Tag Archives: white wine

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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Lamb Shanks Braised with Tomatoes and Herbs

Spices for Rub

Spring for many who crave slow roasted savory dishes can mean that it’s time for lamb — especially when there’s a special occasion to consider such as Easter.  For my family, however, this wasn’t the case.  Our tradition was far from a special dinner at home and a table set with my great grandmother’s china.  No, we were the more adventuresome type.

If my mother was successful in her relentless attempts to get my father out of bed, we’d try and make it to early service.  My mother was an amazing seamstress, so picture three perfectly dressed children (the girls in matching dresses, of course) with brand new shoes, Easter hats, and not a hair out of place, all waiting for the man of the house to get up so their day could begin. There was more than one reason to make that early service.  Father K. did the mass first on Sunday, and he was quite efficient, so rarely did the service last even an hour.  If we didn’t make the first service, then we would attend Father B’s mass which inevitably took much, much longer.  That service was always packed, too, so often we ended up sitting in the back or upstairs, and with no padded rails to kneel on.

First thing in the morning, we’d see the Easter baskets placed at the end of our beds full of candy and goodies, the best of which was usually a large chocolate foil wrapped bunny.  Each basket had exactly the same contents, because my little sister kept track and usually let my mother know it was a problem.  These baskets of goodies came in handy for what was usually a long drive after church, searching for the perfect spot to have our annual Easter picnic.  Every year the group was a bit different, but every year, we were on the road, picnic food wrapped and ready to eat sometime after the giant egg hunt.  We hunted real eggs — eggs that we’d colored ourselves, and then after finding them would end up as deviled eggs.

But lamb was nowhere to be found on the menu for that occasion.  So it wasn’t until well into adulthood that I finally tasted lamb.  Although I still don’t serve lamb as much as I do other meats, I am learning more about which cut to prepare, how to prepare it and with which flavors.

When I saw the meaty lamb shanks at our local Henry’s, I wasn’t looking for them, but had to have them knowing I’d put them to good use.  It didn’t take long to find the perfect recipe.  Absolutely perfect.

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Roasted Chicken with Bacon and Mushroom Sauce

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I am more inclined to think of a special dinner to make instead of which restaurant I’d like to visit.  I know.  Huge surprise.  It isn’t that I don’t enjoy eating out — we love to and have done so for years, choosing different restaurants each time just to see how many we can sample.

But it’s such a luxury to prepare a special meal for only two — something I rarely get to do.  The last time I went all out for Valentine’s Day, we still lived in our old house.  It was a beautiful California Ranch built in 1948 that only one other family had lived in before we arrived, constructed with gorgeous pegged oak flooring that had aged to a deep caramel color and was soft to the touch.  I used to hand wax it, believe it or not!  In the living room, there were enormous hand hewn beams that supported the roof and ceiling constructed of tongue and groove hand milled cedar.  The bricks that lined the large hearth were from antique foundries and varied in color and shape.  When there was a fire crackling in it, the room warmed to a golden color, and I could think of no place I’d rather be.

So I set up a table for two in front of the fireplace and made lobster and fennel napoleons to start, and individual beef wellingtons.  We enjoyed our dinner with a very dry bottle of Cabernet and candle light.  It was completely lovely.

But that was then.  As I said, it isn’t often that I get to take the time to pull something like that off.  Usually, I’m feeding more like ten or fifteen which isn’t exactly romantic.  It is fun though, and I’d truly enjoy it.

So where am I going with this?  Sharing.  That’s all.  Just passing on a suggestion for a great main course for Valentine’s Day.  I’ve tried this recipe twice just this past January– amazing in and of itself — and both times, it has turned out excellently to the ummmmms and whoooooaaaaaas of those lucky enough to sample it.
The recipe is one that comes from a source I’ve mentioned a few times in the last month — Saveur.  It’s not a challenging recipe at all, which is what makes it that much more amazing.  The first time I made it, a crowd was coming.  We were going to celebrate as an extended family after we returned from VA this past Christmas, so I wanted to prepare something delicious, but without all the fanfare of a traditional holiday meal.  “Poussins en Cocotte ‘Bonne Femme'” or “Poussins with Bacon and Mushroom Sauce” seemed perfect for the occasion.

Since I absolutely knew I wouldn’t be able to get poussins at any of my regular markets on that day and didn’t feel like searching elsewhere, I decided to use organic roasting chickens that I purchased at Trader Joe’s instead– three four to five pounders.  Using the basic directions for roasting chicken (convection roast at 325 degrees F 18-20 min. per pound — internal temp. 180 degrees F in thigh), I kept to the directions for the original recipe as closely as possible — even the searing.  And you haven’t seen anything until you’ve tried to sear three fat chickens in a roasting pan over four stove burners.  Suffice it to say that a sturdy wooden spoon shoved into each orifice of each bird gets the job done fairly well even if it was still a bit awkward!

