August 04, 2009

moving house...

...from Blogger to a new all-in-one site at

Like the gitane that I am, I am now writing from my mobile summer office (see above) within earshot of Henri IV (that's the big black Gascon rooster) in the potager. For all my blog friends and French Kitchen alumni, please keep an eye on this new site for changes and additions as we set up the new Kitchen-at-Camont programs for l'Autome '09 and l'Hiver '10: Pigs-in-the-Kitchen and Ducks-under-Glass.

(merci tout le monde a Blogspot !)

Kate Hill & French friends

July 31, 2009

Julia, Julie, Michael and me. My un-review.

Food Guru Michael Pollan throws out some thought provoking words, a lot of the them, in his NY Times article dedicated to Julia & Julie, food TV and... why Americans in love with food don't really cook.

Meryl Streep, Julia Child and fellow food bloggers aside, I couldn't help but get caught on a few words that struck me so personally and timely that I had to jump ahead of the movie review (which doesn't come out until September here anyway, dubbed in French, of course) and get straight to the Pollan-ization.

Like preaching to the choir whose mouths are full, I was mumbling "Amen" and singing "Hallelujah!" until I got to the end of the article. Pollan uses food marketing researcher Harry Balzer for a bushel full of figures. But when Balzer announces that Americans will never go back to real cooking I took up arms. Balzer says “Why? Because we’re basically cheap and lazy. And besides, the skills are already lost. Who is going to teach the next generation to cook? I don’t see it."

Sorry Harry. WRONG! While many of you are going to sit in a darkened theatre for 123 minutes and watch mouth-watering food porn while munching junk food, I am going to be cooking. I am going to be cooking everyday because I eat everyday. I'll be cooking from my garden, the markets of Gascony, and even from supermarkets and the corner grocery store. If you all spend 123 minutes cooking dinner for yourself, family or a few friends, we could prove Mr. Balzer wrong.

Cheap? The average movie ticket price in 1963, the year that Julia Child appeared on PBS, was 86 cents. This year it is $7.18. I know I can cook my dinner for this much money even translated into Euros.

Lazy? I don't know about you, but even here in back-of-beyond southwest France, to go see 'Julia & Julie' when it comes to France I'll have to: a) drive into Agen b) find parking for the car c) walk to the cinema d) stand in line ( about 1 hour) e) walk up three flights of stairs to the salle de cinema, watch the movie f) chew the French version of Popcorn (yes, with sugar on it) g) have a drink at the cafe afterwards, and then repeat steps a-e before returning home to Camont. That's somewhere between 4 and 5 hours. Balzer, in way less than 123 minutes I can easily cook a a decent dinner. In 4-5 hours, I definitely can cook a bang-up not-so-lazy 4-course dinner for friends.

Lost Skills? Ok, I am not a X-generation (or any other letter that follows) but I have played host (or Auntie Kate) for 20 years to many cooks much younger than me. They can cook. They can cut, chop, saute and grill with the best of the old school cooks that I know. There is just one common flaw, even in those in-debt graduates of Prestigious Culinary Institutes, a serious flaw. They know little, very little about food. If it's not shrink wrapped, labeled or in a refrigerated walk-in these otherwise talented cooks are lost. They buy out of season fruit, immature and industrially raised poultry, and otherwise flounder on the shores of real food islands so close at hand. Thankfully Pollan touches on it's cure here "Cooking’s fate may be to join some of our other weekend exercises in recreational atavism: camping and gardening and hunting and riding on horseback."

I was no better then my students and interns when I came to this France of mine in 1988. But I learned. Not overnight, but slowly and at the hands of caring people- neighbors, farmers, and market vendors. A wildly fertile, diverse agricultural landscape fringed with wild as well as cultivated food surrounds the Kitchen-at-Camont. Buckets of pea-sized blackberries are ripening along the canal towpath. The neighbors are tending a lace-net draped apple orchard that will yield several tarte tatins this fall. Too many tomatoes are turning red, yellow and green in our own organic potager. Fresh eggs in the hen boxes appear with much clucking and boasting every afternoon as I check the growth of two new chicks and the swimming skills of ducklings #1,2 & 3. I must wait for the green gage plums- the real Reine-Claudes, to ripen more before the birds peck my share.

