Simple classic Sole Meuniere is a dish that I make often in my home because of its ease and quickness from start to finish. Like many of you, I do love cooking BUT I also love spending time with my family. In a recent Medium post, I suggested that we all need to maintain our daily routines and enjoy pleasurable diversions from coronavirus news overload. We may not make it to France this summer in person, but my stomach can still travel there….
French Soul Food
I don’t know about you but I seriously crave pork rillettes. Those perfectly porky heaps of meaty goodness spread thickly on a slice of toasted bread. They are the world’s most perfect snack foods and can tame a growling stomach in a single bite. Rillettes are equally good at home served with a flute of Champagne before a simple lunch as they are heartily packed onto a warm baguette for a quick lunch on the run. The best news is they can be easily made by any cook in any home kitchen in three easy steps.
By definition, pork rillette is made using a preservation method similar to making duck confit. The pork is seasoned, then slow-cooked submerged in fat and cooked at a grandmotherly pace for several hours. Afterward, the pork is shredded and packed into sterile containers, covered in a thin veneer of fat and stored. While rillettes are most commonly made with pork, they can also be made with other meats such as goose, duck, chicken, game birds, rabbits and sometimes even with fish such as anchovies, tuna, or salmon.
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Bistrot du Paradou is simply not a restaurant for everyone. In fact, let me discourage you entirely from eating here – you will hate it. It is an unpretentious, no-frills eatery with no colored gel dots festooning plates or even bizarre culinary fusions poetically listed on a whimsical menu. Actually, there isn’t even a menu; all you get is whatever the chef decides to cook for that day and that’s it. There are no fancy linens, no Riedel stemware, nor imposing sommeliers; there really isn’t even a wine list, just a single open bottle lay waiting on every table. And you had better make reservations or risk not getting a table. …
I have been noticing a trend developing in the South of France: Pick a commonly used ingredient like chickpeas, roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes or even basil; make it spreadable, then add the suffix ade and voila, you have a fabulous finger food to serve at your next apéro. …
I recently reread Robert Carrier’s ‘Feasts of Provence’, and was reminded of Le Grand Aïoli, a Provencal dish I don’t make often enough. In it, he states “If bouillabaisse vies with bourride and its lesser-known cousin le revesset along the southern coast from Sète to Menton, aïoli is the undisputed star of the arrière-pays, the herb-scented backlands that separate the famed ports of the Riviera from the austere mountain villages behind.” The arrière-pays, or hinterlands, are where farms reign supreme so it is not a total surprise that a primarily vegetable dish with salt cod and snails is king.
Quick, before summer gets here I wanted to share an old school French recipe for cooking chicken that I adore. It is no secret to my avid followers that I love the classics, especially as I become one myself. This chicken dish is based on a recipe from the late great Paulette Blanc, mother to another famous chef you may have heard about, Georges Blanc….
‘Plus elle est demeuree sur le feu, meilleure elle est!
(The longer it stays on the fire, the better the daube is)
Daubes are very slow-cooked stews that are found all over rural France, though the best known are from southern France. Traditionally daubes are made with lamb or beef, though one does not need to travel too far to find pork daubes, bull daubes, rabbit daubes, and even octopus daubes. Classically they are cooked in the lingering embers of a wood fire in special potbellied pots called ‘daubieres’ which are mostly made from copper or clay.
The lengthy cooking time combined with the bulbous shape of the cooking vessel creates a convection action where heat from the bottom rises to the top in the form of steam, hits the cooler top, then rains back down over the simmering meat. This action allows the collagen found in braising meats to turn into gelatin and provide a silky mouthfeel to the finished dish.
Many cooks claim it is damn near impossible to make a proper daube without a daubiere, though begrudgingly some will admit it is possible. I was one of those cooks.…
I adore the scene in Anthony Bourdain’s program ‘Parts Unknown’ where he ends up at Daniel Boulud’s father’s house in Lyon preparing a whole roasted squash stuffed with toasted bread, cheese, lardon, and mushrooms that is baked in an old wood-burning oven. The light tension between Daniel and his father as they cook together made me laugh out loud, mostly because it reminded me of basically every single time I have cooked with my own French mother. The episode offers a glimpse into the real side of French home cooking that often gets hidden behind the glamorous image of French gastronomy.
