Tag Archives: French Recipe

Julia Child’s Bouillabaisse de Poulet with Pistou

I think the first time I saw Julia Child was on an episode of Martha Stewart more than 15 years ago.  That’s tantamount to sacrilege if you love food as much as I do and I’ve had to think about why I never knew about her.  Her television show ran for a decade beginning in 1963, and that was about the time my family moved to Spain.  We had no television for the four years we lived there.  And once we returned to the States mesmerized by the general idea of television, we were busy watching reruns of shows we’d never seen — most of which were situation comedies.

Now that I think of it, I did watch Graham Kerr, The Galloping Gourmet, so maybe it the culprit was our less than stellar reception in the pre-cable television days.  Who knows, but it wasn’t until I was much older and wanting to put together a multiple course dinner for six with wine pairings (I knew almost nothing about wine) that I bought both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and began to decipher its then unfamiliar recipe structure. I was fascinated by just how many ways a basic recipe could become something completely different with a few adjustments.

Years passed before I really had the opportunity to get to know Julia —  I tackled her French Bread recipe and have had nothing but admiration for her since.

In celebration of her 100th birthday, I chose a recipe from Volume Two of Mastering the Art of French Cooking:  “Bouillabaisse de Poulet” (Chicken Poached in White Wine with Provencal Vegetables, Herbs, and Flavorings) which included a “Pistou” (Herb, Cheese, and Garlic Finish).

If you enjoy flavorful chicken served in an amazing light sauce, you will love this classic recipe.

Here’s to Julia on her 100th birthday!

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Pan Bagnat

The last few days of our recent vacation, we stayed at Bay Cottage, a lovely retreat located on the shore of Discovery Bay near Port Townsend, Washington.  It seems like I’ve wanted to stay in a place like that forever — somehow making up for the lack of a family summer vacation rental that so many others seem to have had.  If I think about it, the others I’m thinking of were most likely characters in summer reads, or old movies which makes me idealistic, I guess.  No matter, because it was beautiful there and we enjoyed sitting in the old Adirondack chairs in the evening marveling over how long the daylight lasts at this time of year, or watching the fog slowly burn off the still water each morning.  Large blue herons  stand in the shallow water at low tide like statues, patiently waiting for a fish.  It was so peaceful.

We’ve enjoyed a variety of vacation rentals in our travels.  They’re much more relaxing than staying in a hotel because a television is usually absent, there’s a living room to sprawl out in just like home, and after the daylight is gone, we go through the cards and games usually stashed away in a cupboard somewhere to enjoy a few rounds of Rummy or Trivial Pursuit.  We also take the time to read for extended periods of time, enjoying the stillness.  Outside of the water lapping against the shore, not much else broke the quiet in the evenings, which is a rare thing to enjoy.

Having a kitchen available is another vacation rental perk.  It’s usually stocked with a variety of pots, pans, and utensils and even some pantry basics to add to the groceries we shop for soon after arriving.  I know that others often question cooking on a vacation, but honestly, it’s far less trouble at times than deciding where to eat — especially when money can be saved cooking for ourselves.  It also makes packing a picnic easier when planning a day trip because if you plan with that in mind as you hit the market, then you can enjoy some pretty tasty treats on your outings.

Pan Bagnat (pahn-bahn-yah) is the perfect make ahead picnic food because other than needing to boil a few eggs, open a can of good tuna, slice vegetables, and prepare a simple vinaigrette, all you need is bread and some bricks — or in my case, weights.  On the other hand, if you’ve got children, you might consider using the weighting technique mentioned in this version of Pan Bagnat published in the New York Times.

Each bite of this wonderful sandwich is a treat whether you’re enjoying it at home or otherwise — and it’s fun to make.  Have you had Pan Bagnat before?

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Apple Tart Alsatian Style

You’ve promised your body that you will adopt a healthier lifestyle — something just shy of a “diet” because you know yourself too well.  If what you’ve taken on is reduced to that, it’s probably not going to last because you don’t believe in diets — and for good reason.  You’ve seen too many people begin with all the motivation they can muster, then when they realize the pounds aren’t falling off as quickly as they’d like, or that after what is considered a good effort, they’ve plateaued, motivation dwindles and the “diet” is quietly ignored.  I can’t risk that because my knees will never forgive me for having to carry around 50 pounds they hadn’t counted on at their age.

Poor knees.

Last September when I began to think about more obsessively about my weight and lack of routine exercise (no coincidence since I’d just turned 55) I began to find reasons to avoid the kitchen.  Meals became food I could easily pick up and eat with little or no thought.  I stopped looking at new recipes and rarely used one to try something new for dinner.  And baking?  I stopped that almost completely because it seemed pointless to bake something, taste it, then try to find a home for it outside of mine.  I’ve never been a big sweets eater, but I thoroughly enjoy spending a morning in the kitchen baking something — especially if it involves a little thought or teaches me something new.  I miss that and know baking needs to be a part of my life — as does dessert.

