Archive for December, 2007

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Anatomy of A Bunny

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

In terms of dog teasing, I doubt that there is a joke that could ever wear thin. When Sam was a puppy, and I lived on the outskirts of a suburb on the outskirts of the city, the wild hares were regular visitors to the backyard. He could see them clearly from the kitchen window and would drive himself bonkers barking his head off and whining at the bunnies. They, of course, would barely look up from their foraging and would all but laugh “na na na na na” as they skipped around the yard. Sam’s long-suffered vendetta against these rabbits was never fulfilled, but that didn’t stop me from teasing him ruthlessly, asking him excitedly if there were bunnies outside. “Outside?! Bunnies?! Go see!” And still, this joke has not lost its punch, even now; we live where no rabbit would ever be outside the window, but where one has been unlucky enough to join us for dinner. That was rabbit the upon which he was most recently fixated and about whom I teased him relentlessly. “Bunnies?! Sam, is there a bunny in the kitchen!?” whereupon he would fly to the window.

Christmas Day Menu

“Bacon and Eggs”

Rabbit Fricasée

Haricots Verts

Tarte Tatin

We picked up the very last rabbit at the butcher (who the hell is cooking rabbit?) and the first thing the recipe for rabbit fricasée instructs one to do is divide the rabbit into eight pieces. So, now, just think about that for a minute: what exactly are the eight pieces into which a four-legged rodent should be divided? Umm… 2 front legs, 2 back legs, 2 “breasts”, a back and… a tail? I don’t know, I’ve never divided a rodent before! Seems logical for a member of the poultry family but a member of the rat family..?


So Marc did it.


I’m not even sure now how he managed it, to be honest. I think there were tenderloins. I know there were “wing”/front legs. It’s kind of a blur. The rest of the preparation was much more straightforward: sautéeing the bunny bits in a hot pan with mirepoix, roasting it in the oven and finishing the sauce with cream and egg yolks, which I suppose is what makes it a fricasée..? We even deep fried some sage leaves as garnish for what turned out to be illuminating example of how good wild hare can be. Marc couldn’t get enough of it, picking up the bones and [politely] gnawing the tender meat. If I didn’t think too hard about how cute was the animal that I was eating, it was delicious. Sam was nearly inconsolable, having spent all day racing to the window only to be denied the pleasure of crunching on the bones of his arch nemesis. He did, however, snarf down the few shreds of meat we left on our plates.


Prior to the main course, I put together another French Laundry objet d’art, condescendingly referred to as “Bacon and Eggs”, which is really “Soft Poached Quail Eggs with Applewood Smoked Bacon”. True to form, San Francisco readily provided us with both quail eggs and applewood-smoked bacon; we didn’t even have to veer from our regular grocery shopping course. Though we did go back to the Berkeley Bowl, because we were across the Bay anyway and wanted to treat ourselves for Christmas with a visit to mecca.

Allow me to provide an excerpt from The Book so as to demonstrate the details with which one must contend if one is to cook as they do in heaven:

“The best method for poaching eggs is in a deep pot of water. As the weight of the yolk pulls the egg through the water, the white encircles the yolk and sets. The deeper the water, the farther the egg travels before it stops, and the more the poached egg will resemble its original shape. Hold each [tiny, fragile, quail] egg on its side on a towel and use a serrated knife to cut halfway through the larger end of the egg.”

It’s as though formulae of physics are being applied to the poaching of a quail’s egg. I love it! I gleefully used the knife to serrated-ly open the quail eggs, I used the pot of deep water, I gently “lifted one egg at a time from the ice water and used a pair of scissors to trim their ‘tails’ of egg-white”. The result was that I spent three hours preparing the elements of a dish that was consumed in three mouth-fulls. Three hours, three bites, totally worth it.


As the eggs were being poached and the rabbit fricassed, Marc assembled the tarte tatin. This is another of those intimidating classics about which I am apprehensive. tarte-tatin.JPGSo many things could go wrong with a dish that cooks for so long on the stove top and then has to be baked and flipped out onto a serving dish. Usually, we’re happy to use an easy, cheater’s short-cut tarte tatin that is just sliced apples layered on top of puff-pastry and drizzled with honey (exceptional, by the way). But in the true spirit of the holidays, we went through way more trouble than was necessary in order to deliver perfection. Indeed, though he was too chicken to roll out the pastry dough and place it gingerly on top of the caramelized apples for fear of ruining the pastry, Marc’s efforts were rewarded with a sugary, apple tart with all the lovely, dark flavours that caramelization proffers. And it turns out that tarte tatin, in addition to being a crowning glory of a dessert, is also a magnificent breakfast.

