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.
After a night in Paris we took the metro to Gare Austerlitz, and wandered through the station looking for the Grand Lignes as they call them. Anyone who's not been in a Paris train station probably doesn't know of this experience. So many people take trains in France that the train stations are the size of small airports and Paris has 6 of them. They combine regional trains (Corail), High Speed intercity (TGV), Suburban (RER) and Metro (subway) trains all in a dizzying array of floors, escalators and shopping malls. My first trip through Paris I came via the tunnel under the English Channel. The gentleman in London's Waterloo station told me to take the C1 RER from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon. I made it and to this day I have no idea how I pulled it off. I've retraced that path and it was sheer luck. I remember asking someone if they spoke English but they said no. Just getting from the TGV to the RER level through massive numbers of escalators, payment turnstiles, confusing signs etc. and then getting on the RER and getting back out of the RER system, to the right level in Gare de Lyon AND finding a booth to get my ticket was a miracle. We've traveled on many many trains, subways and suburban rail systems now and even with that knowledge I give myself ample time to transfer between transportation systems. It seems that when you exit the metro or RER you spend quite a lot of time walking down tunnels, up stairs, down stairs, through more tunnels and maybe get to ride an escalator or two and hopefully you don't tear your new cashmere sweater climbing under a barbed wire fence trying to save time. The Paris metro system is NOT handicap accessible (mental of physical)!
So the metro ride to the train station was uneventful but the walking down tunnels, up stairs, down stairs, through more tunnels and maybe get to ride an escalator or two and climbing under barbed wire fences was a little irritating. Scratch the part about the barbed wire fence, that's a different story. By now our bags are chock full of crap we probably don't need and are getting quite heavy. In addition we're carrying my 9x7 carpet that I bought in Toulouse and Natalya has her daybag packed as well. We do find the Grande Lignes and thankfully we'd printed our ticket in Toulouse the night before.
Not having had breakfast nor the time to find it we boarded our train. I stopped to ask twice about the ticket. In the French train system you have to validate your ticket by inserting them into little yellow boxes at the head of each platform which then stamps a time on them. It would seem that since most all tickets are only good for that one train ride that validating the ticket is a useless waste of human energy since after all you couldn't use the ticket twice. I've stopped questioning the wisdom of this since afterall it's a French thing and you just don't get anywhere by questioning the French. As much as I love the French there is the French way and then there's the logical way. Anyway our ticket was printed from the Internet and I could see myself folding it up and cramming it in the validation machine resulting in me removing the shreds with tweezers while the SNCF staff looks over my shoulder and complains in French. The alternative was to just board the train and pray to Napoleon that validation wasn't necessary. The fine for not validating your tickets is roughly $100 or in this case equal to the price of the tickets. After being on the train for a minute I exited and asked another conductor which said "It's not needed for this type of ticket". Still until the ticket man comes along and doesn't fine me I'm not off the hook.
After the train started moving I figured it was time to engage in the time honored French tradition of finding Croissants and bitter orange juice. Trains are hilarious sometimes because depending on the rails and or the car itself you may have a smooth as glass ride (TGV at 200mph comes to mind) or be practicing your bull riding for the local rodeo back home. This was one of those cars where if you were drunk you could probably walk a straight line. It was nicely finished but after walking the length of it I realize that the bolsters on the headrests are not to keep your drooling sleepy head from falling into the aisle but for people in the search for croissants from landing in your lap. The advantage trains have over airplanes is that you can go for a walk in the middle of your journey. It's a great mix because not only do you have the very natural act of hunting for food but you get adventure (jumping between moving rail cars) and you get to practice your swagger (and your pardons and excuse mois if you never quite get the rhythm down). The bar car as they say was where it always is - on the exact opposite end of the train from where you are. I'm not sure how this works but the people immediately next to the bar car probably cannot see it due to a vortex in the time space continuum and are forced to also trek to the opposite end of the train as well only to find the engine and as a result have to call off the expedition and return to their own car only to find as if by magic - the bar car. It makes for an interesting time because the view from your seat during the journey isn't that much different than attending a runway show at Galleries Lafayette. The difference being that the steady stream of people walking the aisles on a train appear drunk, disillusioned and starved and the models at Galleries Lafayette only possess two of these traits. Which two depends on the model.
The French countryside is pretty but not amazingly so and resembles western Washington for the most part. What a lot of people don't realize is that most of France is made up of farms so about the time that you're completely engrossed in this idealist view of romantic French countryside full of vineyards and stone house you see a rusted tractor sitting in a field and a bunch of cows that don't look any different than what you'd see in America. France = farms.
