Right now we are in early February which in Médoc means rain. The winter has been mild, not too many cold days and throughout December, not too many wet days either. December was simply glorious. I was beginning to think we’d get away with it, that the bursts of rain that often wash over us before the new year had gone somewhere else. They hadn’t. When it comes to nature everything has its price. Two days of sun and one grey day come at the cost of at least one rainy day. Three whole weeks of brilliant sunshine will be matched by at least a week of pure rain. It is worth it? Yes.
What if we could negotiate with the weather gods, reach a compromise. They stop the rain and cold, we give up the sun and the heat. Every day would be the same, grey, comfortable, unsurprising and intolerable. Let’s keep the sun … and the rain.
But how do you deal with all that rain? The first few nights are charming. I say to my husband in bed “isn’t it comforting to hear the rain and storm outside and we are all cuddled up inside safe and warm” (well apart from the fact that rain has a way of getting inside the house). Then it becomes slightly irritating and boring. Wet dogs are less fun than dry ones. Finally it becomes depressing. That’s where we’re now. Or let me rephrase that. That’s where we were. Now we are beyond that stage. Rain is no longer comforting, irritating or depressing. We are the rain now, it’s part of us “just keep it coming” we say, to quote U2 “There is nothing you can throw at us that we haven’t already seen”.
Besides, we know it will soon be over. January is already gone, February is still on stage. The dour duet. Of course the latter sometimes sings a sunny tune but whatever happens, the next act is March, and March never fails to shine. March in Médoc is always beautiful!
This blog is now in its fourth year. It’s also the fourth time I find myself in exactly the same situation. The villages outside is quiet. Well it’s always quiet but now it feels like we woke up and everybody left. Some of them did actually. When we brave the rain and wind to go to the markets nothing spectacular is ever happening. No crates of cherries or stacks of fresh tomatoes. No man shouting that he’s got the best mushrooms. It’s just the usual suspects. Cabbage, beets, carrots etc. But somehow there is always something to get a little worked up over. One day it might be a shiny (shiny because it’s wet) bunch of spinach or swiss chard or even just particularly nice looking apples. This weekend we had the first artichokes. That was exciting. Apparently everything is early this year and even the magnolias are opening which is a terrible idea for them as they will just be struck down by wind and rain. It’s almost as if they’re sacrificing themselves to bring hope. Like they are saying “I should probably wait a while so you could enjoy me longer but I think you need me more now!”
As I said it’s the fourth time I write to you at this time of year. Things don’t change much in Médoc. But this time something actually has. Not the rain. Not the banging of shutters against the walls of the house on stormy nights. But I’ve changed. I can wait for spring. I used to be more impatient. I know it will come and I know it will be wonderful. I can already see all the colors and the flowers. I can close my eyes and imagine the little puppies we are expecting in March playing with each other in the vineyards. I can see my girls in summer dresses and beyond that I can see a little boy in blue pyjamas that I already bought for him.
I can wait because on any given Sunday I can walk into my kitchen and take what’s available to me and cook a meal that makes me happy and makes my family happy.
I was going to say that thinking about good food, making it, eating it, is the perfect antidote to dreary winter months. But it’s actually the antidote to … everything.
Cervelas de Lyon sausage with pistachios and warm potato salad.
Cervelas is a typical Lyonnaise pork sausage filled with pistachios. Everytime I go to Paris I pass by the charcutier Gilles Verot to pick up a few sausages to go!
1 large unsmoked pork sausage, traditionally the Lyonnaise use “Saucisson Pistache”– pistachio sausage)
900 g/ 2 pounds new potatoes
2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons minced shallots
3 tablespoons roughly chopped shelled pistachios
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Cook the sausage in boiling water for 15 minutes. Take the skin off and slice into 1 cm thick slices.
In a large saucepan, place the sausage and cover with cold water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook about 20 minutes. Set aside and leave to cool. Peel the skin off and slice into 1 cm thick slices.
In a large saucepan, place the potatoes, in salted water and bring to a boil. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and leave to cool. Cut into thick slices.