Planting the gardens at Camont taught me as much about waste as it did cooking. I cook more economically now that I grow, harvest and weed these abundant summer harvests. I learned to can and preserve this seasonal bounty. The piggery pantry is lined with this years glass-encased jewels already. And fortunately, our weekly farmers' markets are year-round all over France. After shopping at producers' markets for 20 years, I know my butchers, bakers, etc... I invite them home, sit down with them at my table , and serve them the good food that they have dug from the French dirt. We talk about how it all works- from the past to the future.

Who is going to teach the next generation to cook?

I am. And friends like me who love good food and are willing to share. For twenty years I have cooked, served, taught and written about the food I found in southwest France. There are people like me teaching cooking all over the globe. You can read about some of them here. My colleagues and friends are as passionate about cooking in Italy, Mexico, New Zealand and Thailand as I am about Gascony. But for everyone of these teachers there must be students. That is your job.


Camont is the gift that fate gave me. A place to learn about food... in France. I share this gift with you- a place to learn about food, both in person here in Gascony and now at my new blog site-* Come discover, reconnect and learn to work with food in a creative rural setting in France. there are some new economic programs including residencies and fellowships beginning Fall '09 and next summer we set up Camp Camont under the singing trees.

And for those of you seeking much more than a 123 minutes of food inspiration, do what Julia did.. get off the couch and come to France!

*While we are still tweeking, adjusting and getting the photographs in place, please be patient. This blog will eventually transfer automatically to the kitchen-at-camont soon.

July 30, 2009

Piment d'Espelette- Potager Pinup #1

Piment d'Espelette

The first hot pepper from the
potager announces Summer
in the
at Camont

3 easy things to make with Piment d'Espelette
  1. Tomato chili jam- sweet, hot and great with anything.
  2. Pâté de Campagne- Basque style with a pinch of dried piment.
  3. Kate's grown-up hot chocolate- just add a sliver of pepper & a slug of armagnac.

July 27, 2009

First Honey Love

A pale blue beehive sits under the a William pear tree, a memorial to the May evening when a wild swarm arrived and asked to stay here at Camont, then surrounded by dozens of acacia trees in snowy bloom.
"Bien sur!" I responded (that means "right on!" in French) and so Marc and I moved the virgin hive under the swarm on the branch, a small pear dangling like an earring. After a glass of rosé wine and watching a few Google-driven You Tubes, especially by my newbee hero, Kirkobeeo, at Backwards Beekeeping, I clipped the branch, grabbed a stick and scraped the swarm into the waiting hive. I left the hive sitting under the pear tree in the orchard amongst the chickens and ducks.

Last week I found a smoker, un enfumoir, at my favorite brocante. Today I got up the courage to lift the lid on the hive and take a long careful smoky peek. Eureka!!!

Pure sweet gold.
Je vous aimez, mes amis les abeilles!

After a first finger licking taste, I was hooked. Captain Nick and I feasted on honey and bread for breakfast and the sweet knowledge that my bee longing had come to fruition. Sometimes, learning in the Kitchen at Camont takes place outside the building. Think outside that stone wall box and harvest your own food!

The next 'Charcuterie & Confit' sessions in the Kitchen at Camont begin in Mid-October. Write for further information.

July 21, 2009

it's a long process. one step at a time.
shelling peas.
planting beans.
harvesting ideas.
making changes.

day to day life in the Kitchen at Camont is like shelling those French peas.
one day at a time.
one thought.
one action.

This day, this very hot windy summer day in Gascony, we are planting a new garden of ideas for you. Here at the French Kitchen, the Kitchen at Camont, we are drinking iced l'O Rosey- rose syrup over crushed ice while

writing new programs for fall, and celebrating those long days when the tomatoes ripen redder, the peppers get hotter and the ideas flow faster.

Coming soon. The Kitchen at Camont- a center for creative culinary learning.
In France, of course.

Detroit Rose

A large bunch of fresh deep red rose petals (organically grown, of course)
500 grams of sugar
1 liter of water
1 large lemon- squeezed
a generous shot of eau de vie de armagnac

Heat the rose petals, sugar and water in a pan until just simmering and the sugar melts into a light syrup. Let sit while you read a book. (The Poisonwood Bible be Barbara Kingsolver is on the bed where I nap.)
Strain the petals from the liquid, add the lemon juice and eau-de-vie.
Pour into a carafe and store in the refrigerator until needed on a very sultry French day.
Pour over crushed ice, add a shot of water.
Drink and be grateful you planted those roses 4 years ago... and remembered to water them.

