Saturday, August 23, 2008

Put The South In Your Mouth

Our "gang"-- left to right- back row: Gilbert, Didier
middle: Marie-Christine, Wally, Érick
front: Monique, Dorette, Gilles

Dorette left on Monday to head back to the Tar Heel State and Saturday night we invited the usual suspects (pictured above) to celebrate her stay in Arles. I went to market twice this morning, once with Chef Érick and once with her. As always, it was a very interesting experience. The young man who sells eggs (people's names really aren't all that important here) was teasing an older lady. He noticed the new dress she was wearing and asked her if her husband likes it. She giggled and made some womanly remark such as "This old thing?" He went on to comment on the fact that it buttons down the front, easier to get off that way. She giggled again and then he asked something about what she was wearing underneath. I couldn't help but laugh along with her as she teased him right back by saying that what was underneath was too hot to touch! All of this was done in a very friendly way with no overtones of sexual harassment. I really think we had more fun before we all got caught up in worrying about things like that all the time. I know my buddies Tim and Dick would agree. My first year of teaching, barely 22 years of age, they took great pleasure in making me blush whenever possible!
As we moved on through the market in search of all the things on our list, we made it finally to the butcher stand where we could find the pork ribs we needed. The lady in line ahead of us ordered les oreilles de cochon or pig ears. Oh my gosh! You should have seen these things. The biggest pig ears I have ever seen (and I spent a lot of time on my grandmother's farm) were found and they were still attached by a piece of the pig's head. I commented on them to the woman buying them who was standing next to me. She replied that they also have wonderful half heads of pig also, just right for making fromage de tête, head cheese. Buying pig's ears is just one more thing on the Saturday list for her. Her husband was the one carrying all the packages! Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me. I should know never to leave the house without it.
Anyway, back to dinner. We have realized that the friends we have made here truly think Americans are barbarians when it comes to food. Think about it. Our most famous export is McDonald's... no wonder they think we have no idea how to prepare real food. Dorette's menu was met with a bit of skepticism at first. We printed the menu and the recipes for everyone along with a map of North Carolina. Gilles took this very seriously, keeping his at the table with him, following the program.
Chef Érick has been to the US at Christmas time and has had eggnog. He requested that for our apératif, before dinner drink. I did laugh at him because I would never think of drinking it at any time other than Christmas. He was quite serious, though, and came back from the store with a bottle of Jack Daniels for those who wanted to give their eggnog a little kick. Let me tell you, this went over very well. I usually buy my holiday eggnog from Mapleview Farm and hadn't made it myself in a long time. I was quite proud of the result and have been asked to make it again in December!
Along with the eggnog, we served hushpuppies. We tried our best but couldn't get our hands on real cornmeal. We did find corn flour so we used that instead. Dorette made a remoulade sauce for dipping. I explained the origin of the word as best I could and I loved everyone's pronunciation of hushpuppy! Most of these were consumed with the eggnog in the kitchen at the stainless steel table. Gifts for Dorette were brought out by everyone. A book on French cooking from Gilles, along with great red wine and champagne (which we didn't get around to drinking-- it is still in the frigo, Gilles!), a watercolor drawing of the Camargue, a little ceramic pink flamingo and a black bull. Dorette was in tears, of course. It was very touching.
After everyone sat down at the table, Dorette and I served shrimp and grits. Well, once again, we had to improvise. Shrimp and polenta. We discovered that crevettes (shrimp) are Monique's favorite food. This dish, too, was met with great praise. At this point, everyone was beginning to think that maybe we aren't such barbarians after all.
The next course was fried green tomatoes with a corn relish. Dorette had her heart set on making these although Érick explained that the chances of us finding green tomatoes were slim to none. The French just would not think of picking a tomato, or any other vegetable or fruit as far as that goes, before it is ripe and ready to eat. He surprised us, however, by calling a distant cousin who sells produce at the Saturday market and asking her to bring some green tomatoes. She asked if we were making confiture de tomates (tomato jam). We just shook our heads and said it was for an American recipe. She seemed satisfied with that explanation. These were a little bit stranger for our guests and, to tell the truth, by this time everyone was getting full from all the hushpuppies consumed earlier!
We next served pork ribs dry grilled on the gas stove top. I really need to find one of those things-- a cast iron flat pan. Dorette had prepared a spicy vinegar sauce to go with the ribs. Chef Érick makes his own red wine vinegar. And I think that true NC BBQ needs a vinegar sauce... none of the tomato stuff. Gilles' red wine went very well with the ribs.
Last, but not least, I attempted banana pudding à la française. I made pastry cream with the recipe given to Érick by Guy LeBlanc, a master pastry chef here in Arles. Then I made a butter/sugar/rum sauce for the bananas and, for the first time in my life, set a dish on fire on purpose! That was fun, to tell you the truth. The alcohol burned off but left the rum taste. I didn't have vanilla wafers, but Dorette found some little spongy cookies at the grocery store and I used those. Right before serving the pudding, I made meringue to top it off.
It was a wonderful evening spent with people we have come to know and love here in Arles. We are very lucky indeed!
Dorette managed to get her bags packed (she borrowed an extra suitcase from Érick) with all of the goodies she had bought for friends and family. She did leave behind some clothes since she knows she will return next summer, if not sooner. She took back olive oil, many little jars of pistou vert et rouge, seeds for the garden and saucissons, dried sausages, for her son. We miss you, Dorette!

