Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

January 31, 2001 - Winter Comfort Food in the Loir Valley

As January ends, we finally take down the Christmas lights. Holiday lights here in France stay up until the last galette disappears from the boulangerie. . Each galette has a small ceramic figurine inside the cake and a paper crown. Galettes are officially to be eaten on January sixth for the Epiphany or the feast of the three kings, For practical purposes, galette parties with friends begin a couple days before Epiphany and last the whole month. This gives everyone a chance to get a favor and be king or queen for a day. But alas, the galettes are gone and winter is in that last, most dreary homestretch.

It was cold today. It was cold the day before. Cold and wet and no hope of cheerful snow. February has arrived. Almost all the old French churches have a set of allegorical figures who by their work represent the months of the year. All twelve months are busy except February. February is invariably a man or woman huddled by a fire trying to stay warm. So I too huddle by a fire but fortunately the heaters are working and it is toasty warm inside our cave.

One of the delights of French cuisine is that it changes with the seasons. Late winter is a time of comfort food in the Loir Valley. Rich dishes to warm the belly and the heart. What makes cooking them so special is that you can make them as easily in the fireplace as in the oven. It gives even a simple meal a charm that a cold February day needs. With the frosty weather in the United States right now, consider cooking dinner over the hearth. It's fun and easy. Here are two recipes to try.

Pot-au-Feu à l'Ancienne

One of the traditional dishes of cave dwellers in the French countryside is pot-au-feu. Pot-au-feu means pot in the fire and that describes how this dish was prepared in the old days. The ingredients are placed in a cast iron or clay pot and placed directly in the fire to simmer for several hours. I sometimes prepare this dish just to smell the aromas while skinning animals and drawing bison on the walls. Here is how it is made. While the fire is making hot coals, place three pounds of beef in your clay or cast iron pot. The cuts of beef can be rump, round (topside), top rump, rib roast or chuck steak. Add four liters of cold water to the pot and a handful of gray sea salt. Place the pot uncovered in front of the fire. When a white foam(fat) appears on the surface of the water, skim it off with a spoon. After all the foam is removed, add four carrots, one parsnip, one turnip, four leeks tied together, one branch of celery, one branch of thyme and one branch of parsley. Finally add one onion that has already been cooked in the coals or caramelized in the oven. Cover and simmer in the fire for six hours. Place crusts of bread or toast in large soup bowls and serve the pot-au feu over the bread.

If you are still a little hungry try this recipe while the fire is still burning:

Pommes de Terre aux Lard
(Potatoes cooked with Bacon)

Cover the bottom of your cast iron pot with strips of smoked bacon. Cover the bacon with slices of potatoes. Cover the potatoes with slices of onions. Put a large whole onion in the center of the pot and continue to fill the pot with layers of potatoes and onions. Finish by putting another layer of smoked bacon over the top. Cover and cook slowly for three or four hours.

Bon Appetit

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January 24, 2001 - Festival of Saint Vincent
January 17, 2001 - Guest Columnist Aprille Glover
January 10, 2001 - Muscadet
January 3, 2001 - Ode to Protein
December 27, 2000 - Summer Dreaming: Escargot
December 20, 2000 - Let Them Eat Cake
December, 13 2000 - Back to France
November 29, 2000 -Beignets Aux Fleurs d'Acacia
November 15, Thanksgiving
November 8, Pouse D'Epine
November 1, 2000 Col de Vence: A day on the Moon
October 25, 2000 Cult of the Black Virgin
October 18, 2000 Harvesting Grapes by Hand
October 4, 2000 Provence: All Good Things




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