July 14, 2009

charcuterie news

Summer + pigs = too much fun.
Some people are wondering what I am doing. Too much.
Some people know that when it gets quiet here, I am busy making magic happen.
This summer the magic is happening with the help of a gang from Portland OR and Philly PA.
Call it summer school, call it Camp France. I am the Camp director, Bacon is the mascot.
The souvenirs will be stuffed into sausage casings, cured in salt and processed in a water bath. The larder is filling. The centuries old kitchen information is being passed butcher's hand to butcher's hand. Ask Jonathan, Camas and Bill.

The spring/summer '09 session of the Kitchen at Camont now winds down for a "too hot to cook break" after a last week of porkout extravaganza. I am working on the official charcuterie workbook for the new Kitchen at Camont fellowships. So for a look at what's been happening here I am sending you over to the Kitchen Camper blogs.

Camas Davis spent her 5 weeks studying at Camont working with the Chapolards in the butchery room on their farm and selling L'Art du Cochon products at the Nerac Saturday market. Her thoughts on living close to the blood & bone in Gascony are at
There are more of her great photos at her facebook album...

Jonathan Kraska, resident chef and dog trainer, wielded knife and saw, pots, pans and garden tools for 12 weeks here at the Kitchen at Camont, at the Chapolard's pig farm and while wooing the French shoppers at the Lavardac market with his parlez-vous American...
Bill Reeves arrived last week for 4 weeks, a first week as we finished up the Charcuterie 101 weeks and the next three at the Ferme de Boue as their first American stagiere. Follow Bill's first look at Gascony through a bacon crusted

As for me? The summer p'tanque parties keep popping up with delicious distraction and there will be more news to come while preparing the first fall/winter sessions of the Kitchen at Camont, a culinary retreat in Gascony.

Bonnes Vacances!

June 30, 2009

You are invited to a French Pig Roast Picnic- 4th of July.

French Summer.
Sunny and hot.
Haricots verts and Swiss chard from the potager for dinner greens.
A dozen hens laying deep yellow-yolked eggs for deviled eggs.
The first red tomatoes on the vine.
Sounds like a picnic to me.

A French Pig from the Chapolard's, a cochon to spit roast over an open fire:
  • crispy cracklins and succulent ham meat,
  • falling off the shoulder bone for pull apart figgy bbq sandwiches.
  • mouth smacking ribs dipped in sweet fiery fish sauce
Bring the side dishes- American inspired, French execution:
  • Walnut and white wine potato salad
  • Summer cabbage coleslaw with red wine vinegar
  • white peach shortcake with creme fraiche
Y'all come over for an afternoon of good eats and cold rose wine, iced beer, Chinese lanterns and loud music. rsvp.

photo by carnivore TC at

April 07, 2009

French Easter marche!

Now that we ALL know that 'plastic or paper' is so passé, I took a look at my Saturday morning market with a fresh Spring eye. From the ubiquitous reed panier woven in Morocco to the classic canvas trolley that les grande dames wield with stunning accuracy across vulnerable toes, here are just a sample of a few of my favorites filled to the brim with fresh spring vegetables and the hint of a French Easter Brunch under the just blooming wisteria vine.

The first strawberries, asparagus, & artichauts arrive to join
a leg of lamb in a Spring celebration of all that's new and colorful.

Try to make your next shopping expedition just a little more green and...

February 19, 2009

Breaking ground for NEW French Kitchen Adventures

When My Friend David Aman from New Orleans, showed up for a visit in the summer, this is what we talked about... for more of David's wonderful video docs click here!

February 10, 2009

Confit de Canard. Duck Confit...part 3- 7 French Tips

Time Warp Portal

Behind this door lies the secret of several generations of French cooking lore and savoir-faire. How fitting that my friend Greg Orr neither knocked nor rang the sonnette, but boldly walked in thorugh the heavy tapestry curtains and called out "Catou! France! We're here!" And so we were, here at the Chateau de Gayrac for a Fat Duck weekend with les Soeurs Mazet. But in which century?