Here are some of our recipes. Enjoy!


4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. vanilla sugar

Beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the sugars and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Add the milk, and cream and stir to combine.
Chill and serve. If you wish, add the bourbon.

Hushpuppies with country ham (lardon) and remoulade sauce
(from the culinary institute of new orleans)

In North Carolina or NC for short, we have used this recipe as jumping off place for many variations on a theme. shrimp and pickled okra. pimento cheese. jalapeno and pecan. and any of these combined as well.

But oh là là for our French dinner we’ve our sights set on finding okra at the Saturday market in Arles. Can we find it this close to Africa, the birthplace of okra? Wish us bonne chance.

makes 2 dozen

1 cup corn meal (we may use rice flour)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
dash of red pepper
handful of fried lardons
handful of fried okra (or substitute)
1/2 cup green onions (tops, chopped)

mix corn meal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together well. combine egg, milk, pepper, onion tops and onion, add to flour mixture and stir well. heat oil to 375 degrees. drop batter by spoonfuls into deep-fryer and cook until golden brown. drain on paper towels.

remoulade sauce

this is excellent on most anything.

1/2 cup each mayonnaise and creole mustard (in the US we use zataran's or whole grain country style dijon)
1/4 cup green pepper, diced fine
1/2 lemon, squeezed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1 tablespoon paprika

blend ingredients and set aside till ready to serve, if under an hour, if longer please refrigerate.

Shrimp and grits
--Dorette's note: There is nothing like this for a Southern treat and since we’re in Southern France, well, à table, y’all. This version is similar to that served at the Crossroads Restaurant in the Carolina Inn, where my oldest son, also named Érick, trained for three years.

‘grits’ (polenta)
1 cup grits
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup extra sharp cheddar (white)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon paprika
salt and pepper to taste

cook grits according to instructions on package. as grits are finishing, whisk in butter, cheddar, parmesan cheese, cayenne, paprika and tabasco.

shrimp stuff

3 tablespoons each olive oil and butter
2 cup sliced leeks
½ cup chopped shallots
3 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon chipotles
1-1/2 pound 20-30 count shrimp
salt and black pepper
½ cup vegetable stock, or as needed
½ cup cream, or as needed
1 cup chopped roma tomatoes
fresh chopped parsley for garnish
heat large skillet until hot, add olive oil and butter. as oil begins to smoke, add the leeks and shallots. sauté till translucent. toss in shrimp to cover bottom of pan. before stirring, season with salt and pepper (brown shrimp but things will go very fast from now on, so be careful to have everything ready once you add the shrimp!) stir until shrimp just begin to turn pink all over (let pan return to original hot temperature). stir in minced garlic and chipotles (no burning the garlic!). deglaze with veg stock and let wine reduce, stir for 30 seconds or so until everything is well coated and incorporated. assuming that you are ready to serve, toss in chopped romas for about 20 seconds. If these hold too long before serving they will begin to turn soggy and lose their appeal. serve over hot grits. garnish with chopped parsley.

Bon appétit, y'all!

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