Canard rôti au miel et au thym

roast-duck2Roast duck is a festive dish in any season, but perhaps never better than in winter, enjoyed with a glass of hearty red beside a crackling fire. In this recipe, the duck is coated with a glaze of honey, thyme and balsamic vinegar, with garlic added to the roasting pan for a dish imbued with the flavors of southern France. Want to stay with the provençal theme? Serve the duck with pan-seared baby artichokes, this week’s second recipe.

Canard rôti au miel et au thym / Roast duck with honey and thyme
Artichauts poivrade grillés / Pan-seared baby artichokes

Now let’s talk about French duck. When I went to the market to order the duck for this recipe, I was told very firmly by my poultry man, Didier Breton, that I couldn’t get a canard (male duck) at this time of year, but would need to get a canette (female duck). This is because they save the larger males to put on the market closer to Christmas.

Monsieur Breton said he could offer me a canette de Barbarie, a breed of duck that, oddly, is primarily known as ‘Muscovy duck’ in English and as ‘creole duck’ in Spanish. Upon investigation, I discovered that the Barbary duck looks somewhat akin to a turkey, with red wattles around the bill. This is all academic, however, as when I went to pick up the plumed bird, it looked just like any other duck.

Not at all, said Monsieur Breton, who informed me that the four main breeds of duck used in French cuisine are all rather different, and that one of them — the canard mulard — is mainly reserved for the making of foie gras. The advantage of the canette, he added, is that it’s small enough to make a pleasant holiday meal for two to three people — a good solution if you happen to be celebrating in a small group.

roast-duck1Duck is served in many guises in France, although it is rather rarely seen roasted whole. The most common versions are magret de canard, or duck breast, for example in a sauce made with cassis — black currant liqueur — and confit de canard, in which the duck is preserved in salt and duck fat.

Duck is indeed so popular in France that it has entered the lexicon in various amusing ways. As a young journalist, I loved it when I learned that un canard also meant a newspaper. And back in the days when I still went out on dates, I enjoyed it when, after a meal, a snifter of cognac was brought to the table with, beside it, a lump of sugar with which to faire un canard (you dip the sugar into the cognac, like a duck dipping into a pond). Meantime, in Paris these days, il fait un froid de canard, meaning it’s cold as the dickens — literally, it’s cold as a duck.

As for the artichokes, I thought they’d make a nice change from the usual seasonal vegetables like pumpkin, sweet potatoes or celeriac. The artichoke season theoretically ends around October in France, but these days artichokes seem to stay on the market much longer. It’s an easy recipe, and one that may grace your table at any time of year.

For more ideas about what to serve during the coming festivities,  check out this site’s Holiday Menus page. And…

Happy cooking!

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Deux tartes fines

mushroom-pizza2We’re galloping toward the holiday season, so this post kicks off a series of recipes that you may enjoy pre-, post- and during the end of year festivities — beginning with two tartes fines, the French version of pizza. The first marries bacon and fresh sage, while the second sets baby spinach and mushrooms on a layer of cream. These are of course not holiday dishes, but they’re perfect for serving between the feasts — quick, simple, crowd-pleasing.

bacon-pizza1Tarte fine bacon et sauge / French pizza with bacon and sage
Tarte fine champignons épinards / French pizza with mushrooms and spinach

Coming next: roast duck with thyme, and galettes de pomme de terre, the French version of potato pancakes. These two dishes may be happily combined for a holiday dinner, and may work well in a year where the Christmas-New Year season and the eight days of Hanukkah coincide.

There are already many holiday dishes on the site — you can see them by clicking on Holiday Menus. I’ve included some of my favorite recipes, like roast partridge with pears, pumpkin gratin and wild mushrooms with herbs, as well as a variety of holiday desserts. In addition to the traditional menus, there are selections for vegetarians and vegans, as well as a ‘from the sea’ menu consisting entirely of fish and seafood.