Catou and France weave a magic spell over all who enter their treasure house domain, whether they arrive to scout the antiques and brocante at the barn and stable shops or come in friendship to share their convivial hospitality at the oversized kitchen table. Today, a small band of visitors and local residents descended to 'help' in their annual fat duck weekend and I came as part reproter, part culinary spy, eager student and grateful guest.

I reveled in being in company with gastro-friends and these timeless cooks. We were just seven of us, wearing wonderful homemade butchers' aprons to butcher, trim and cook the seven fatted ducks supplied by a neighbor. But I knew I was in the presence of generations of excellence in this kitchen: a butcher father, a frugal grand-mere, a great-grandfather who was a chef in a renowned Paris restaurant. The room was crowded with history and kitchen lore as if these smoky yellow walls who had witnessed centuries of recipes and trucs or tips were inspiring us.

Catou demonstrated her sure hand, warned us not to sacrifice the foie gras, and made the rounds of the table conjoling, correcting and scolding us in turn. We took our work seriously. After all, this would be their food for the year. Instructions were delivered brief, fast and with barely a heartbeat between breaking down the neck, breasts, legs, wings before 'birthing' the ivory firm liver each weighing in just under a pound. Hearts, gesiers or gizzards all got salted and added to the growing pile of meat. The carcasses themselves were quartered as we fought, caressed, and jointed the 15-pound birds with knives, secateurs and bare hands.

Leaving the meat to rest overnight in a cold pantry under a veil of delicate salt and wrapped in a pristine linen sheet, we retired to Greg's own medieval Manoir d'Orr in Lauzerte for a Saturday supper of sweet potato soup, Boeuf Caducienne cooked slowly in Cahor's delicious black wine, a pair of perfect cheeses and a perfect pear almond tart.

Saturday morning we returned to Chateau de Gayrac just as the fat and trimmings from yesterday were put over a very slow flame. From my notes:

11:00- fat trimmings and half glass of water go into a large aluminum caldron over a very low flame protected by a cast iron hob.
11;15- the duck legs are added 4 at a time to the barely melting fat so that they, too, can render their fat to the cauldron. They are placed upside down into the pan so that the fat forms an insulative cushion from the heat.
11;40- all the legs are now in the pan and slowly cooking over the lowest's not even simmering.
11:45- the manchons or wings are now added.

STIR CONTINUALLY lifting the meat off the bottom so it doesn't stick.

12:00- add gesiers or gizzards
12:15- seven hearts are added
12:30- the fat is only just now starting to simmer
12:45- begin to add the carcasses cut into quarters along with the wing tips
1:00- stir, stir, stir
1:15- begin to remove the legs if done and drain
1:30- continue to cook and stir all pieces until completely cooked.

The confit, once drained, is then placed into aluminum freezer boxes and stored in the freezer. Catou uses a pair fo garden shears or secateurs to snap the knob end of the bone off the leg. This makes it a tidier package not just for storing but for serving as well. The legs are then covered in fat, cooled and then set in the freezer. Freezing the confit in its fat makes a very quick and easy alternative to sterilizing and canning and one that adapts well from this medieval chateau kitchen to your modern apartment.

So what did I learn working with these experts in their own French kitchen?

Seven things I learned to share with you:

  1. SLOW and even slower then I ever cook, the confit barely simmers for over 2 hours which results in a much more tender confit right away.
  2. STIR continually not just so the meat or skin doesn't stick to the bottom but to also help regulate the heat so all pieces are cooked evenly.
  3. CLIP the knob end of the leg bone off with a garden shears before storing.
  4. SALT the carcasses, too, after cutting into quarters and then confit. Eat the meat off the bone with the help of a little paring knife to scarpe off all the good bits. these flavorful quarters can also be added to soups, bean and lentille vertes.
  5. COOK the hearts and gesiers together, not forgetting to trim the gesiers of the scaly yellow tough skin on the inside surface.
  6. SOAK the foie gras in salted cold water to which a couple of tablespoons of vinegar as been added.
  7. SHARE this knowledge, these trucs, the traditions and table willingly. Preserve the information, make better cooks and educate a hungry audience for your own French Kitchen Table.

and from all of us...

Merci Sept Foie... Catou et France!

February 04, 2009

Confit de Canard. Duck Confit. Part 2- like meat loves salt.

Confire- French verb to preserve, conserve.
je confis tu confis il confit

'Nous confisons un canard avec quatre tetes.'
We are preserving a duck with four heads.

eh voila! for information about why 4 heads... see previous post.