We arrived in Toulouse at 2 pm. The market at St Sernin winds down at two and it will take us about 30 minutes to get there but we're still waiting on word from Jim about a hotel room. We really wanted to hit that market again and it only happens on Sunday. Jim mentioned that he'd let us crash on his floor saving us another $150. We walk by the Internet cafe to check the email and find that Sebastien and Jim have booked a restaurant and are expecting us and that we have a free room. At this point it doesn't make sense to go back to the train station to catch the metro or walk to the next station to catch it because then we'd only go one stop and will have paid $4 for that privilege so we hoof it. By the time we arrive it's clear that we're not catching the St. Sernin market so we drop our bags and go to lunch at the restaurants in the floor above the market at Place Victor Hugo.
The market at Place Victor Hugo is an interesting one because it's stalls of meat mongers with whole chickens, ducks, and other forms of animals along with ranges of produce and everything else you need to fashion a meal. To get upstairs you climb an unkept wooden stairway to the next level and as you open the door you realize you're onto something that the rest of the town already knows about as the entire floor full of various eating establishments are chock full of people eating. The food that you order here actually comes from down below. The duck probably had feathers on it a short time earlier. Even though we had reservations we end up waiting about 20 minutes. They're out of Magret de Canard so I take the menu.
The menu for those who aren't versed in "la French" is not the physical folded piece of paper with items on it as that's the la carte. If you order a la carte you're ordering off what we'd call the menu or literally "from the card". If you order le menu you will be surprised to not get la carte but a predetermined list of starters, main plates and possibly a dessert for a set price based on an unknown formula. However, if you choose the formulae you will get a subset of la menu (list of items form la carte) made of up items from la carte (the menu). Still with me? To make matters worse if you order a la carte and only choose an Entrée your server will remain at your table pen in hand staring at you and you don't know why. In France the entrée is the starter and the plat is your main course. The plat translates to plate so you're starting with the Entrée and ending with the plate. Sounds logical, that's sort of how I determine to stop eating in America too - when you get to the hard thing you're done. My menu included a salad with Foie gras, a steak called the onglet that's roughly equivalent to the American hanger steak fries. Yes, the French eat French fries....
The foie gras was average and the meat was tender but overall the meal was satisfying and definitely filling. Eating takes a long time in France and is followed up with a cafe (a cafe is not something made of wood and containing chairs and people waiting to take your order but in fact translates to coffee, how convenient you think that they'd serve coffee at a cafe), or dessert. With a meal you always get lengthy conversations about all things including the difference between shallots and onions which we never really resolve.
We drag ourselves back to our hotel and Jim who never seems to adjust to the time change goes to sleep. Natalya and I have to prepare for our return trip home and doing so venture out to our local Tunisian sweet shop to buy nut based goodies. We take a walk and return later to pack everything up. I'm not sure how we're getting everything home but it appears the best strategy is to vacuum pack the dirty clothes and carry the carpet in the dirty clothes bag. This would also mean we have too many items for carry on and will have to check a bag. For those of you who don't know my travel style I never ever check bags. I and my three kids can travel for months on end and never have more than carry on bags. This is an art form I believe but it keeps things simple. I've only checked a bag one other time and it's because it was over the weight limit for Virgin Atlantic so I had no other choice.
Nine-thirty pm brought a knock at the door which in turn brought Jim's smiling face. It's dinner time. If you're figuring out that the French spend a great deal of time eating you're right on the money. Natalya and I have chosen to return to a really great restaurant at Place St George near Place Wilson. The last time we ate there we had the most amazing mashed potatoes topped with caramelized shallots bathed in Sherry. This last item has haunted us since. We arrive in pouring rain and still sit outside. The French are amazing in this regard. They'll put up space heaters and whatever else just to sit outside. In Seattle if you put out a table on the sidewalk they turn their noses and and demand proper eating arrangements. I don't get it. Outside is less formal so you can show up wearing your pajamas and nobody will care. You can eat great food in your pajamas - what a concept! I tried ordering Squab (pigeon) again to no avail so I get the lamb shank. I'm told that there isn't any which my experience backs up. I've not seen one pigeon in all of Toulouse. Apparently they've "over fished" the proverbial pigeon waters.
