisphere is as much about R&D as it is teaching and cooking. So the very first thing on my first morning with the Metcalfes was an chilly excursion to the Lyttleton Farmer's Market followed by a HOT flat white at the Lyttleton Coffee Company in front of the seriously roaring fire.

While the South Island was hit with unexpected snow flurries and some blustry winds which severly reduced the buyers, the serious and passionate vendors gathered in the somewhat sheltered lee in the grade school playground to sell their wares.

Anna of Gruff Junction farms with her goat's cheeses, organic farmer Chris with an extensive of vegetables from his Tuahiwi Market Gardens ,

and an extraordinary bacon sandwiches from local pork producers. Stay tuned for more Bacon news as we meat the Butcher Babe of Murchison (gold medal bacon!), find the french connection at the boucherie (unfortunately still closed on Sunday after Saturday's Rugby match!)

And even though I haven't been way long enough to get home sick, just the sight of these Frenchy signs in Arokua made me think of home ...

and those I've left behind...

Most of all as the Long Village stretches to meet the long white cloud (NZ to you), thanks to my good friends and hosts, Alison and Ian Metcalfe who are sharing their beloved home with me and extending the Gascon/Kiwi network.

For more information on cooking classes in New Zealand and
traveling with Ian and Ali to France
click on

August 03, 2008

Old France in New Zealand-coming soon

" The old moon cradled in the arms of the new..." a friend's mum used to say.

When the littlest crescent moon is born, you can still see the echo of the full moon behind it. So what happens when you take a girl out of the country -Old France- and put her on the new moon side of the world -New Zealand-? You will still see the echo of Gascony in the food I will be teaching on a month long jaunt across the north and south islands.

My life on the Gascon Ranch is full of the comings and goings of wonderful guests, friends and clients... sometimes all rolled into one. Last year Ian, Alison and Anthony Metcalfe spent the jaunty month of June at Camont and fell in love with the food, the land and the people of my corner of Gascony. It was no surprise to me that after returning to New Zealand from their 'gap year' in Europe, that they found an excellent way to extend their souvenirs of France, Spain and Italy. They have taken the helm of Great Village Holidays into their capable hands.

Ian skyped me one day last winter and asked if I would be interested in traveling to NZ to teach some cooking classes, host some dinners and sign a few copies of my long running, evergreen cookbook. How long did it take to say "yes"?

So after a winter, spring and summer of dipping down into Spain to sample the wares for a Stylish Spanish book, I am heading for that long white cloud of a country to share my love of Southwest France with hungry folk in Christchurch, Hamilton, Wellington, Tasman and Auckland (not necessarily in that order!).

I am looking forward to meeting fellow bloggers, food lovers, cooks and writers, and especially artisan food producers who will help me make Good Gascon food with Great New Zealand products!

I fly out from Paris on Tuesday... next stop Dubai! Oh, Who's minding the Bacon at home? Why Monday Matt, of course, who promises a potager inventory for his next post... tonight's supper courtesy of his home grown CSA box of coeur de boeuf tomatoes, piments, courgettes, eggplants and well, more peppers, of course!

July 25, 2008

Spanish Hooky- a not so still life

Whew. So many things to tell you as I slip under the spell of summer here at Camont with a glass of cold and bone dry rose' wine.

Ok, that's just the usual teaser used by people who live in France. We are snotty and protective about our perceived lifestyle and I, for one, try not to disallusion you, dear reader, too much. Actually, I am fighting the underdeadline-procrastination-book writing blues as my Spanish Hooky excuse of a book deadline looms overhead. The photographs are in the bag, the notes are being transcribed and 500 captions are not being written as we speak. But before I travel on to other parts of the world this summer spreading the Camp Cassoulet gosple as I go...(Old France to New Zealand anyone?) I want to leave you with these images of Espana... and a promise of more to come.

Spanish Hooky Bar

Summer Shoes

Catalan Table

Montserrat Morning