12 November, 2009

11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Nearly everyone is off work on November 11th, known as Armistice Day in France, the date at which in 1918, World War I finally came to an end. In the bloody process, some eight million people lost their lives, and six million were injured. Hard to visualize now, so it remains all the more important that across the country yesterday, wreaths and flowers were laid at the commerative monuments found in every village and town. In Paris, the President traditionally lays a wreath at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, at the Arche de Triomphe. This year, however, Nicolas Sarkozy was joined by Angela Merkel, the first time a German head of state jointly celebrated the end of WWI. In the process, we stop to remember the veterans of all war. The photo below is of a German officer in the Netherlands in 1941. It was on the cover of the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant's annual war memorial issue (which comes out in October).
And the final word goes to Ronald E. Brown, who served in the U.S. Army, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) Vietnam 1969-70, and Fort Hood, Texas, 1968-69. He submitted to the International Herald Tribune's Home Fires Blog the following poem (author unknown):

Politicians talk about the need of it,
Old men boast about the glory of it,
And the soldiers just want to go home.

In keeping with looking backward and the colder evenings, I'd like to offer you a bit of classic French culinary succor. Nothing remotely haute about this, and it is perhaps a dish for the weekend: while there is only about half an hour's worth of preparation, there is a good amount of (unmonitored) cooking time. It is a succulent recipe for veal and mushroom stew, with an ivory sauce whose hue is the reason for the name 'blanquette'. This recipe dates at least back to the mid-seventeenth century kitchens of the redoubtable and lovely Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's official mistress. Her chef, Vincent de la Chapelle, included it in his treatise Le Cuisinier Moderne. She is featured below, in a quintessentially rococo portrait by François Boucher.
Unless you happen to be a Marquise who has yet to set foot in her own kitchen, the making of a blanquette de veau is dead simple, as time does the (tenderizing and mellowing) work. As this simmers, the aroma alone will qualify you as the Bocuse of the house. You will need a cocotte, which is a braising dish with a heavy lid. Yes, it's an expensive investment upfront, but so worth it in the long run (of which I also wrote about here). This recipe can also be made using other meats, such as pork, lamb, or even chicken, although I have never strayed from the original version. This comforting stew is terrific paired with a nice St. Joseph red, like the one produced by the Coursodon brothers in the Côtes du Rhône. Start your shopping list for tomorrow, you won't regret it...
Blanquette de Veau/[White] Veal and Mushroom Stew

Serves 6 to 8.

800 g shoulder of veal, roughly chopped into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 kg breast of veal, roughly chopped into 1 1/2 inch cubes
300 g portobello, crimini, or white button mushrooms, sliced
3 carrots, cut in four pieces
1 rib of celery, halved
2 medium onions, peeled
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 cubes of powdered chicken bouillon
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup dry white wine
2 egg yolks
1/2 smaller lemon
2 tablespoons oil
60 g butter
25 cl thick crème fraîche

Stud each onion with a clove. Heat the oil and half the butter in the cocotte over high. Sprinkle the chopped veal with the two tablespoons of flour, toss in the hot pan and allow to brown on all sides. Add the whole onions, carrots, celery, celery seed and bay leaf. Crumble the bouillon cubes, add salt and fresh-ground pepper generously. Pour over all this the white wine, and just enough water to cover the meat. Cover with a heavy lid and allow to simmer (i.e. a few bubbles at a time) on low to medium-low heat for one and a half hours.

In a separate pan, brown the mushrooms in the remaining butter over medium heat until they release their liquid. Set aside. After the veal has cooked for the allotted time, remove the pieces of meat and set aside in aluminum foil to keep warm. Turn the heat up and reduce the cooking broth by half. This should take about five minutes on a high boil.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the juice from the 1/2 lemon and the crème fraîche. I use an electric mixer for speed. Once the broth has been reduced, strain the liquid (discarding the onion, carrot and celery bits) and return to the now reduced heat. Stir in the egg mixture, meat and mushrooms. Do not allow the final stew to boil. Taste and add salt and fresh-ground pepper as necessary. Serve hot over a fluffy long grain rice, such as basmati.

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