As for today’s tartes fines, the recipes are adapted from Simplissime, the cookbook I wrote about in my last post. It was hard to choose which ones to try because the author, J.F. Mallet, includes ten of them and they all look delicious. I’m happy to say they were a success on the first try. If you like this style of recipe please let me know. There will be more to come in the new year.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 4a. Savory Tarts and Tartines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Risotto au potiron et au thym

pumpkin-risotto7A couple weeks ago, on a bright October day, I made this dish for a friend who was coming to dinner. I’d had pumpkin risotto at lunch that week at Merci, a café with creative cuisine across the street from me, and found it so delightful I wanted to try my hand at it. Now, in this dreary season, it’s good to have dishes like this to turn to for solace. Pumpkin risotto is comfort food at its best, and escaping into the kitchen is, for me, a kind of zen.

Risotto au potiron et au thym / Pumpkin risotto with thyme

As if things weren’t bad enough, this morning we learn of the passing of Leonard Cohen, a poet who touched so many of our lives with grace. But this is supposed to be a cooking column, so I’ll stick to that for the moment. Two things:

First, this week I was given a cookbook I’d like to tell you about. It’s called Simplissime: Le Livre de cuisine le + facile du monde (translation: Ultrasimple: The World’s Easiest Cookbook). Written by J.-F. Mallet, apparently famous in France although I’d never heard of him, it features easy recipes similar to those on this site — in fact, there is considerable overlap (eggplant gratin, saffron risotto, spaghetti with small clams, etc.). What is wonderful is indeed the simplicity. Recipes are laid out over two pages, with photos of the ingredients and very brief instructions on the left-hand side, and a photo of the finished product on the right-hand side. If you’re looking for holiday gift ideas — or simply want to get something nice for yourself — this is a winner (providing you can read French).

Second,  I learned this week that The Everyday French Chef has been included on France Magazine’s new list of the best French food blogs. To be in a group that also includes some of my favorite food sites — Chocolate and Zucchini, David Lebovitz, Manger, Patricia Wells — is truly an honor, for which I am very grateful.

Now then. Returning to Leonard Cohen, I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of his best-known songs — poetry of humility and wisdom. As he says, in what could be an epitaph for himself, ‘a blaze of light in every word.’

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 9. Pasta, Rice, Grains | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Crème aux herbes potagères

garden-greens-soup3This fantastic recipe comes to me from Rodolphe Paquin, chef at the bistro Le Repaire de Cartouche down the street from me. Its genius is not just the use of garden clippings that are normally discarded, but also the addition of whipped cream, which turns the soup into a frothy confection. Serve it in small quantities as a dinner-party palate teaser before moving on to the first course. Or be totally decadent and make a pot of it just for yourself.

Crème aux herbes potagères / Soup of mixed garden greens

For the ecologically minded, it’s hard to imagine a better soup than this. The Rodolphe Paquin original uses carrot fronds, radish leaves, watercress or sorrel and fresh tarragon, along with whatever other greens he may have on hand. The greens are cooked in a gentle broth, with the whipped cream swirled in at the last minute. When I first tasted it, I had to have the recipe, and Monsieur Paquin, being a generous gent, was happy to oblige. I then served it at a dinner, and the guests virtually swooned in delight.

This is food from yesteryear, with a contemporary touch. Moving on, let’s consider the food of tomorrow. The international edition of The New York Times ran a special section on the subject this week, and I was so surprised by what I read in an article by Chris Horton that I’d like to pass it along.

Can you imagine that 3-D food printing is already underway? One machine on the market will produce a pizza ready for baking — all you need to do is to fill its capsules with the ingredients. A Spanish chef with two Michelin stars — Paco Pérez of Miramar in Llança near the Mediterranean coast, just a few miles south of the French border — is turning out quiche lorraine with another 3-D printer, known as the Foodini. The printers can create food tailored to an individual’s specific nutritional requirements or turn out pasta in shapes that cannot be made by hand. For the moment, all they apparently lack is an oven.

The article reported that 3-D garden farming, while still in development, is also on the way. A machine called the FarmBot will use a mechanical arm to plant, water and weed a small garden plot. This will be on my mind today when I head down to my garden in Burgundy, which hasn’t been tended much this year and is a mass of weeds. On the other hand, just as I doubt I’ll ever invest in a 3-D food printer — cooking is too much fun to relinquish to a machine — I don’t think I’ll be buying a farming robot anytime soon.