Dessert is a food group, isn’t it?

I’m kidding, of course, but the point is I want to bake and enjoy dessert occasionally so have to find a balance with desserts that showcase a simple fruit without a lot of added sugar or an excessive amount of fat, for example.

Something classic, satisfying.  Elegant, but not fussy.

With apples.

Glorious apples.

Just a small slice?

Yes, please.

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Cassoulet


I think the first time I heard anyone mention cassoulet, it was Martha Stewart years ago in the first version of her television show.  Outside of remembering that the main ingredients were white beans and a huge amount of meat for what could be classified as a one pot meal, I know she described it as one of her traditional holiday party menu items.  I also remember wondering how a preparing a pot of beans could be so involved.  Really?

Now I know.

To say that cassoulet is simply a bean stew or “dried beans and meat” is humorous because I grew up eating what could be called bean stew.  Beans go in a pot with few additional ingredients and not much attention.  Time goes by and a tasty dinner is served.  Bear in mind in this scenario, the bean to meat ratio is in favor of the legumes.  Cassoulet is anything but that, but I’m thinking it shouldn’t have to be.  At the same time, if I set out to make one of the many recipes I glanced at for “easy” cassoulet I’d feel I’d cheated somehow.  Perhaps I’d have something with flavor similar to cassoulet, but I’d miss out on what I often enjoy so much about tackling an involved recipe for the first time:  all the thinking I do.  There’s something very gratifying about methodically working through a recipe that takes some thought and effort.

I’ll confess this all began with a small jar of duck fat I brought back from England recently.  I saw it and knew it would remind me of all the possibilities, so tucked it well into my suitcase until we arrived home, then stored it in the fridge to think about.  Many traditional versions of cassoulet are made with duck fat, but I needed a recipe that wasn’t swimming in it, which means I would need to choose a recipe lacking in, well, duck — or more specifically, duck confit.  My little jar’s quantity wasn’t nearly enough to make that.

Some may say a duckless cassoulet is sacrilege, but I know the recipe I chose, which uses tomatoes and a bread crumb topping, could also invite that complaint.  Cassoulet is a dish originally from the Languedoc region in Southern France, with the towns of  Castelnaudary, Toulouse and Carcassonne all claiming credit for its creation and there are as many variations as there are village cooks in that region.  Originally, I’d considered floundering through a Toulouse Cassoulet until I came to my senses realizing I hadn’t the time I needed to construct it.

I made the cassoulet, but I confess that I did not break the “film” that develops over it while it cooks seven times, so evidently, I did not create anything perfect.  Rich, yes.  Perfect, no.  With respect to all that’s good about home cooking, and for someone like me who truly enjoys the process of constructing a dish like this, it’s a great reason to gather a group of special friends for a special meal just because.

Especially on a cold winter’s day.

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Coq au Vin

Pearl Onions

I love cooking with wine.  Although I do enjoy a dry white splashed into a pan of caramelized shallots for deglazing, or marsala stirred into a mixture of sauteed mushrooms and garlic before a bit of cream is added, I most enjoy meat or poultry braised slowly in red wine over the course of a Sunday afternoon.  Anticipation builds as a heavenly aroma fills the house making us all a bit anxious for dinner time to arrive to see whether the finished product lives up to its promise.

Sometimes, I’m a fairly hard sell.  It isn’t so much that the most recent recipe I’ve experimented with isn’t good;  they very nearly always are.  But think about it.  Once you’ve had an amazing version of something you truly enjoy, it’s challenging for anything else to replicate the wonder of that first bite.

Mention Coq au Vin and someone will ask about what the special occasion might be.  When you consider that any braise is done because the meat used is not an expensive cut, and needs to cook for a long time to make it tender, you know it isn’t necessarily a fancy dish.  In the case of Coq au Vin,  traditionally, the farmer’s old rooster became the dinner.  Bacon, mushrooms, onions, and a liberal quantity of red wine made for quite the send off for that old rooster, and a savory treat for the farmer after a hard day’s work.  All things considered, Coq au Vin is a one pot dish.

I’ve had my eye on a recipe for Coq au Vin I first saw in Saveur. The only reason I haven’t made it before now is that it required marinating the chicken overnight and sometimes my lack of planning gets the best of me.  That oversight hasn’t kept me from making Coq au Vin because I just choose a different version.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t solved the problem.  I’ve wondered about how the marinade might change the complexity of the flavors and whether this particular recipe might be the one to best all of the others.

Evidently, I’m not the only one. It just so happens that it’s the source of the next recipe I’d like to try for Coq au Vin.  Might it be the one?  I’d have to actually find a rooster that doesn’t have his feathers on to get started…and deal with his kidneys.

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