Canned Cassoulet au Confit de Canard

Roasting duck is a pretty involved process.  I’ve done it once or twice in the past and have always been pretty happy with the results.  However, the process of rendering the fat off the bird is not for the faint of heart so if I can avoid it, I do.  I order duck out at restaurants often and when I’m in France I buy a lot of it in a can.  Yep, a can.

I buy big old honkin’ (pun intended) cans of six leg/thigh combos packed in enough duck fat to swim in.  The confited fowl work well in the oven by themselves or I’ve also used them to make a delicious sauce for pasta that includes a squeeze of fresh lemon.  Flavor city.  I have never eaten that meal without a short nap afterward.  It’s that good.

So imagine how intrigued I was during my last visit to France where I sampled duck cassoulet.  I’ll admit that I had never had cassoulet before but I’m glad I tried it.  It’s a good mix of beans, sausage, spices and tasty duck legs.  Little NH managed to steal most of the pieces of duck off my plate.  I was willing to share just to let her widen her gastronomic horizons.  Eating it at the base of a castle didn’t hurt my mood either.  Or the wine.  But I digress…

Fast forward to the last day in France where my wife told me to stop at a grocery store to stock up on wine and any other local goodies.  For me that means wine, foie gras, canned duck and, lo and behold, canned duck cassoulet.  Très bien! (Or, SCORE! in English.)  The cans ran about 15 euros if I recall correctly.  They’re big and they expire in 2015.  Not that they’ll last that long.

I opened one up last weekend and surveyed the goodness inside.  Beans, four duck legs and four sausages.  I quickly split it into four equal portions and froze two in ramekins for a bit later.  The flavor was better than anything from a can deserves to be.  The duck was perfectly prepared, the sausage was delicate and full of flavor while the beans and seasoning helped to balance the whole dish and act as a counterweight to the intense richness of the meats.

I paired it with a Chardonnay to cut some of the heaviness of the dish.  It would have worked just as well with a light French red.  I can also imagine doing this with a Duvel and having it work out very well.

So yes, great things do come in a can – and not just those hot tamales I used to eat back home.

Picasso Museum – Antibes, France

About 19 years ago, when I was a foreign exchange student in Madrid, Spain, I discovered Pablo Picasso.  I lived about five blocks from the Prado Museum and spent many days wandering the halls of the Prado discovering some of the mysteries of the art world.  When I was there, Picasso’s master work, Guernica, was in El Casón del Buen Retiro museum, just to the side of the Prado.  I spent hours looking at that wall of terror and the sketches and studies that accompanied it.

Yesterday, I got to see that part come full circle.  The NH family all took a trek to the Picasso Museum in Antibes, France.  If memory serves, the period that Picasso spent in Antibes was after the Guernica stage, but the impact on me and my offspring was not unlike the experience I had 19 years ago.  Imagine Cubism through the eyes of a three-year old – just learning to draw her own drawings.  Those picture blew my mind at 18.  As I explained the way that Picasso pained with his brush and his imagination, I saw the unmistakable light of recognition in Little NH’s eyes.  That’s the kind of spark I live for.

The museum itself is a real treat.  Housed inside a palace overlooking the Mediterranean with bright blue skies framing the horizon, it’s no wonder that Picasso found some great inspiration in this place – even during a time of relative poverty.  It’s a must for anyone with even a passing fancy in the artist or his work.

For me, the museum rekindled an old love of a master painter.  Being able to give my daughter the chance to experience it for the first time at the tender young age of 3 makes me wonder what else is possible for her.

Thanks, Picasso.

In Provence, France

Steak tartare, moules, frites and tarte flambées have all crossed my palate in the last 48 hours.  My mood has gotten considerably better.  We’ve seen markets with cheeses that I can’t begin to pronounce and oysters larger than my hand.  The south of France appears to be up to keeping the legendary status it has acquired.  The apartment at home is still in disarray but everything here is in order.  It’s a nice change.

The French Are Nice

Stereotypes are a funny thing.  They stick with you for a really long time.  I was in France about eight years ago and with the exception of one boorish waiter in a bistro, all the encounters we had with people in France were really good ones.  They were polite, tolerant of my crummy French pronunciation and a generally warm bunch.  It was the same on our visit to Paris this weekend.  We didn’t encounter one rude Parisian.  Not one.

So, I’m wondering why they ever got the reputation.  It can’t be that we just interacted with the nice ones.  My guess is they may just be getting a bum rap.  As an American in Europe, I’m used to stereotypes and even a few bum raps.  I guess there are plenty to go around.

So, the trip was better than I had hoped.  Little NH was completely cooperative and tolerant of two-hour lunches and fell in love with chocolate croissants and Nutella crêpes.  Heck, she even stole the dark chocolate squares off of my espresso saucers by the end of the trip.  The weather was sunny or rainy, depending on which five-minute span you were in.  April showers, you know.  The food was really, really great and the wine was subtle and completely delicious.  Our pace was casual and relaxed.  We just sort of went with the flow of the city and managed to take in most everything.

I now have a nice little pillow of crème brûlée inspired blubber around my waist.  It’s a nice reminder of three nights in France.

They say Paris is beautiful in the springtime.  I guess at least some stereotypes are correct.

Churros and Nutella in Colmar, France

Yep, this is my excuse.  This is why I haven’t blogged in almost two weeks.  I was in Germany, France and Austria with the family and eating and drinking my way through Christmas markets in each country.  What you see above are Churros with Nutella at the Christmas Market in Colmar, France.  We discovered that they served churros in France while we were there last year.  I had no idea that the French did churros but I’m glad that they do.  They’re delicious.  And, the addition of Nutella actually gives them a little more of an everyman angle.  No fancy chocolate needed here, just a tub of Nutella about the size of bowling ball.

More on this trip in the coming days.  As you can imagine, we ate more than one Flammkuchen.  Stay tuned!