Getting my hands into the dirt and planting seeds that will turn into food is one of my great pleasures in life. Harvesting home-grown produce and bringing it to the table gives me such joy that I find myself thanking Mother Nature for her abundance as I sit down to eat. Forget about 3-D food printers. As we approach the Thanksgiving season, let us be thankful for the world as we know it, for the satisfaction we take in preparing delicious, healthy food in our home kitchens with our own hands. Food like an elegant, frothy soup of mixed garden greens.

Happy cooking.

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Poule au pot

poule-au-pot2Every French school child learns that, back in around 1600, ‘good King Henri IV’ wanted to put a chicken in every pot. How much truth there is in this legend is still being debated by historians. What is incontestable, though, is that the dish called poule au pot to this day carries royal connotations. And yet, it is so simple. A chicken (or a hen) is boiled with vegetables to make a two-dish supper: first the soup, then the chicken and veggies.

Poule au pot / Poule au pot

Henri IV hailed from the Béarn region of southwest France, and this dish is sometimes served béarnaise style — stuffed with a mixture of cured ham, the bird’s liver and gizzard, bread, garlic, shallots, parsley and tarragon. I’ve done it that way, but it’s a lot more work and not really necessary as the dish is succulent enough without the stuffing. The vegetables are typically carrots, turnips, leeks, cabbage and potatoes. The chicken is cooked to total tenderness, creating a rich broth — even richer if the dish is made with a hen, which needs to cook longer.

Getting back to the legend, Henri IV is seen now as a ‘good’ king, but during his lifetime (1553-1610) he was a controversial ruler. Today he is remembered for having halted the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants that had lasted for 40 years. In order to be crowned king of all France, the story goes, he converted to Catholicism, saying, ‘Paris is well worth a mass.’ He then issued the Edict of Nantes, which granted religious freedom to the Huguenots. He had plenty of enemies, however, and survived a couple of assassination attempts until he was finally murdered while stuck in a Paris traffic jam.

As for poule au pot, Henri IV is said to have remarked during a conversation with the Duke of Savoy, ‘If God keeps me in life, I will ensure there is no laborer in my realm who does not have the means to have a chicken in his pot.’ By ‘laborer’, he meant a peasant with a plow who could work the land (labourer) . This story was attributed to Henri IV years after his death, and nobody seems to know exactly when the conversation took place. Or indeed what was said. A version popularized in the 1800s has Henri IV saying that the French should be able to have chicken for dinner every Sunday.

And so a myth is born. When I first arrived to live in Paris in 1974, it did seem that roast chicken was the dish most often presented when I was invited to friends’ homes for Sunday lunch of dinner, usually surrounded by roasted potatoes. These days, that tradition is waning, and poule au pot is seen even less frequently, both in homes and at restaurants. But now that the days are growing colder, it’s a great time to revive this hearty, healthy, earthy dish.

Happy cooking!

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Soufflé au fromage

cheese-souffle2Soufflés are often regarded as too difficult to attempt at home. I found this to be true when, as a young woman inspired by Julia Child, I set out to make one. Julia’s recipe for cheese soufflé in Mastering the Art of French Cooking stretches across nine pages, with long paragraphs on subjects like how to beat egg whites by hand. Not to be intimidated, I tried — with dubious results. Only after moving to Paris did I discover there is an easier way.

Soufflé au fromage / Cheese soufflé

Soufflés require a certain amount of organization, but once you have your equipment prepared you can whip one up in about 15 minutes. Separate the eggs, grate some cheese, make a sauce of butter, flour and milk, stir in the cheese, then the yolks, beat the whites, fold in and you’re done. And guess what? You don’t have to beat the egg whites by hand.

Now don’t get me wrong — I adore Julia Child. But once I began meeting Parisian friends who showed me how to cook wonderful French dishes without spending hours in the kitchen, I took a new look at Julia’s recipes. Her modus operandi, I impertinently concluded, was: ‘Why to make it simple when you can make it more complicated?’

No, you do not need an unlined copper bowl. A glass, ceramic or aluminum bowl will work just fine. You don’t need to add cream of tartar to the egg whites — in fact, I’ve never, ever seen anyone use cream of tartar over here. No, you don’t need to coat the soufflé dish with grated cheese or breadcrumbs. The soufflé will rise perfectly if the dish is simply buttered.

