Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Cocotte de legumes et de marrons au lard paysan

We've all used recipes from the proverbial back of the box to varying degrees of success, and I would put this somewhere in the middle. It's from a package of pre-cooked chestnuts, and the recipe was given in three different languages. Since the product originates from France all measurements were in grams, which is none to helpful to the American cook since we do not typically measure by weight and rarely keep scales in our kitchens. I know I don't keep one in mine. Someday when I have a larger kitchen and the time and focus to execute more recipes from European sources maybe I will, but for now I need all the counter space I can get.

Further complicating matters, the recipes have to fit within a small space, so the directions are brief. The writers assume a great deal of expertise on the part of the cook. When I'm feeling confident and can actually fill in the blanks myself these sorts of recipes make me very smug and self-congratulatory. But today's recipe just irritated me because I don't have that much experience with French casseroles and felt like I was feeling my way through the dark... while trying to prevent Jasper from completely dismantling my kitchen.

Having thus prefaced today's post with this series of complaints I now give you my process, which includes a few variations and wild guesses from the original. In one pot I simmered one chopped sweet onion with a tablespoon of butter and just covered with water. After about 15 minutes I added a packaged of dried chantarelles and some more water and simmered for another 10 minutes or so. In another pot I boiled eight very small yukon gold potatoes (each sliced in half) and two chopped carrots. And in a cast iron pan I cooked three slices of thick-cut bacon on low. After the bacon had cooked on one side I turned it and added one sliced apple, letting it soak up the wicked bacon grease.

Then it came time to assemble. I added the bacon, apples, drained carrots and potatoes, about one cup of chestnuts, and a sprig of thyme to the onion mixture. I added salt and stirred everything until just mixed, then cooked another 15 minutes.

It came out satisfactory enough. Lane liked it quite a bit, but I think my main problem with the dish is that I wasn't able to create a real gravy (more a broth) and that I just don't like the texture of chestnuts. They're not exactly chewy, crunchy, or soft; they sort of give in a crumbly, passive-aggressive way. I know that's a crazy way to describe a nut but that's exactly what I thought when I ate them: namby-pamby.

And wouldn't you know it, I forgot to photograph the damn dish at all. I guess that was my passive-aggressive gesture towards the dish.

I turn now to a more sanguine topic (but remain with the French theme), a fantastic show we saw in Chelsea last weekend. It's Expresso by Guillaume Pinard at Team, and the best part was a cartoon in the back room. It was simultaneously cute and creepy, this being a gallery known for its gothic aesthetic. And best of all it moved at an ideal toddler's pace: here are the eyeballs, here is their mule, here is the road they travel. Jasper was engrossed for at least 15 minutes. I wish I could just buy the DVD, but it's part of a package and costs about $9,000. So it will not be appearing in Jasper's Easter basket this year. I also wish I could find a clip of it, but I found this little snippet of another project of Pinard's.


liz said...

Another recipe with chestnuts:
mix with candy corn, raisins and m&ms.

Anonymous said...

In spite of my love for them in that risotto recipe I sent you, I otherwise share your feelings about chestnuts. Nuts should be crunchy, dammit! Although I admit I'm a little tempted to make a chestnut puree a la Julia Child's The Way to Cook (which was my first big cookbook purchase).

As for kitchen scales, while I kind of covet one of the big fancy digital ones, I make do with a cheap plastic analog one that I've had for years and years and which has a melted area on one side where I left it too close to the stove one time. It's small and lightweight and I keep it in the cupboard by my measuring cups.