Socca is the ubiquitous street food found all over southeastern France, most notably in Nice and more specifically around the Cours Saleya market. When cooked perfectly, it is best straight from the pan and served very hot, replete with addictively crispy edges and lightly seasoned with flake sea salt, a touch of cumin, and perhaps a drizzle of olive oil. It makes the perfect merenda, or midday snack, with a bottle of rosé (who drinks just one glass?) to keep you active while searching for treasures in the narrow streets of Vieux Nice.
It is hard to pinpoint the exact origins of socca, or soca as it is spelled in the Niçard dialect, though the modern version is likely to have crossed borders from Italy where it is known as farinata. Wikipedia mentions a possible origin story of a group of Roman soldiers cooking chickpea flour on a shield. Chez Pipo, a Nice legend since 1923, mentions that the inhabitants of Nice used to stash large quantities of chickpea flour and olive oil to weather long sieges both by invading Italian and French forces. It is also is very popular in various forms and guises all around the Mediterranean.
The Pear Tree of my Youth
Every Fall I make at least one pear and almond galette from the giant pear tree growing in my front yard. The galettes appearance always marks the transition in my head between the ratatouille, pastis and rosés excesses of summertime and the true beginnings of Fall, at least my Fall, and it’s well rooted in my past.
I can still remember with great fondness visiting a gregarious French relative who owned a farm in rural Southwestern France. It was early Fall and he had just foraged for cepes. I remember with surprising clarity his worn leather boots and even the musty smells of an old barn filled with fresh cut hay as he cooked a wonderful Omelette aux cèpes, à la persillade for lunch. 45 years later and I still salivate as I reminisce about tucking into it; the combination of creamy eggs contrasted by crispy bits of garlic, herbs, and mushrooms cooked in golden goose fat.
For dessert, his wife prepared a scrumptious pear and almond galette made from perfectly ripe pears picked that morning from a fruit tree in their yard. There is something timeless and perfect about the combination of almonds and pears that works on so many levels, like textural contrasts of crunchy and soft or the classic salty and sweet marriage. The memory of this day has lingered in my soul since it happened so long ago. The comfort of the warm galette with sweet pears and crunchy almonds is the true sign that Fall is here.
Lately, I have become fascinated with the different Fall squashes that have started appearing at the farmers market. I grabbed seven or eight without thinking about what I would make with them, I just knew I needed them in my life. The forecast for the weekend called for cool, rainy Pacific Northwest weather. So I decided to make a comforting Southern French beef short rib stew known as daube. Daube is one of those harbinger dishes that signals the changing of summer to fall. I couldn’t think of anything better than a bowl of Fall squash gnocchi and a rustic bottle of Chateau de Pibarnon Bandol rouge to accompany our lunch. …
One of the most endearing and favorite of all Provencal dishes is Petits Farcis or stuffed vegetables, also known as lu farçum in the Niçard (Nice) dialect. They are the perfect and easy family meal that can be served hot, cold or warm and everyone loves to eat them. Petits Farcis are best made in the summertime when so many great vegetables, like sun-ripened tomatoes, round zucchini, and thin eggplants start to appear in the farmers’ markets but really can be made any time of year….
If Michelin gave four stars, Restaurant Paul Bocuse would certainly deserve it
Our meal at Restaurant Paul Bocuse at Auberge du Pont de Collonges was phenomenal, far exceeding my expectations and leaving me immediately wanting to return for more. Honestly, I would have eaten a second meal had the kitchen not closed.
Everything from the moment you pull up to the colorful historic restaurant, through the gracious welcomes by the entire staff, to the visual aesthetics of the dining room, and the stellar food, wine, and service was absolutely perfect and impeccable. Everything one would expect from a properly functioning three-star Michelin restaurant at the height of its powers.
It is absolutely no secret to anyone that knows me well that I am in head over heels in love with Provence, land of my predecessors. It’s heaven on earth; land of the golden sunshine, peopled by a population that are joyous, defiant, independent with a playful spirit, and best of all, they really love to eat. The cuisine is simple and rustic, yet diversely reflects the seasons on every plate. Limiting my favorites to a select, top 10 list was hard, but this is what I came up with.
Sometimes you rediscover an old childhood favorite completely by accident. Recently, I was sitting in my office, surrounded by hundreds of old French cookbooks, thinking about what I was going to cook when one book beckoned me over. It had been a while since I last read Anne Willan’s comprehensive cookbook ‘The Country Cooking of France’. As I flipped through the pages, it felt like I was looking through a cherished family album of childhood dishes. I stopped on one, her version of the French family classic, endive and ham gratin. It evoked vivid memories of my own mother making this dish for me as a small child. Instantly I was transported back to our old kitchen painted a beautiful hue of orange with hand-painted Provencal blue tiles covering the floor. With eyes closed, I savored the wonderful smells of my French mother’s cooking.
There are many gastronomic paradises in France, but there is a paradise of paradises — Burgundy. – Curnonsky
Boeuf a la Bourguignonne is perhaps Burgundy’s most iconic dish; a rich beef stew made infamous in America by Julia Child, prepared from marinated beef simmered in local red wine with a calves foot, pearl onions, bacon lardons, herbs and button mushrooms. In truth, cooking proteins this way seems much more a regional style than a one off creation, you will find this combination of flavors taking many forms, from the equally iconic Coq au Vin (chicken in wine) to lesser known dishes like Oeufs en Meurette (eggs poached in red wine with bacon, mushrooms and onions) and Pochouse Bourguignonne, a rustic fish stew made with an assortment of river fish and crayfish simmered in Chambertin with onions, bacon and mushrooms. Technically, meurette is the name for highly flavored red wine sauces from Burgundy, though the word is seldom used in that connotation today.
Beef Bourguignon undoubtedly started life as a humble, peasant dish used to cook tougher pieces of beef, long before becoming a seriously tasty way to eat braised beef at regional restaurants and tables around the world. I have seen a few websites claiming the first appearance is in an Escoffier book, but I would argue the recipe is timeless and was been published several times prior without the word ‘bourguignonne’ added to the title. Most of the older French recipes mention larding the beef and adding a calves foot to the pot to provide a certain unctuousness. Larding, or inserting strips of pork fat into cubes of beef, is the proper way to take tough cooks of beef and make them tender. I certainly would advise adding a calf’s foot if you can find one; try looking in ethnic Asian or Mexican markets where they have a better selection of animal parts than typical mainstream grocery stores.
My top ten list of favorite French dishes to eat at home
I usually steer clear from these sorts of posts, but after a recent long walk in the Columbia Gorge rendered me insatiably starving and seriously contemplating eating my family, I decided to post what I do love, and dreadfully miss most about French food, in a vain attempt to save their lives. Earlier in the week, we had cut every single thing I love dearly about life as part of some satanic ritual known as the ‘new year’s resolution’. Foolishly, we thought adding exercise might reduce our surface circumferences quicker; instead visions of the doomed Donner party haunted my mind….
As a small child, I believed in two things; Santa Claus and the virtues of a simple grilled Loup de mer, or branzino as it is more commonly called in the US. Loup de mer is a Mediterranean sea bass with a delicate flesh and addictively delicious crunchy skin when grilled. Get your coals white hot, put dried fennel branches on top then the fish and let the licorice smoky flavors pleasantly permeate your fish, lending a feeling of being in Provence. There is no greater act of love than sharing a wonderful meal you cook with the people dear to you. Remember, good food can happen anywhere, this one is especially good cooked over an outdoor fire, preferably deep in woods, with loved ones and a few bottles of great wine….
Chickpea Fries, also known as panisses, are a staple food from the south of France and parts of Italy. Panisses are made by slowly cooking chickpea flour and water into a thick porridge, pouring it onto an oiled pan and cooling overnight, then cutting into finger sized shapes and deep frying.
Panisses are the perfect snack food, especially when flavored with spicy peppers and cumin, and served with a dipping sauce like rouille or a harissa spiked aioli. They make a great accompaniment for roast chicken, lamb, beef and seafood.
Do you want a fun, edible project to tackle this weekend? Then try making these delicious chocolate eclairs for your family. They are only slightly harder than making basic brownies, only because there are three components to prep instead of one. You will need a few tools like sil pats, pastry bags and star tips to make this. There are plenty of stores like Michaels or Sur La Table where these easy to find items can be located if you do not have them already. The results will be worth any frustrations you may experience….