So why is Julia Child’s approach to French cuisine so painstaking? I think there are two reasons. First, she studied classic French cuisine in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu, where the standards were very rigorous — so rigorous, in fact, that she failed her final exam and had to retake it! This cooking school was turning out chefs who could work at top French restaurants. When Julia wrote Mastering, she had her school’s standards in mind. Second, she was writing for American readers, most of whom had little or no experience of French cuisine at the time the book was published in 1961. My theory is that Julia wanted to give her readers authenticity, never mind how complex the recipes became.

She simplified in later books based on her television appearances as The French Chef, but her approach remained far more complicated than the style of the French ‘chefs’ I encountered in their own homes. I still consult Julia Child’s cookbooks quite regularly, but over the years I learned to speed things up by paring away the unnecessary steps, without sacrificing authenticity. And this is what I am seeking to pass along to you, dear readers.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 4. Omelets, Soufflés, Quiche | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Penne à l’arrabiata

penne-arrabiata1We’ve been having a September heat wave. Maybe this explains why so many Paris bistros are featuring Italian dishes at the moment. Most popular seems to be the assiette italienne, typically melon, parma ham, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. But pasta is omnipresent too. At the ultra-trendy café Merci the other day, the special was a salad of pasta in pesto. In tune with this spirit, I decided to post one of my favorite pasta recipes.

Penne à l’arrabiata / ‘Enraged’ penne (in spicy sauce)

How long ago did this dish cross the border? I think it’s safe to say that the French have been enjoying Italian cuisine ever since  Caesar conquered Gaul in 52 BC. And indeed, just as Caesar hailed from Rome, so does this dish. The pasta is so spicy that it is said to be arrabiata, variously translated as angry, enraged, furious, even rabid — not surprising, as the root is rabbia (‘rage’). You can vary the heat according to taste. The real charm of this dish, from an everyday chef’s perspective, is that it is so quick and easy to prepare.

I started making penne à l’arrabiata many years ago after a visit to Rome, where I acquired a cookbook called Roma in Boca (loose translation: A Mouthful of Rome). The recipes come in three languages — Italian, English and the Roman dialect — and they are delightfully imprecise. For example, the recipe for the penne begins, ‘Fry in some oil, 3 or 4 cloves of garlic with some hot chilli — the amount here obviously depends on the individual taste — however, it should be quite a lot for the pasta to be really “angry”.’

Over the years, I’ve adjusted the ingredients to suit my own taste. My recipe uses enough cayenne pepper to make the tomato sauce fiery, but not incandescent. Instead of chopped parsley, which is traditional, I flavor the sauce with a little fresh basil. And while the Romans generally serve arrabiata without cheese, I add some grated parmesan on top.

It takes no more than 15 minutes to prepare this dish — perfect for when your kid comes home from school saying, ‘Mom, I’m starving.’ The ingredient list is so basic that I generally have most or all of the items on hand. But the simplicity is deceptive. Serve small portions of arrabiata as the first course at a dinner party, and your guests will applaud its rustic elegance. All you need to go with it is a bottle of red strong enough to take the heat.

Happy cooking!

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Chipirons à la plancha

chipirons1We just returned from a week at the shore in southwest France, where the beaches are vast, the waves are impressive and the food is fantastic. One of the specialties I most love in that corner of the world is squid grilled with garlic and parsley. The squid are cooked using a method the French call aller-retour, or back and forth, a phrase most commonly seen on round-trip tickets. In culinary usage, the phrase means that the food is placed on an extremely hot grill and cooked very quickly on one side (aller) and then the other (retour).

Chipirons à la plancha / Grilled squid with garlic and parsley

This dish, a Basque specialty, can be found on both sides of the nearby border with Spain, and similar versions abound around the Mediterranean. It is popular at cocktail hour, generally served with a crisp white wine, and may also be served as a starter or a main course. The key is obtaining the right kind of squid — neither too small nor too large — and that can be tricky, even in France, where the name changes according to region.

In the southwest, smallish squid, no larger than the size of a hand excluding the tentacles, are known as chipirons, a relative of the Spanish word chipirones. Moving north, the very same squid are called encornets, deriving from the horny (corné) nature of their cartilage (backbone). In Provence in the southeast, the identical squid are called supions, deriving from the Latin word sepia, or ink. Clear across France, squid, especially the larger ones, are also known as seiches, deriving from sepia, and calmars, akin to Italy’s calamari.