Xmas Eve

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Let’s see— so, November 26th was the last time I posted to this blog. That seems sterotypical of blogdom: start off strong, interest gradually wans, topics fade and the next thing you know, it’s 2008. Well, if December went by in a blur, it’s because we had so much food to prepare and eat that I was too busy to write about it. Or, I was too lazy. Either or. Therefore, I’m re-starting the posting with a bang, the climax of our December, indeed, the climax of our epicurean year: Christmas Eve dinner.

Long has it been tradition in my family to have a heavily “sauced” happy hour, followed by an elaborate dinner on Christmas eve before attending atheist mass (a.k.a. a James Bond movie). This is when the good dishes make their annual appearance, when no cut of meat is too expensive, when four-course meals are warranted. I relish this dinner and look forward to it with more anticipation than any other Christmas treat. Presents? meh. Eggnog lattes, sure, I’ll have a few. Three days worth of menu planning, grocery shopping and food preparation? Be still my beating heart.

This year, since Marc and I decided to have a California Christmas on our own, we opted to continue those traditions, minus the mass, which we substituted with Christmas music by a crackling wood fire. The menu planning actually started about a month and a half earlier when we finally made the big-ticket purchase of The French Laundry cookbook, signed by Thomas Keller. Oh, The Book. How I am enamoured of The Book. It calls to me in the mornings, when the sun in shining through the window onto the love seat by the fireplace, where I can sit with my cappucinno perched on the armrest and reverently read it, relishing every page. I take such pleasure in perusing the fastidious recipes, all the labour-intensive details that go into making one dish, trying to imagine how a person can be so singularly focused on food as to come up with such fantastic ideas for preparation. With much anxiety and trepidation did I construct my first French Laundry dish (which I shall describe in a subsequent post), but the first try gave me the confidence to attempt and FL recipe for this hallowed feast. I could only imagine having the stamina for one such dish, though— for the rest, we turned to simpler fare. Thus, our menu:

Dungeness Crab Salad with Cucumber Jelly, Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette, and Micro Arugula

Duck Confit with Fried Arkansas Black Apples

Lentils with herbs and garlic

Brava Ginger Cakes

Guess which one is Thomas Keller’s. I mean, who makes cucumber jelly? Who even thinks up such a thing? We had to make cucumber juice and cut wee cucumber diamonds to delicately float in the gêlée. We drove across the Bay in order to go to our favourite butcher for the duck legs and found the whole, cooked Dungeness in the fish market next door. It took several hours to de-meat the crab and put together the whole layered affair. It was ridiculously laborious and wonderfully decadent which, I suppose, is really à propos of Christmas.


The confit is something I’ve never tried. Years ago, when Mom & Dad were first living in France, Mom received a gift from someone that, no doubt, seemed normal to a Norman but confused the hell out of a Canadian: a large jar of duck fat. Mom offered to give it to me when we visited as she had no real use for it and I turned it down as couldn’t think of what I would ever do with several pounds of duck fat. Now, I get it. Confit is duck cooked in its own fat for, like, ever. For such a simple dish, this is one of the classics by which I have been somewhat intimidated in the past. It’s so French and, therefore, carries an air of complication about it. I had never even attempted to find a recipe for duck confit as I figured it was something beyond reach of the home cook- don’t you need special tools or applicances or something? Some secret underground technique for masterfully crafting this ancient dish? A Julia Child? And then I saw the recipe in a Bon Appétit magazine, where they proclaimed it the “Technique of the Year” and promised “rich results” for a “surprisingly simple” preparation. That was enough for me— first, because I simply coudn’t finish 2007 without having partaken in the technique of the year, and second, if ever there was an occasion to make such a meal, it was here and now: San Francsico at Christmas.

We weren’t too worried about finding duck fat hereabouts and indeed had no trouble in getting some from our butcher, purchased by the pound from an enormous bucket of fat at the base of the refrigerated case. duck-confit.JPGAfter marinating the duck pieces in salt and garlic overnight, Marc melted down the fat (I suppose I should refer to it as “rendered”), threw the duck legs in and chucked the whole thing in the oven: that is basically all that it needed, which makes me wonder how it is that I could have been so intimidated and misinformed about it in the past. Many deliciously aromatic hours later, we had the most unctuous, flavourful, outrageously extravagent duck that I’ve ever had. With the lentils and the sweet-tart apples, it absolutely melted in the mouth. Clearly, duck fat is the way to go. And as an added bonus, we got to keep the leftover duck sealed in its own congealed fat in the back of the fridge, ready for a quick meal any time this month. Amazing!


ginger-cake.JPGThe ginger cakes, modeled off of our old favourites at Brava bistro in Calgary, have never disappointed. Slowly steamed on the stove top, they emerge from their ramekins as moist puddings to hover in our homemade caramel sauce. This is my desert island dessert, certainly befitting of a Christmas Eve repast. They are so good, in fact, that they may make an appearance on New Year’s Eve. Ginger totally goes with champagne.

And over glasses of port, all snug by the fire, we languished in our gluttony as we contemplated our Christmas Day feast.