It took me longer to download and then upload these pictures then it did to make the confit. Way too long! So when my students complain (or comment) that real cooking takes so long, I protest. The virtual world might make some things easier but not necessarily faster. Making Confit de Canard ( or Porc, d'Oie or even Poule- that's pig, goose and old hen) is all about slow cooking, but it needn't be a three day affair. A quiet morning catching up with emails will do while the meat simmers away in a deep pan of golden fat.

The first step after butchering the whole duck into pieces is to lightly salt the meat and let it sit overnight. 'Overnight' here means no more than 12 hours. Salt before you go to bed and be ready to cook in the morning, or salt at the crack of dawn and cook that evening.
Salting for 24 hours (or longer!) is overkill. Keep in mind the size of your ducks (mine will weigh in at 6-7 kilos, that's 13-15 pounds each!), the length of time you will be cooking and the preserving the meat (After cooking for 1 to 1-1/4 hours, I typically jar and sterilize my cooked confit in winter and leave it in the pantry until summer and fall using up most of it before the next batch is seasonal made) and to what end ( I will serve confit legs and magrets or breasts solo with salad and fried potatoes in the summer, add to autumn cassoulets, and make soups and garbures from the little peices of necks and wings.). More salt and longer salting time was necessary when confit was put up in earthenware jars and stored unrefrigerated in 'caves' or cellars. If you are not using traditional large fatted ducks (take a look at the size of the legs in my size 8 garden glove hand!), then scale down salt and cooking time.

These are the photographs on Flickr of the steps taken to get from fresh raw duck...

to succulent duck confit.

I'll get the descriptions on Flickr written up as soon as I get a minute between real life chores. This week, you'll notice that I put the confit in 2 jars, the necks into a crock, the extra fat in jam jars and then into the refrigerator rather than sealing and sterilizing them like I do usually. I'll be testing them in 2 weeks time for tenderness; we'll talk about aging the confit soon. In the meantime, enjoy the process!

January 30, 2009

Confit de Canard. Duck Confit. Part 1- How to buy a 4-headed duck

To market to market to buy a Fat Duck...

That was the idea. Traditionally the Wednesday morning market in Agen has been the live poultry market. When I first arrived in the Lot-et-Garonne in 1987, there were rows of benches on which housecoat-wearing Frenchwomen and beret-sporting Gascons sat behind piles of feathered friends tied together at the ankles or next to cardboard boxes with beaks and tails sticking out. The Wednesday morning soundtrack was a low murmur of gossip and clucking.

Even in this Southwest France modern times have arrived and the buying of live poultry in an urban environment has slowly disappeared from Agen. There was but one truck of cages filled with bedraggled-looking chickens from a local 'semi-industrialized' farm. I had expected there to be a great show of fatted ducks at this time of year. What I found instead was a wonderful show of winter produce at bargain prices with a smattering of artisan poultry growers with their wares prepared for a more urban audience- fatted ducks already cut, cleaned and parceled out ready to confit.

Here are the January Market season specials:

ORANGE is good in the Winter!




Rather than look this gift duck in the beak, I took home a deconstructed duck with which to start. Those ordering duck from D'Artagnan or one of the other internet sources can relate to this piece meal approach. Although I am missing a few of my favorite 'bits'- the gesier or gizzard, the tasty heart and succulent the wing tips, the bargain of getting 4 duck necks for 2 euros more then made up for the gap.

So here is the take from this smiling enterprising Artisan Duck vendor:
  • One carcass called a 'demoiselle'
  • One 'manteau' or cloak- that is the legs and breasts removed in one piece from the carcasse
  • a big bag of fat and trimmings including the pure white inner fat from near the foie gras
  • and four duck necks and heads- les cous
These ducks were the best; they were fresh, meaty, fatty. They had been carefully butchered and handled with care. The prices were reasonable and the total 'duck' came to 23 euros, about 6 kilos of meat and fat- less than 4 euros a kilo, or about 2.50 dollars a pound. there is very little waste or scrap so making confit here is a most economical way to preserve meat.

Returning home I abandoned the duck to the refrigerator until I had a moment later in the day to salt and cure for the coming confit . Stay tuned. Salting comes next. It's the very important part.

"Patience demands, work rewards."