This dish can be prepared in just 10 minutes if you have the squid cleaned by the fishmonger before getting started. You have only to chop the squid, garlic and parsley, heat your skillet and perform a quick aller-retour. When researching this post, I learned that there’s a season for squid, which begins in August and runs through February, at least over here. The height of the season is September…

Happy cooking.

Posted in 5. Fish and Shellfish | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Assiette de canard et melon

duck melon2When the French say melon, they are generally referring to one particular type of melon. It is small and round, about 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) in diameter, with dark green stripes over a pale exterior and an intoxicatingly sweet orange interior. It is similar to cantaloupe, but more fragrant. The most highly reputed come from Cavaillon, in Provence, while the most widely sold are called Charentais. All pair delightfully with duck.

Assiette de canard et melon / Duck and melon plate

The season for melon (pronounced muh-LOH, with a nasal twang at the end) begins in July and runs into the autumn, so we were in mid-season last weekend when I created this dish. A friend and I were spending a couple of sultry days in the Burgundy countryside. We had grilled a duck breast on the barbecue the evening before, and there was enough left over to compose a lovely plate. The melon perfectly complemented the duck.

The combination is not encountered frequently here. Melon is most often paired with cured ham, for example jambon de Bayonne, from the southwest, or prosciutto, imported from Italy. In decades past, another common starter was melon au porto — the melon was cut in half, and the cavity was filled with sweet port wine.  This has faded from fashion, which is a shame because it was fantastic (watch this space).

melonIt is a mystery why the melons over here are so much sweeter than those found in the States. Perhaps because the sun in southern France is more intense, or maybe there’s another reason. If you have an idea, please let us know.

Meantime, here’s something that may interest  readers in Paris. A friend of mine, the author Ann Mah, is sponsoring an event called Food Lovers For Hillary that will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18. Major stars of the culinary firmament will be in attendance — Patricia Wells, David Lebovitz, Alexander Lobrano and Dorie Greenspan. Each will offer a prize, such as a cooking class or a market tour, to be bid for in a silent auction. The aim of the event is to raise money for Hillary Clinton, so the price of entry is a $100 donation. It is, in the opinion of this everyday French chef, a worthy cause.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 1. Starters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Boulettes d’agneau aux herbes

lamb meatballs1When summer finally rolls around over here, our kitchen goes Mediterranean. The sultry breezes make it easy to forget that Paris is in northern France, far from the turquoise waters. Salads from Provence, Spain, Greece, Morocco and Lebanon appear, eggplant and tomatoes in many guises come to the table. And spicy meat dishes can play a starring role, for example meatballs of ground lamb topped with a yogurt sauce and fresh herbs.

Boulettes d’agneau aux herbes / Lamb meatballs with herbs

This dish is fun to make — everyone in the family can get into the act. Don’t expect the meatballs to be perfectly round. They take on new and interesting shapes while cooking. But the result is succulent and richly flavorful. Make plenty, as there will be calls for more. (Full disclosure: I adapted this dish from a similar recipe in Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, eliminating certain Middle Eastern ingredients and substituting others to give it a French touch).

Hot-weather-inspired cooking was also on the table in New York, where I recently had the pleasure of discovering one of the city’s fusion restaurants, Asia de Cuba. The restaurant, in a new venue on Lafayette Street in the Village, reopened late last year after a four-year hiatus. As its name implies, the menu melds Latin and Asian flavors. The food was so fantastic that I wanted to tell you about it.

For starters, I had crispy octopus with marinated escabeche veggies, lychee slices and garlic chips. Sounds incongruous, but in fact the different tastes married beautifully. I went on to chili-rubbed scallops nestled in black beans and rice (one of my favorite dishes, taught to me years ago by a Cuban friend), with roasted cauliflower and Japanese aioli. The effect was exotic and toothsome. My dining companion chose a crispy calamari salad with bananas, cashews and hearts of palm, followed by the scallops and black rice.

Part of being a great everyday chef is allowing your creativity to flow free, and the Asia de Cuba experience was a brilliant example of how this can work. It doesn’t matter where you live — you can adapt a foreign dish to the cuisine of your home country by substituting local ingredients and coming up with something new. It may not always work, but when it does, the people around your table will applaud you.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 7. Meat Dishes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment