Monday, February 22, 2010


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Tonight I made dinner for Ellen and our good friends Phil and Margaret. I made quail with root vegetables. Ellen made her green beans à la Patricia Wells (The Provence Cookbook, 2004. p. 193-4) – a recipe that Ellen learned from our Lansing friend Brian. We then had salad, cheeses and a light dessert. Not to mention, a lot of good local wine: Vacqueyras, Cotes du Rhone, Vinsobres.

At one level, this is no news at all. Since we have been in France, I have cooked with quail, pheasant, free-range chickens and turkeys, rabbit and a wide variety of fish. I have commented on how the flavors are so much broader/deeper/real here in previous posts, I don’t want to get redundant or boring.

At another level, this is amazing in that I don’t have a clue as to where I would need to shop to actually find quail or pheasant in the US. (I have found rabbit at Goodrich’s in East Lansing – frozen and from China – and US turkey is so engineered to have a big breast that it is so far from what we get to purchase and cook here.)

Ironic, isn’t it? To have spent my teen years thinking about big breasts and now suggesting that French small-breasted turkeys are better??? Go figure… better yet, go taste the difference!

At a third level (don’t worry, this is where it ends. I will not take you down to the depths that Dante explored) it surprises me how much I have come to enjoy cooking and the little compliments that come from a meal well-prepared. The quail was good (better than usual) tonight because I took the time to braise/sear the quails well before adding the root vegetables. My previous cooking was either soups – always better the next day – or microwave cooking. In previous attempts at this menu, I was always impatient and stopped the braising process too soon. Tonight, I let the hot pan really brown the quails before I removed them to deglaze the pan with a good red wine.

I remember a conversation with my mother at a time when Ellen was living in Austin, TX working on her PhD. My mom asked me what I was having for dinner and I replied that I didn’t know. She asked: “How can you not know?” I said: “I look at the back of the box and find out how long it has to cook. I don’t look at the name of what I am cooking.”

I have changed. My goals are few: I want to cook with the creativity of Dan, the finesse and great flavors of Brian, the artistry of Benoit and the celebration of Provence found in Patricia Wells’ cookbooks.  – I guess that I should have started learning about 70 years ago…