The photographs are awful because I had left my Canon in VA and was waiting for my sister to ship it.  So much for my old HP digital!  The difference in picture quality between the two cameras is amazing.

The chickens turned out deliciously —  the meat was extremely tender and moist, and the sauce created in the pan was beyond amazing.  Truly excellent.  So good I knew I had to make the recipe in its original form — with the required poussins which I found at Whole Foods while cruising the meat counter one afternoon.

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Pasta with Clams in a Lemon Wine Broth

I grew up eating very simple meals that were repeated often in the course of a month. It was good food, but never complicated, and very little seafood was prepared — that is except for the flounder my mother purchased in somewhat thin, brick-like frozen packages.  The flounder was thawed, the fillets pulled apart, then floured and fried.  It wasn’t an unpleasant meal, it just wasn’t anything special and I rarely looked forward to those meals.  It must have made an impression on me, because I don’t believe I’ve ever fried flounder for my family.  Not that I have anything against flounder; I’m just aware of so many more possibilities with respect to seafood.  I also believe the choices are more abundant for the home cook which makes cooking and eating far more pleasurable than ever before.

My boys have grown up trying just about everything imaginable — especially my youngest, now 15.  That is most likely because I’m not afraid to try new types of cuisine, new flavors, and trust that if a recipe has been published, it has at least a fighting chance of being “good.”

Many summers ago, my husband, youngest son and I traveled up the California coast to Monterey, one of our favorite places.  Along the trip, we stopped in Santa Barbara for the day, and had lunch at a pleasant Italian restaurant.  Surprisingly, my son, who must have been only eight at the time ordered mussels.  I do remember that they sounded delicious with garlic, white wine, and basil being a few of the ingredients, but I’d never made mussels before.  And to my knowledge, we’d not ordered them in a restaurant with my son along.  So, order we did!  He truly enjoyed them, and we enjoyed watching him eat them.  No sooner than we’d arrived in Monterey, he ordered more, and to our continued surprise, made comments about liking the mussels he’d ordered in Santa Barbara more.

To some extent, I’d like to take some credit for this.  Only one of us has serious food allergies, so meal time at our house has always been an adventure, and clearly my boys (and husband) have grown from the experience.

After returning home from our vacation, I began to look around for recipes to emulate the dishes my son had tried.  There was just something about cooking my own shell fish I wasn’t too comfortable about.  Maybe admonishment from experts on freshness, and concerns about resulting illness could have been a factor.  Possibly, but not nearly as much as walking past the local chain grocer’s “fish” counter and smelling the pungent odor of ammonia mixed with fish clearly anything but fresh was more of a deterrent.  And the selection?  Pathetic if at all existent, and not something I’d consider.  Ever.  Completely disgusting.  Truly fresh fish rarely smells fishy.

That was about the time I discovered Whole Foods and sea food that was refreshingly sans the fishy odor.  I then found a recipe that is probably the one I’ve made more than any other recipe (remember I have that problem of rarely making a recipe more than once — ever):  Spaghetti with Fresh Clams, Parsley, and Lemon.  I found it in an issue of Bon Appetit I still have and cherish — one of the issues that focuses on a particular region’s food, and in the case of this recipe, the citrus from the isle of Capri off the coast of Italy.  And wouldn’t I absolutely love to travel there some day…*sigh*  I have served it in enormous platters at parties to the oohs and ahs of guests, as a main dish with pasta, as the original recipe calls for, and as a starter to a nice dinner.  I’ve used mussels — black and green lip, which are completely gorgeous, by the way — a variety of clams, and a mixture of both.  I’ve used basil instead of parsley, added chopped tomatoes, and dolloped goat’s cheese to sharpen the broth.  Any way this recipe has been made has delivered very pleasing results.  If given a choice, my husband prefers clams, and my son, mussels.  I don’t care, because both are excellent as long as I have a thick chunk of bread to soak up the broth remaining in my bowl.
So the days of avoiding fish at the chain market and denying ourselves a meal of delicious seafood are over.  Not too far from our house, El Pescador sells fresh seafood.  It’s a small store packed with mouth-watering possibilities. It’s also a restaurant, and from the looks of the menu, one that serves quite tasty fare. I’ve not been there often, but have discovered that if I purchase my clams there, I won’t fill my basket with the other lovely items that find their way onto my shopping bill at Whole Foods.  So I’ve added another trip, but it’s worth it, because El Pescador sells lovely, fresh seafood.  Perfect for summertime.

The original recipe  for this Pasta with Clams in a Lemon Wine Broth is linked above.  I’ve included my revisions in the recipe below.

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