Monday, July 27, 2009

Lunch On The Veranda

The three of us spent the morning by the pool before huddling around the television to watch an exciting mountain stage of the Tour de France. My first lunch at La Touche for the summer took place at my favorite spot, a little iron table on the brick veranda at the back of the house with a view of the donkeys. Per usual I left the serious cooking to the professionals, my father and Jean-Claude, as I often do because they have years of age and experience on me. I do cook in small spurts however like my cauliflower appetizer though strangely I experiment mainly with desserts. I never make dessert at home but since the savory cooking is mostly handled and I want to take advantage of the pedagogic element of observation in the La Touche kitchen I tend to lean towards sweets. For lunch however I made a savory salad to impress my hosts, a beet salad with shallots, yogurt-curry dressing, and cilantro. For lunch we had a few salads, a tasty terrine, and the ubiquitous cheese plate accompanied by a bottle of white Burgundy.

The second salad that I had the foresight to photograph before devouring was a lunch staple that I eat pretty much once a week while I am in the French countryside: tomato salad with eggs and black olives dressed with olive oil and house made vinegar. This tasty summer salad is a lunch favorite incorporating house ingredients like eggs, garden tomatoes, and the Nicois olives brought north lovingly once a year by Jean-Claude when he visits his family. In addition to the annual deposit of olives he also brings our major supply of cold pressed olive oil which his Aunt is responsible for. In addition to the farm goods and peppery Nicois olive oil making up the salad, the house vinegar really seals the deal. About four years ago we started to produce our own vinegars after realizing how much we had been wasting on wine that had gone passé or bad. Instead of dumping bad or old wine we began to seal it in terracotta basins with huge corks and tiny spouts to sit in the cellar and develop acidity and character.

The main course of the meal deviating from the salad routine was a terrine de cerf or deer terrine. It is basically a luxurious cold meatloaf with tons of spices and jellified fat. A terrine is a glazed earthenware terracotta dish with vertical sides and a tightly fitting lid that is rectangular or oval. The term also refers to food served in a terrine whether ground game or venison, offal and pâtés, or fois gras. The first step is to marinate your chosen meat in a mix of wine, armagnac, and a wealth of herbs and spices overnight. The meat, in this case deer given to us by a hunter neighbor, is then ground with ham hock to supply fat and flavor. Thick slices of bacon are placed on the bottom of the earthenware dish, topped with ground meat, another layer of bacon, a layer of herbs and spices, and finally gêlée or meat jelly. It is not a very appetizing sounding thing but meat jelly is an important aspect of the French art of pâté, fois gras, and terrine making. You can make your own with heavily reduced stock and bones that serve as a natural thickener but in this case my father bought gêlée from the local butcher which he heated to liquid form and poured over the terrine. The whole thing is then pressed and cooked in a hot water bath or bain marie for two hours, then refrigerated for three days to settle and collect itself before being sliced and enjoyed. It is a rather lengthy and difficult process for some and I totally understand that but it is truly unique, delicious, and extremely French dish. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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