Home Travel Trip Journals Central Mexico - 2006 Displaying items by tag: French

Considering the grocery store product signs are in both English and French and we hear so much French being spoken it sort of makes sense that we'd be able to find a French restaurant in Vancouver. I know that Quebec is not France but still it seems that the odds are greater than in Seattle where people still think the French hate them. So in our wandering the streets of Vancouver we kept our eyes peeled for French restaurants and found one that looked good - The Hermitage on Robson. Hermitage's chef (and owner)  trained for eight years in France and also trained as a Pastry Chef and a Butcher prior to serving as the private chef to the King Leopold of Belgium. He has worked at some of the finest 3 star Michelin restaurants in Europe and then went on to be the executive chef at some of the best hotels in Europe, the United States, and Canada. In 1985 Hervé Martin came to Vancouver to open the Pan Pacific Hotel after which he decided to open his own restaurant - the Hermitage. We chose this restaurant not based on their self-promotion but rather in the same way that we choose any French restaurant - on their variety of duck offerings! The clincher was the seared foie gras, caramelized pear on toasted buttered brioche which by the way was fabulous. My Mom had froi gras for the very first time and now understands our fascination with it. The duck's psychological well being be damned, it's good.

I also ate as my main dish duck breast with pears and roasted potatoes millefeuille in a pear William reduction. They asked me if I wanted it cooked to medium (which would ruin it) so I responded how I do in France - "I want it pink". They didn't do too bad but it was still cooked a bit too much and only showed a bit of pink. Duck breast is best when the whole interior of the meat is pink without a shade of gray. The sauce was good and the potatoes millefeuille were excellent. The asparagus stayed on my plate though.

Piper had mussels in a wine sauce which she didn't like at first because of the flavor of the wine. In Paris they're basically straight up with butter and lemon. No need to get fancy when the basic food is fine by itself.

My mother had duck confit raviolis with a Madeira sauce which was oddly different but very nice nonetheless. I'm not sure she was sold on them but I liked it as did Natalya.

The service was excellent an our waiter was from Paris so he had an authentic Parisen accent as apposed to the harsher Quebecian accent of the other waiters. The environment was also very nice and even though we were drastically underdressed we were treated well and nobody batted an eyelash at my Babylon 5 t-shirt. My one complaint is this sort of food costs a great deal more to eat here than in Paris. Our meal for 5 (with two eating appetizers in place of their main dish) it cost us $175. If our party of 5 were to eat here once a month for a year it would cost enough over eating at our favorite restaurant in Paris to buy one round trip ticket to France. I think overall each dish cost about 50% more than it would in Paris (factoring in current exchange rate). Should French food cost more here than in France? I don't think so but it does. But then Mexican costs more than in Mexico, Italian costs more than in Italy and just about every other type costs more than in it's home country.

A word of advice, if you plan on going to The Hermitage you should have the Froie Gras and you can eat off the Appetizers menu because they're nice sized plates. If you want to drop the $30 then order the Duck Breasts and make sure they understand to cook it as they would in France - pink everywhere.


