Embracing It All

by Kay Baumhefner

With the Greatest of Ease —

Duck Confit Garbure.
Duck Confit Garbure

Monday marked the ninth anniversary of Come Home to Cooking. And even though our freshly stocked pantry and intentional reserve of leftovers so easily reflects how much we already feel just as much at home here in the deep southwest of France, it also reveals how quickly one can both adapt to and take advantage of readily available regional differences. While I always major in fresh fruits and vegetables back where we’re lucky enough to normally live in the bounty of northern California, I don’t keep smoked lardons, serrano ham, duck confit, goose rillette, AND foie gras all on hand as a matter of course. But right now along with all the produce, every one of those normally special occasion items is in our much smaller refrigerator here in France.

Part of the reason why is that they’re much more affordably priced, but the other is that you don’t have to seek out a specialty store to find them. All these culinary treats are both readily available and an assumed part of everyone’s regular diet as well. And you will probably feel relieved to hear that no matter how much you might love to cook, you’re still expected to rely on help from the professionals, who so obviously take pride in their work to provide. Farmers, artisans, chefs, market vendors, fish mongers, cheese makers, butchers, bakers, and fine pastry creators abound. You don’t have to know and/or try to do it all yourself. 

Case in point: You can even buy cassoulet already made for you to finish off at home, and then you just bring back the clay pot for them to fill up again!

Cassoulet Take Home.
Cassoulet Take Home
(And just to make sure you’re getting enough duck confit and sausage, here’s an up close and personal of another cassoulet I had the other day.)

This long developed and well supported culture makes it all so easy and truly tempting. I can only add that it’s a good thing walking everywhere is such an integrated and necessary part of every day. That means we actually get to have our cake and eat it too, without being forced to upgrade to larger seats for the flight home. Is this what they mean by the joy of living? Got my vote.

So instead of our normal muesli routine on this beautiful morning, before we head out the door to restock our pantry, why not start the day sharing fresh croissants, pain au chocolat, yogurt and last-of-the-season ripe melon?

Croissants Sunday.
Croissants Sunday
Croissant Flaky.
Yep, they were the real deal. Buttery, tender, crisp, moist AND flaky!

Better check our bread supply. These all came from Les Maître de mon Moulin in Cucugnan, considered by many to be the best boulangerie in the Aude.

Cucugnan Mill Bakery Goods.

Besides making and baking, they also both organically grow and grind their own grains for flour. We purposely bought four different varieties to taste and compare (all amazing!), cutting each loaf into hunks we could keep in the freezer to take out and refresh as needed later.

(And any leftover bits can be turned into flavorful crumbs for using in stuffed vegetables, which is just what I’m planning to do with that little potimarron squash we got a few days ago.)

Now off to the market! On Saturdays, there’s one just outside our front door in this little village.

Market Lagrasse.

But on Wednesdays, we can go to the much larger one in Lézignan-Corbières, where Don gets to practice his French with Pierre, a very friendly vendor with a biologique farm closer to Carcassonne. We are so delighted to find more and more of these organic producers at all the markets.

Don and Bio Pierre.
Don and Bio Pierre

Or you can go to the highly revered Market Hall in Narbonne to shop, eat, drink and be merry any day of the week. I was particularly drawn to these signature fresh cheeses.

Cheese Chevre.
Cheese Chevre
Cheese Compostelle.
Cheese Compostelle

And at any of these larger markets, you will be overcome by a staggering selection of fresh fish and shellfish, all artfully and often amusingly arranged with care. Good heavens. Which one to choose?

Fish Market Lesignan.

How about some shellfish that look like escargots? They’re called Bulots.

Shellfish Snails.

Ever wonder what Coquille Saint Jacques look like?

Coquille St. Jacques.
Coquille St. Jacques

We finally decided

Fish Selection.

… and got some of these filets to take home.

Sebaste Fish.
Sebaste Fish

Don’t forget the mushrooms,


… and we need some more lettuce!


How about these pears? They look and smell divine!

Pears Sassy.

Don still waiting for Kay to make the final rounds before heading home.

Don Waiting for Kay.

Hey! What happened to all the beignets?


Oh, my gosh! All these years later, Marcel Pagnol would have reason to feel proud to see he remains such a lively part of this timeless scene.

Pagnol Marius.
Pagnol Marius
Pagnol Cesar.
Pagnol Cesar
Pagnol Fanny.
Pagnol Fanny

We better get our bulging bags home and start cooking!

First make sure all the perishables are in the fridge. Now what about a simple lunch before we crank up the burners?

Picnic Plate.
(Yes, that’s goose rillette on one slice of toast and brebis cheese with roasted peppers and lucques olive tapenade on the other.)

Now let’s get that roast chicken stock going.

Stock Roast Chicken.
Stock Roast Chicken

Sauté the mirepoix. (Hmmm… that name sounds familiar. Weren’t we just there?)

Mirepoix Veg.
Mirepoix Veg
Mirepoix Sauteed.
Mirepoix Sauteed

And then hours later, strain the stock, and add more fresh vegetables, the roast chicken meat, and some Serrano ham bits to round out this primal pot of soul-satisfying soup.

Jambon in the Chicken Soup.
Jambon in the Chicken Soup
Chicken in the Soup.
Chicken in the Soup

Would you like a little Serrano ham snack to tide us over before a late dinner?


Meanwhile, let’s fire up the oven and get things roasting …

Peppers and Squash.
Peppers and Squash
Squash Potimarron.
Squash Potimarron
Squash for Tian.
Squash for Tian
Squash Potimarron Roasted.
Squash Potimarron Roasted
Squash Tian Roasted.
Squash Tian Roasted

Now why don’t we fry up those Sébaste filets for dinner? Can you set the table? 

Olive Oil Herb S&P.
Olive Oil Herb S&P
Sebaste Filets Dinner.
Sebaste Filets Dinner

Yes, I’d love a glass of rosé. Which one are we opening tonight?

Mmmm…That nutty quinoa pilaf offers a nice balance to the rest. Could you pass the salt flakes for a final fleury on this delectable fish?

Fleur de Sel.
Fleur de Sel
Stocking the Pantry.
Okay, all our cooked pantry stock’s cool now, and ready to be put away

The fridge is full.

Fridge Full.

The freezer’s stocked. We’re good to keep going.
All in a day’s play.

Bon Appétit and Sweet Dreams! — Kay

Profiteroles Caramel.
Profiteroles Caramel

Originally published October 18, 2016 on Come Home to Cooking.

Return to Articles List