So we're outside in the pouring rain under a canopy eating our foie gras. We at some point start getting horizontal rain and retreat to the safety of stone and timber. Our food arrives and there's something wrong - the shallots are missing. I ask about it and he brings me a small glass full of caramelized onions. Onions? Are we confused? Am I as an American not supposed to be able to tell the difference? I show them a picture of my meal since I photograph everything I eat and come to find out that they've changed chefs since then. I in turn insist they get the old one back and pronto which I'm sure doesn't please the new chef. Twice on this trip we've ordered something that was out of this world only to get a replacement or nothing at all - once in Paris at Le Square Cafe and now in Toulouse. How can you recommend a place if they keep changing the menu?
Having said all of that dinner was good as always and I'd be more than happy to have that exact same meal in Seattle even without the shallots. I do know however that I need to spend some time recreating the shallots. It's the only way. sigh..
Two Americans, a Moroccan, one Ukrainian, a Korean, eight Frenchmen and three Indians and a Brit enter a bar.... Sounds like the beginning to a joke. The class is having dinner together tonight. I've been riding the metro to work but got a ride home. Including my walking time it takes me about 28 minutes to get to work. Driving it took 45. Something tells me that driving isn't the solution. Dinner was in a small hole in the wall and was a great deal of fun. The French do things differently because dinner took over 4 hrs. There was a lot of mixed language conversations with half taking place in French and the other half in English. One Frenchman decided to pretend he couldn't speak French to the waitress, another accidentally broke a wine glass and then while trying to show how he did it broke another two. The waitress was not impressed but the rest of us were rolling on the floor. The food was good and the company was great. We got to see the inner workings of how other cultures live. This I'm thankful for. I'll have a video up later. We drug ourselves back into the hotel at 1am. Unfortunately the Hotel Albert was booked so Natalya moved us to the hotel Capitole during the day. The Hotel Capitole isn't as nice as Albert but still head over heals nicer than Hotel Junior. Tomorrow is the last day of class. The Parisians decide to go to a bar after dinner. I never see them again.
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.
Class went well but the wonderful smiles are now gone. I don't claim to possess to know enough about people to know why. I continue to struggle with not having enough equipment to actually teach a great class. A side note: they serve wine at the company cafeteria like it was punch. We returned to La Florida to eat Foie Gras since it's proven to be the best. Natalya's yes droop and her mouth rises when she has it. Most of my day is spent teaching, then most of my night is spent getting ready for class
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.
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.
Today I went to work.... Pretty boring eh? Actually not so much. After leaving Hotel Junior and walking to the metro station I realized that I don't have the actual company address. I tried connecting to multiple INTERNET access points to get it but failed. At some point I was out of time and just decided to find it based on memory of the email I received. I've still not heard back from them on what time the class starts. Actually I've never been gien a security badge either. What choice did I have but to just go to where I thought it was and look around? I took the metro which was awesome and only took 10 minutes to get across town. I exited the Metro station and instantly was dropped into Lebanon or so it seamed. My immediate thought was "where in the world have they put this training room?". The answer to that I didn't know....
I remembered on Google maps a roundabout so I walked until I found one. I also remembered that the street was named after an American General. The roundabout listed an Avenue General Eisenhower so that was good enough for me. A ten minute walk later and I still can't find the company. I asked a security guard and he pointed down the street, said about 3 chapters worth of stuff in French (none of which I followed) and drew a square in the sky followed quickly by the company name. I figured he meant there was a sign so I took off walking. Another 10 minutes later I had reached my destination and without security clearance proceeded to the visitor lobby at which point I was met by the folks that had hired me.
The classroom had no computers, no white board and only a small weak projector. Those of you who've been in my classes know I last about 10 minutes without my teaching aids. Apparently they were thinking that it was going to be 40 hrs of Power point presentations? We russeled up markers for the giant tablet on easel and started burning LiveCDs for the employees laptops. This whole thing was crazy but I'm good at rolling with the punches. The biggest hurdle was to enunciate in such a way that a native
French speaker could understand me. This is difficult for someone who can't get native English speakers to understand me. By noon we had the students on Linux, I had markers and a pad and we had access to the Internet.
During which time Natalya checked out of the old hotel and into Albert 1er. The wifi didn't work so she used their computer to let me know she had arrived safely. We went to eat at a new restaurant on Place St. George which is a very pretty small quiet square not far from the Capitole. The Foie Gras was decent on a spiced toast and the duck was really good. The star of the meal however was this mount of potatoes topped with caramelized shallots that were to be honest phenomenal. This is jump up and down and shout Hallelujah good. I'm going to experiment with that when I get back home.