Published in Food Blog
Monday, 25 October 2010 06:24

Duck Fat - Liquid Gold

The poor duckies should have tasteless fat. I feel for them, I do but because I'm higher on the food chain I appreciate their existance. About two weeks ago on a particularly rainy day I got the hankering for Cassoulet, a heavy dish made primarily in the southwestern corner of France. It's not fine food like you'd expect from the French but rather a heavy casserole with lots of meats and beans in it. Arguably the most important meat in it is Confit de Canard - or duck preserved in duck or goose fat. In my effort to avoid giving up a years salary to an online reseller I decided I'd just make Confit de Canard and in doing so would need about 5 cups of duck fat. My recipe says the best way to get duck fat is to just pour it off every time I make something with duck in it thus saving the cost of buying it. Like I or anyone I know cooks duck every day right? I do this for bacon grease but I'm afraid I don't cook enough duck in a year to get a cup of duck fat so I had to go hunt for it. A quick google search for "duck fat seattle" gave several results pointing to various grocery stores and markets that had it. One of my favorites - Central Market in Mill Creek was listed so off we go for a 1 hr bus ride to pick up our duck fat. "We usually carry it" was the answer I got and empty handed is how we left. The next day I boarded the Swift/M358 bus to Central Market in Shoreline and there I found duck fat - for $16/lb.. Gag, cough. I needed about $30 worth of duck fat for one meal - a bit steep I thought. Getting the M358 bus to Seattle again and an hour later I was in Chinatown (the International district, ahem) at Uwajamaya Market. They had duck fat too in solid blocks but a man standing between me and my duck fat kept putting package after package into his cart which he talked on the phone. He left only 3 packages - which thankfully was all I needed. Had he taken the rest I would have followed him around and package by package removed it from his cart. It's not legally his until he pays for it right?

Duck fat in hand I returned home to make my Confit de Canard. To make this you salt duck thighs and legs heavily and let them rest for two days. Then you melt the duck fat in a pan on very low heat so it doesn't boil then you rinse the salt cured duck pieces then dry. Once dry you cook them in the duck fat for about 90 minutes and let them cool. Salt the bottom of a dish, layer duck fat in the bottom, layer duck pieces then melt the rest of the duck fat again and pour it over the top. Then melt pig lard and pour a layer of that over the top, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 4-6 weeks. Yes 4-6 weeks. I did everything except the 4-6 weeks part. It seems that making Confit de Canard out of a bunch of ducks at the same time would be more effecient. Then take the carcases and make duck stock out of it.

Why all the fuss over Duck fat? Because it's very very nice. I don't know how one fat can taste better than another but it does. I've never had the urge to drink vegetable oil, peanut oil, olive oil or lard but it's taken all of my strength not to go to the fridge and take a swig of the duck fat. The smell is all over the house, it's on my hands and it's in my mind. I can't wait to fry potatoes in it. Since my primary motivation was to make Cassoulet I'll have a later post up about that as soon as it's done. This one meal has been a week long project.




Published in Food Blog
Friday, 12 November 2010 05:36

French food in Seattle?

To celebrate the lack of fatal accidents involving myself from November 2009 to November 2010 my kids decided to take me out to eat for a late lunch. Having just spent the last week slaving over Cassoulet and still craving French food I perused the menus of Place Pigalle, Cafe Campagne, Restaurant Campagne and Maximilien in the Pikes Place Market in downtown Seattle. In Paris I choose my restaurants on how serious they are about that little bird that everyone loves - the Duck. If a restaurant lists at least two of the three holy duck dishes (Foie Grois, Confit de Canard, Magret de Canard) then it's worthy of consideration. It seems however, that in Seattle if a restaurant possesses at least ONE of the three they're considered French but being in the northwest and a long way from France they can fill up the rest of the menu with Asian Fusion dishes or seafood. If a Seattle French restaurant prepares two of the three holy duck dishes they're exceptional and so far I've not found one establishment that will make all three. They will have either Foie Gras and Magret or Magret and Confit or Foie Gras and Confit but never all three.

I've looked at the Maximelien menu a million times and even though their lunch menu had only one of the three (dinner has two) they also had escargot so we entered through the heavy wooden doors to our little French sanctuary amongst the hustle and bustle of the market. As soon as that door shuts the market goes silent and you find yourself in a small 10-12 table restaurant fitted in supple dark woods with a staircase bending it's way to a second floor. The second floor stops about 2 feet from the outer wall leaving an air gap connecting upper and lower floors which lends to making the place feel a bit larger overall. The walls are covered with mirrors presumably to add to this effect. From the outside Maximilien always seemed bigger and I was very surprised to find it this small.

The host had a very strong but not very familiar French accent. I didn't get around to asking him where he was from. The server smiled to the point where I thought she was going to explode but always provided us prompt service and kept refilling our bread basket. Magret de Canard wasn't on the lunch menu so I had Confit de Canard and an escargot appetizer. The escargot was the best we've had in the states so far and the table bread was perfect for soaking up the butter and parsley in the escargot plate (no they didn't serve them in the shells).

The Confit was OK but you'd be hard pressed to tell it from a turkey leg. I'm not a huge Confit de Canard fan so I've not eaten it very many times but it was still good and the duck fat that was attached was nice. The sliced potato rounds tasted like they were fried in duck fat as they had a nice crispy texture and the flavor was good. Both the potatoes and the Confit were served over a bed of lentils (God knows why). I'm not sure why you'd mix up food with lentils and even more perplexed as to why you'd serve both on the same plate. I personally prefer my food to change color and p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; } consistency during the digestive process.

Overall it wasn't a bad experience but we didn't have any OMG! moments either. The environment was quaint, the music decent (you can listen to what's playing in the restaurant right now by going to their RSS feed - neat. I'd like to come back for dinner and try their other dishes before I do a full review of Maximelien.





Published in Food Blog
Sunday, 28 December 2008 18:02


When I mention to people that one of Jade's favorite things about Paris is Meringues they respond with "Oh I like Meringue too, especially on lemon pie!". Notice they say Meringue with no s on the end. This means we're talking about completely different things. Meringue used for Lemon Meringue pie is a soft pillowy substance that when bit into disappears. I've always had difficulty in explaining French Meringues but I've seen them listed in cookbooks as being a cookie and I guess they could be called a cookie so from now on that's what I'll call them - Meringue cookies. A French Meringue is mostly air and sugar but is dried out in an oven at 200 degrees for about 3 hrs. I put my meringue batter in a pastry bag and squirted it onto a sheet pan. They came out crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside just like in Paris. Everytime I make something where I have a bunch of egg whites left over I try to make Meringues and up until lately this act as always ended in failure. I thought the recipe was wrong so I checked another book (Jacque Pepin's) and he says to do them exactly the way the other books say. I finally find a Cook's Illustrated article on them which was what I needed. Thomas Keller says the more simple the food the more difficult it is to cook. I followed Cooks Illustrated's recipe and they came out just like Meringues in Paris! I always like Cooks Illustrated because they explain why they're doing something. It appears you need some sort of acid in order to make them work right. Also I've found that knowing how fast to mixer should be going and for how long is important with this one.

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This is not a joke! Well, it is sort of but I bet Betty Crocker didn't think so. My daughter checked out a Betty Crocker cookbook from the local library. She was showing me some recipes in it as normally I would not have even opened it. About halfway through there was an Easy Cassoulet recipe. Intrigued I looked it over. Seconds later my jaw dropped in disbelief. You, my faithful readers probably remember my Cassoulet article from the past. If not then go there now and read up on it, I'll wait for you. In that recipe (which is quite good) there are no less than 19 ingredients and start to finish it takes about 3 days to prepare spread out over one month. I never thought any meal could be worth that kind of labor and yet I've made it 4 times. Now my least favorite season - Fall, is welcomed open armed just because it gives me an excuse to break out the butcher knife and soak those great northern white beans until they're smooth as butter. Yes, I'm hooked.

I'm sure Betty Crocker they're doing their readers a great service having an Easy Cassoulet recipe because who wouldn't want to partake in this rustic southern French dish? The recipe is as follows.

  • 1 pound of Polish sausage
  • 1 can of great northern beans
  • 1 can of kidney beans
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of dry red wine or beef broth
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic


In the interest of their consummate readers they've even included microwave directions *gag cough gag* as follows.


To Microwave: Place carrots and red wine in 3 qt microwavable casserole. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Place sausage on carrots. Mix remaining ingredients. Pour over top. Cover tightly and microwave on high 18 to 22 minutes, stirring after 12 minutes, until hot and bubbly.


Can we have a moment of silence to honor the death of our dear old friend? If you don't mind I'd like to say a few words. "Cassoulet, I'm sorry for what has become of you. I'm sorry for how little we've tried to understand your complexity and how we've attempted to make you into something you're not out of our own laziness and for the sake of convenience. But most of all I'm sorry that you had to go out this way, with such a loss of dignity, please forgive us - amen."

Polish sausage and 3 cans of beans? Are you on crack Betty Crocker? Betty Coker is more like it. What can they possibly think to accomplish by putting Polish sausages and 3 types of canned beans in a microwave dish and cooking it for 20 minutes? I'm not saying you have to spend three days cooking Cassoulet but there are some dishes that if you don't plan on cooking them right you should just leave them the hell alone! Or here's another idea, microwave your sausage and beans but call it microwaved sausage and beans - not Cassoulet.

I have other issues with it. I don't believe I'm actually giving it any time at all but dry red wine OR beef broth? Oh you don't have any dry red wine for your wine reduction to pour over that Chateaubriand? Just use beef broth, they taste about the same. Ack! I can't think of an instance where you'd substitute beef broth for red wine. I just can't. Speechless I may not be but flabbergasted I am.


Published in Food Blog
Thursday, 18 December 2008 16:00

The unrecognizable French Quiche

For whatever reason we Americans have bastardized the French Quiche by cooking it in a pie shell. I'm not sure why we screw up such simple things as quiche, crepe (that would be pronounced crep not crape), baguettes etc.. For some reason we can't leave well enough alone. Anyway I made a quiche the other day so I thought I'd put photos up in case anyone had never seen a real quiche before. This is a quiche for the real French Quiche eaters as it's filled with Roquefort cheese and leeks.


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Last fall I was in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France which is known for it's duck dishes and another odd standout - Cassoulet. It's a standout because so much of French food is elegant and fine that you'd be hard pressed to identify Cassoulet as French. The truth is Cassoulet is peasant food and is great for those cold winter months.

About two weeks ago when it was cold and wet out I got the itch to have Cassoulet. It's taken a week to get the ingredients (at any cost) and even then I didn't get them all so I had to substitute a few things. To those unfamiliar with Cassoulet it is, according to wikipedia "a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans". I had most everything but the pork skins so I decided to go ahead with the show. As you may have noticed this is definitely a meat eaters dish with only beans being the exception to that rule. Actually in preparing it you use vegetables but funny enough you strain them out and throw them away before finishing the last cooking step. Yes, you strain the vegetables and throw them away.

The ingredients list reads something like this:

  • 2 pounds ham hocks, semi-salted with 1 cup coarse salt (see Note 1)
  • 2 pounds medium-size dried white haricot or Great Northern white beans (about 4 cups), soaked in water to cover overnight
  • 2 pounds confit de canard
  • ½ pound salt pork
  • ¼ pound pancetta (replaces traditional petit salé)
  • 1 pound fresh pork skin
  • ½ cup duck fat from the confit
  • 1 ½ pounds saucisse de Toulouse
  • 1 ¾ pounds pork shoulder
  • 1 ½ pounds mutton or lamb shoulder
  • 2 medium-size onions, peeled, and each studded with 2 cloves
  • 1 large carrot, sliced into rounds
  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • Bouquet garni, tied in cheesecloth (10 sprigs fresh parsley, 10 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 bay leaves)
  • 2 quarts bottled imported Evian
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs made from a French baguette

It does actually have 19 ingredients! One of those ingredients takes 4-6 weeks to make (confit de canard), one is impossible to get (saucisse de Toulouse) and another I had to substitute with pancetta. The hardest one to get was the confit de canard which currently sells for it's price in gold. In lieu of buying it I decided to make confit de canard except - only I did the 1 day recipe instead of the 4-6 week recipe ie. I didn't let it set in the fridge for 6 weeks before using. Even cutting short the recipe by 6 weeks it still ended up being a three day process - one day soaking and rinsing beans and salting ham hocks, one day cutting, browning and cooking meat and one day of making the final product.

