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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A TRIBUTE TO CAST IRON COOKERY

  

 

“What stories these pans could tell,” a student commented as she surveyed the assortment of cast iron cookware in which we were about to prepare Thanksgiving dinner.  She wasn’t referring to the impeccable black Lodge skillet that would hold the cornbread.  It was three weathered, enamel-coated dishes that drew her attention.  

This was the first time anyone had shown any interest in these utilitarian objects that I routinely regard as empty pots waiting to be filled.  How thoughtless of me.  It’s time I wrote a tribute to the cast iron pots and pans that have served and continue to serve me so well.

The large, rectangular roasting pan pictured at the top of the page takes me back to my first dinner party as a young bride in the ’60’s.   I was still working my way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art, when I cooked and served a pheasant pie in it.   I clearly remember cutting up frozen artichoke hearts along with root vegetables. Artichoke hearts seem a strange choice to me today. I also have no recollection of how I managed to cover the entire surface of the dish with a pastry dough. 

 

 

The Le Creuset  casserole pictured above is a favorite because it’s broad shape makes braising easy to see and control.  I enjoy watching ingredients meld together.  Now a confession.  Hidden beneath the surface of turkey thighs simmering in white wine and vegetables, the pan's enamel sides and bottom are stained almost black.  Sorry, there’s no horror story to be told.  The discoloration is the result of cooking black beans years ago.  I like to think of it as cast iron patina.

 

 

This two quart oval gratin dish is another favorite for layered vegetables and fruit cobblers.  The cranberry and apple crumble  pictured above is a good example.  The enamel has chipped away from the handles over the years giving it a rustic look that is not intentional.   I've got to stop now. My memory is on overload thinking of the many times this pan has seen sliced potatoes, grated cheese and chunks of cold roast.  The thought of steamy, cheesy gratins is making me hungry.

This year I am grateful for cast iron and all the utilitarian objects that allow me to be productive in the kitchen.  I’m also grateful for those of you who read my blog and share my passion for life in the kitchen and at the table.  Best wishes for a most satisfying Thanksgiving holiday.

 

Link to the recipes:

Roasted Root Vegetables

Braised Turkey Thighs with Peanuts

Cranberry Apple Crumble

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A PELARDON STORY

 

In France, all cheese is local, but rarely do we actually taste it in the ‘hood’ where it was made.  When I order a goat cheese salad in the town of Uzès near the Pont du Gard, I know I will be served a creamy white disk of Pelardon.  If it came from the farm of Mme. Gueit, I can even picture the faces of the alpine goats from whose milk it was made.  I’ve been there and met them!  

Like many other wonderful foods in France Pelardon’s rich, picante flavor is protected by law.  In 2000 the French government recognized its distinctive character and awarded it AOC status.  This designation specifies the regional boundaries and production practices that must be followed in order for a cheese to bear the Pelardon name.  (Are there cheese police out there?)

 

 That said, there have to be small flavor differences among Pelardon.  As a raw milk cheese it is literally alive with microbes that modify its flavor over time. Changes in temperature and humidity play a role, and each farm has a slightly different microclimate.  Pelardon isn’t just produced, it’s created.  The French like it that way. 

To observe the cheesemaking process close-up my culinary tour group visited Mme. Gueit’s farm in the rugged foothills of the Park of the Cévannes thirty minutes north of Uzès last month.  We were met by Mme. Gueit at the entrance to the large barn on the property where several dozen goats were quietly eating a breakfast of organic hay.  A few curious goats wandered over to greet us. They were attractive, social animals who twisted their heads through the bars of a metal barrier so that we could rub their muzzles scratch behind their ears.

We covered our shoes with paper slippers before entering the small fromagerie across from the barn.  Milk is piped in here from a raised walkway in the barn where the goats are mechanically milked twice a day.  Milk is divided among plastic containers and a coagulant is added.  Within hours milk curds separate from the liquid whey which is carefully drained off before the solids are ladled into molds.

 

The molds are minutely porous and whey continues to drain.  Within two days the curds take on the definitive shape of the Pelardon.  Released from their molds the cheese is ready to eat as fresh cheese.  Most rounds will begin the aging process under Mme. and her staff ‘s watchful gaze.

    

The maturing of goat cheese is easier to comprehend in a fromagerie where there are a full range of examples to observe.   Older cheeses take on a yellow cast and shrink slightly as they are moved back and forth on racks between two small rooms.  One room is humid the other is less so.  Both are cool and smell of the surrounding damp stone walls which must offer some interesting microorganisms of their own to the air.  Mme. Gueit demonstrated textural changes, lifting one then another disk to show us how the cheese first becomes firmer, then later softens and then develops a creamy layer beneath a thin crust. 

I purchased five Pelardons at the farm for us to sample with a glass or wine and bread later that day.  Each exemplified a different stage in the aging process from the freshly drained cheese to a two month old Pelardon that was noticeably shrunken and beginning to show signs of mold on the surface.  Some French “specialists” as Mme. called them prefer this very aged cheese.  Judging by the appearance of the serving plate after our tasting, I would say that my American friends liked the fresher, milder cheeses more than the older examples. 

Visits to artisan producers of local cheese, wine and olive oil in Provence are a special feature of Chez Madelaine's tours in France.  If you would like to see for yourself how goat cheese is made and haven’t yet met a friendly goat, join us on next year’s Provence Odyssey.  Specific information about the September 2018 tour will be available soon.  Enrollment is on a first come, first served basis. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

HUNGARIAN GREEN BEAN SOUP

 

 

 

 

My father lived as an American citizen for more than five decades, but his appetite stayed firmly attached to the cuisine of his native Hungary.  He passed on pizza, hamburgers, French fries and remained faithful to the flavors of pork fat, sour cream and paprika his entire life.   

My mother tried her best to please him with a diet of meat and potatoes à la Indianapolis, her home town. Much later, I would drive to Chicago's only Hungarian butcher on the far north side to purchase fresh blood sausage and other cuts of meat we had enjoyed on a family trip to Budapest in 1985.  I learned to prepare his favorite dishes, but my heart wasn't in it.

 A search in my Hungarian cookbooks for something healthful left me feeling trapped in a culinary time warp.  How was I going to make a meal that was both easily digestible and consistent with a cuisine that boiled and blanketed vegetables in a heavy white sauce?  Even Hungarian salad recipes produced sad, limp layers of sliced cucumbers swimming in flavorless oil, vinegar and sugar dressing.  

 

 

 

The late, great Gourmet Magazine came to my rescue one summer when it published a chilled green bean soup that proved Hungarian cuisine could shake off its heavy winter coat to reveal a sleek, shapely figure.   What set this soup apart from others was the way its delicate balance of sweet and sour flavors complemented the beans. The recipe included the obligatory cup of sour cream, but its richness was muted and welcome in this water-based soup. The beans, cooked al dente, offered a satisfying crunch.

This clean, elegant formula with its refreshing taste, as you may imagine, has made it a family favorite.  Now my father's great-grandchildren enjoy it every summer.  I consider it my contribution to our culinary heritage.

 

 

LINK TO HUNGARIAN GREEN BEAN SOUP RECIPE