"Quotes are nothing but inspiration for the uninspired" Richard Kemp
I'm going through one of my uninspired patches, which is when I usually turn to those writer's block escapes - a first recipe from a cookbook as I work my way through my cookbook library or a lucky dip - a randomly chosen book and a randomly chosen recipe from it. Above are the two current choices - a first recipe (Sauce allemande) from Jane Grigson's first book Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery and a lucky dip of Le poulet au beurre 'escargot' from Simone Beck's book Simca's Cuisine.
I'm sure that on another occasion I could be inspired by either of these books to write something of interest, and even now as I prepare to ignore them and put them back on the shelf, I feel very guilty. There is probably quite a lot that could be said about both of them. No, not probably, but actually. But somehow or other I do not feel inspired. No worse than that, they are nagging at me, and dragging me down a bit. I have picked up both every now and then when I have been feeling unmotivated, but each time I have put them back down and found something else to write about. And now I feel they are going to sit there forever until I actually make the effort. So today I have decided - enough. They are going back on the shelf. I shall break my rules and choose something else.
As I posted the two photographs above of the books' covers, I noticed that in that display in a long ago charcuterie window there was an item called Le petit salé which looked like some sort of jellied compressed terrine of various porky meats. Which is a bit intriguing because the other day I caught about ten minutes of Rick Stein cruising down the Canal du Midi and making a dish called Le petit salé. It actually looked really simple and really nice and I made a mental note of it thinking that I would write a piece about it some time. However, what he was cooking and what Google seems to agree is Le petit salé is a stew of salt pork with those Puy lentils from the Auvergne - nothing like the dish in the cover picture.
So perhaps I can authentically say I have dealt with the first recipe thing. Well not really because le petit salé is not a first recipe - although Jane Grigson does deal with it. In her introductory section A Picnic Guide to the Charcutier's Shop - she describes Le petit salé thus:
"Belly of pork and spare ribs, salted and boiled, sold in larger pieces than rillons, delicately pink and white."
Rillons being "Small pieces of browned belly of pork"
Which is not quite the same as the cover photograph, but it does appear that this is indeed one interpretation of le petit salé indeed probably the correct one. What Rick Stein was making was Le petit salé aux lentilles. Which is indeed a classic dish of the Auvergne.
Interestingly, later in the book she does indeed tell you first of all how to salt the pork, and then how to cook a petit salé. She has at least half a dozen versions which consist of cooking the pork with various different things - cabbage, chestnuts, peas, mushrooms ... but no lentils. Odd.
There are other recipes on the net though. Of course there are! Indeed one blogger who had a recipe for the lentil version - Salmon and Frogs says of it that it is: "Maybe the biggest French classic", which is perhaps a bit of an overstatement. Nevertheless when I saw Rick Stein's version - which had rather more liquid than this one, I would have to say, that on a wintry day like today it might be a really tempting thing to make. Indeed I might give it a go later this week. There were a couple of other bloggers who had dabbled with Rick Stein's recipe - Domestic Urbanite - who modified it a bit and Writing at the Kitchen Table, which does give you the full recipe. I think it was the knob of butter that he added at the end which made me think that his is pretty authentically French. The French have a tendency to do that and it does add a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to their food. You need French butter though.
Looking further afield - see this ridiculously simple recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall:
4 thick slices pork belly (around 150-175g each), rind on
Stock vegetables (ie, 1 medium onion, 2 carrots, 2 celery sticks), all roughly chopped
4 tbsp puy lentils
Put the pork in a pan with the stock vegetables. Bring to the boil, and simmer very gently for an hour and a half until tender. Discard the veg and add the lentils. Return to the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Serve a slice of bacon on a bed of lentils, moistened with a spoonful of the cooking liquor.
And read in another of his recipes - Cured pork - how to actually cure the pork in the first place. And I have done that. It works. Or try The Age's Good Food website for a different recipe, which they call Salted pork with lentils in broth.
So I see I have managed somehow to get over the First Recipe problem. Look I've rambled for a probably boring amount of time. Now what about the lucky dip?
Suffice to say that I shall save Simca for another day because I am currently reading Julia Child's memoir My Life in France and of course Simone Beck features greatly in that. Le poulet au beurre d'escargot though? Well it's just a roast chicken with a stuffing made with chicken livers, lots of garlic, breadcrumbs, shallots, herbs, and lots of butter. Then it sits in chicken bouillon while it roasts. And looking at that picture there, I wonder whether I am being unfair and I really ought to do more about this. But no - it's the chicken livers. Not for me.
Yes I am being cowardly and I do feel rather bad about not properly considering these two venerable choices. I love Simca's Cuisine and have made many dishes from it. It's where I learnt to make mayonnaise. As for Jane Grigson's book - well perhaps not so much. I bought it when, in a fit of enthusiasm I thought I might make my own sausages but was thwarted at not being able to find sausage casings. I have made a couple of her pork dishes in there, but on the whole it is an underused book, no matter how worthy.
“An uninspired mind creates a lack of energy for the body, resulting in a lack of performance filled with excuses.” Farshad Asl
"I yearn to live and love and burn, and yet so much of my time is spent faking and forgetting, faking and forgetting I carry out my disbelief with uninspired hands, my eyes shut, my emotions dulled, my spirit numb. In times like these I am in desperate need of truth to come to me like a blinding light, like a splinter in my soul, reminding me of the brevity of my time here on earth." Jon Foreman
Which is very over the top but nevertheless sort of how I feel about these days of being uninspired. Not unmotivated, just lacking ideas.