I had so many ingredients that I had to use two dutch ovens in order to cook it properly.  Duck fat was especially difficult to hunt down (pun intended) but I ended up finding it in Chinatown (er, I mean the International District) at Uwajamaya Market. Armed with duck fat, lamb shoulder, ham hocks, duck legs and breasts, pork shoulder, pancetta, salt pork and one or two vegetables I set out to make Cassoulet. The recipe calls for cutting up all the meats and browning them in the Dutch oven, once that's done you add the vegetables and bouquet garni and bring it to a boil. Then add all the meats back in and simmer for about 90 minutes. Doesn't seem too bad quite yet until you realize you spent several hours cutting all the meats, dismembering a duck, browning sausages and cutting vegetables. At this point you're invested about 4 hrs. After 90 minutes of simmering I let both Dutch ovens cool (it took hours thanks to the heavy cast iron they're made of) and put them in the fridge. Four hours working on a recipe and I don't get to eat it yet.

That was yesterday. Today I figured I just had to put it back in the oven to warm through and I remembered something had to be done with bread crumbs. Thankfully I checked the recipe at about 2 pm because the second stage has to cook four more hours.This section is more fun because I took my new clay pot that I bought from TJ-Maxx specially for this purpose and laid down salt pork in the bottom, added a layer of beans then a layer of all the various meats - duck, lamb shoulder, pork shoulder and so on then covered it with another layer of beans. I poured the broth reserved from the vegetables until it covered the beans then layered the bread crumbs over it. A sprinkling of the bread crumbs with duck fat completed the process and it went in an oven at 275 degrees F for four more hours. Every half an hour the crust needed to be cracked and turned so it became thoroughly soaked in juices. When done we let it cool for a bit before digging in.

You're probably expecting an OMG!! This is soooo good! right? If so you're lost - you should have taken a left back there at the off ramp to MySpace. Cassoulet is a very subtle dish and I can remember my impressions of it in France (both Toulouse Cassoulet and Carcassonne Cassoulet) - the beans are boring. This is my first impression here too as well as both Jade and Piper's impressions. Jade said "it just tastes like meat and beans". Maybe that's because it IS meat an beans. As you take your second bite you notice some depth then you take your third and so on. This is a dish that you have to eat when it's cold and rainy (or cold and snowy) and it grows on you. The juice is very flavorful and the meat tastes wonderful as does the breadcrumb crust. The beans stay boring but I guess they're an important traditional element.

Is it worth it? No, of course not but then making a lot of French food isn't worth the time but I still do it because there's something else to it, something that's intangible. I don't know what it is but to have good food it takes good effort. If we look at the amount of time involved in preparing food in relation to the amount of time it takes to eat it to determine if it's worth it then we probably shouldn't be discussing food should we? Food is art. Food is experience. Food is a family spending time together talking without the distractions of technology. Food draws people together and provides a common point of reference. I think I'll be making this again and I'll definitely be making confit de canard even if it takes 6 weeks.


June 10th 2012,

I thought I'd update this item since I now make Cassoulet several times a year. It's interesting to read my first hand opinions above. Cassoulet started out as a "checklist item" where you do it once just to say you did. Then I decided to make it again and did a better job, then I went to a French restaurant and realized mine has flavor as good as theirs my beans stunk. I returned to the beans and continued working with dried beans and eventually nailed them. They're now as smooth as butter and very flavorable. I've also doubled the amount of duck, cut back on the pork shoulder and realized that pig skin is a necessary ingredient. I've also learned the hard way that this is a 3 day dish, not a 2 day dish. One day making the confit, one day cooking the cassoulet ingredients and one day cooking the combined cassoulet. After trying to squeeze it into 2 days I realized that I lost a lot of flavor. Such is life. Now that I've cooked this about 8 times I've darn near nailed it. IMHO my cassoulet tastes better than the stuff in the restaurants. This fall when I make it again I'll put up a proper recipe.




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