In a large bowl, prepare a vinaigrette. Whisk olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper until smooth. Add the thinly sliced shallots and chopped parsley. Add the potatoes and toss everything together.
Heat a little olive oil in a pan on a medium heat and sauté the sausage slices until slightly browned on both sides, about a minute or two. Place the sausages on top of salad and sprinkle with chopped pistachios. Season if necessary.
Beef cheeks pot pie with root vegetables
Serves 6-8 (depending on ramekin size)
This is a perfect dish for a Sunday lunch, so I usually prepare the stew the night before. Then all you’ll have to do the next day is scoop the delicious stew into little pots or ramekins and cover with puff pastry.
1 kg/ 2 pounds approx beef cheeks, or beef cuts for braising
3 tablespoons flour
300 g/ 2/3 pounds Bayonne ham
6 medium-sized pearl onions
6 carrots (2 oranges, 2 white , 2 purple )
2 turnips, peeled and diced
3-4 Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and diced
240 ml/1 cup Bordeaux red wine
3 tablespoons tomato concentrate paste
350 ml/ 1 & ½ cup beef or vegetable stock
1 bouquet garni
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the pastry
2 sheets of puff pastry
1 egg and 1 tablespoon of milk, for the eggwash
Preheat oven to 160°C/ 320°F. Cut the meat into 3 cm cubes and dredge them lightly in the flour.
Slice the Bayonne ham into chunky sticks. Peel the onions and vegetables. Dice the carrots, Jerusalem artichokes and turnips into small cubes.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron pot on a medium heat and cook the Bayonne ham and onions for 3 minutes. Set aside.
Add another tablespoon of olive and brown the beef on all sides. Add the red wine and reduce for 2 minutes. Return the Bayonne ham and onions, add the vegetables, tomato paste, and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper. Add the stock, bring to a simmer and cover. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally (add a bit of water if necessary).
To make the pot pies:
Heat oven to 180°C/ 350°F.
Spoon the stew into each ramekins.
Using a rolling-pin, roll puff pastry until 0.5 cm/1⁄8 inch thick and cut out 6-8 circles, large enough to cover the ramekins with extra hang. Using a pastry brush, brush the rim of each ramekin with egg wash and cover with a pastry circle. Press lightly around the edges and decorate with small pastry leaves (see photos). Brush again with egg wash all over. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Leave to cool 10 minutes before serving.
A delightful old-fashioned recipe, this is the kind of dessert I often order in my favorite restaurants. I love the combination of prunes with clémentines, it’s hot and cold and turns your soufflé into a whirlwind of flavors.
6 large clémentines, juice squeezed
60 g/1/4 cup unsalted butter + extra for lining the ramekins
60 g/ 1/2 cup cornstarch
150 g/ 3/4 cup of sugar + extra for sprinkling
5 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon Cointreau
1 pinch of fine salt
Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F
Line the ramekins with butter and sprinkle with sugar all over. Place them in the freezer.
Squeeze the juice of the clémentines into a bowl and set aside.
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the butter on a medium-to-low heat and add the cornstarch, whisking constantly.
Pour the clémentine juice immediately and continue to whisk. Add the sugar and Cointreau. Whisk until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon.
Off the heat, add the egg yolks to the mixture and whisk until smooth. Set aside and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites. When the whites start to foam, add a pinch of salt and continue to whisk until stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites gently into the clémentine mixture.
Take the ramekins out of the freezer and pour the mixture into the ramekins up to 1.5 cm to the rim.
Cook in the preheated oven 15 to 20 minutes, until golden and risen.
Serve immediately, adding a scoop of prune sorbet in the center.
For one tub
500 g/ 1 pound + 2 ounces dried prunes, pitted
150 g/ ¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
60 ml/1/4 cup Pineau de Charentes (or a sweet dessert wine, like Vin Santo)
Juice of one lemon
820 ml/ 3 & ½ cup water
Combine all the ingredients except the lemon juice in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a soft boil on a medium heat for 15 minutes.
Turn the heat off and add the lemon juice. Pass the mixture through a sieve into a large bowl.
Leave to cool completely and refrigerate. Churn ice-cream in ice-cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions.