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March, 2010:

“Just sayin'”

Very slight departure from the norm here because… well, a change is as good as a rest. In 5+years and I don’t know how many hundreds of posts I don’t normally do simple links to blog posts but a couple of things I read online this evening struck a chord.

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Out for a duck

Meh, hatch abandoned.

No duck action in the eggs it seems, which is a real shame as I was rather looking forward to that but as the saying goes… don’t count your chickens… etc. etc.

So, a seven day delay under our belt and a fresh batch of hen eggs into the incubator.

Timber!

4 days chopping, 4 days humping. And I’m spent. My back is creaking and I ache in spots that haven’t ached for the longest time. 2 pairs of gloves written off and some industrial solvent will be required to clean up my baby tractor and trailer. All told – I’m very satisfied with a job well done and the cleanup of our neighbours aftermath of tempete xynthia is over.

Woodstack1

Pile #1. 8M long!

A couple of precarious stacks now dominate the paddock, Hard to guess at the true volume but I think something close to 12M3, for that stack above perhaps more. And then there’s another one…

Woodstack2

A second pile, 6M long!

I’ll leave them to bake under the Charentaise sun until October then I’ll be a-choppin’ and a-splittin’ them again where they’ll go into the barn to season for a further year. It’s softwood so not the very best of firewood but in a mix with some oak it should do well. In the course of picking up the trees from our neighbours we tried a few that were a few years seasoned from some older trees that had come down previously – very satisfactory chauffage!

And now, just as some warmer weather looks to be here – it’s time to start on the garden and pick up the baton with renovation of chez moi.

If it walks like a duck…

… quacks like a duck… it might turn out to be a duck!

We’re getting the hatching year off to a slightly unlikely start. A trip to the Marché in town and the lady on the artisan goats cheese stand had a basket of surplus duck eggs for sale. I asked all the right questions, she gave me all the right answers. Her ducks were raised on a large paddock, ate only grass, a good mix of mamans et papas, eggs only just laid that morning etc. etc. Right. We’ll have them and within the hour they’re in the incubator.

Duck Eggs in the incubator

Duck eggs

Bit of a Squeeze, they’re all around the 90g mark and only just fit in the machine, so big that the clever auto-turning function can’t actually cope. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. We should know in a week or so if they’re actually fertile or not and if so, they’ll be due to hatch in about a month.

Allez, les Rosbifs

Love all, serve all is my motto when it comes to the culinary arts – there’s very little that I wont tackle in the kitchen and as I’ve written about before I have a particular fondness for French cooking. However, once in a blue moon a bit of British cooking is called for.

There’s no more typical brit-dish than Roast Beef but it’s a dish that’s very hard to do right in France. Why? Very difficult to buy aged beef.

The great irony is that we’re surrounded by magnificent Charolais and Parthenaise beef animals but after slaughter they get very little hanging time and are quickly portioned up, mostly shrink wrapped and sold. French butchery (and I therefore assume French tastes) doesn’t seem to stretch to high quality matured beef.

The rayon in the supermarché does carry better looking beef but at a significant premium and non of it looks like it has any age whatsoever. I’ve asked a few times to see the document d’accompagnement bovin – a pink slip that comes with the carcass and of course you’re treated with an amazing amount of disdain and mistrust. They’re required by law to show this to anyone who asks but a quick look tells all. Bright pink, still bloody, bright white fat that’s only just set. Meat for sale that’s only a week old.

So, what to do? Out of preference a whole/half carcass should be given a good couple of weeks to hang before it’s butchered. I’m not in the beef game and don’t have a meat locker so that’s out for now. Only choice is to try and dry-age a piece at home – something we can only really tackle in the winter.

So, picking the best looking Côte de boeuf, bringing it home, drying it off in a very cool room and then leaving it in the fridge on a rack for as long as you dare. As the meat dries the flavour concentrates and a controlled microbiological breakdown naturally tenderises the meat fibres. Humidity control is critical, anything that’s wrapped up will spoil very quickly. However, managed well and you can turn a mediocre piece of beef into a flavoursome roast. This fellow was aged for 21 days at home.

Cote de boeuf avant

A month since it moo-ed. Mature and ready to rock and roll

Only two of us here of course so a two-rib côte is a very generous meal.

First job, cast iron griddle is set on a moderately hot flame, season the outside of the joint with a little salt and lashings of freshly ground pepper. Sear and seal the outside surfaces of the beef allowing it to caramelise up and develop a bit of a crust. If the meat was fairly well marbled a surprising quantity of lard will render off as the meat seals. Onto a roasting tray atop a bed of coarsely chopped onion and the joint is basted with the fat that was rendered off and then into the oven to cook through. Cooking time is a matter of choice but I like ours done quite pink and we give it a good 40 mins resting time before it’s carved.

Cote de boeuf apres

Degraded image quality due to.... erm... Vin Rouge

Add to taste, yorkshire puds, roast spuds, sauteed cabbage and all that’s needed is a little horseraddish cream and a bottle of Cahors.

Grus grus

Storm cleanup (now with added photos) was underway yesterday and the day was punctuated with several spectacular flybys of Cranes, en route from Africa to their summer breeding grounds in Scandinavia and Russia.

cranes overhead

Clicky piccy for biggy silhouetty.

The migration route brings them past here for just one or two days a year. You can hear them coming first from a good 4/5km away – they soon come into sight and what a sight. A cluster of 30-50 at a time in a delta formation which they seem to break every few km, they then cluster and reform a new ‘V’ and off they go. Adult birds have a wingspan as much as 2.4M so they’re very large animals. Their flight over Europe is spectacular when you consider the distances involved. I shot a few silhouettes as they were flying at quite some altitude and the snap above is as close to overhead as they came when I had a camera at hand. My flickr photostream has a few more.

Tempête Xynthia

I very quickly wrote a few words about the upcoming storm on Saturday evening – we had every expectation that it would be severe but I don’t think quite anything really prepared us for what was about to unfold.

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