French Cooking: Week One

Over the weekend, I learned two things: 1) French cooking can be very difficult or it can be relatively simple; and 2) my cat loves French food.

The latter part was a bit of a surprise.

Over the weekend, I made two French meals.  The first menu was rather tedious, long and difficult: Lyon-style chicken with vinegar sauce, herbed rice and green beans with shallots and almonds.  The second menu was simpler: a quick egg pasta with lemon sauce.

Let’s start from the beginning…

41.  Crème Fraîche: Many French recipes require crème fraîche (i.e. fresh cream that has a consistency similar to sour cream).  In the US, crème fraîche is not so easy to come by.  But luckily, it’s not difficult to make.  It just takes several hours to make. 

Before beginning any recipe that requires crème fraîche, I recommend starting 12-16 hours prior to the meal to make your crème fraîche (i.e. start the day before).  Don’t worry…the recipe is very simple.  From Emeril Lagasse (Food Network):

1 cup of heavy cream
2 Tablespoons of buttermilk

In a bowl, combine the cream and buttermilk. Cover with a clean kitchen cloth in a warm, draft-free place and let sit until thickened, but still a pourable consistency, 12 to 16 hours. Stir and refrigerate until ready to use. (Can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

After you’ve made your crème fraîche, refrigerate it so you’re ready for the upcoming meals ahead.

Saturday’s Dinner: Chicken with Vinegar Sauce

51. Lyon-Style Chicken with Vinegar Sauce: I found this recipe from Food & Wine: RECIPE.

Most of the ingredients on this menu should already be in your pantry (including the freshly made crème fraîche if you made the recipe above).

If you’re like me and can’t fit the saucepan into your oven, have a casserole dish handy to transfer the chicken into for the baking portion of the recipe.

While the recipe says the total time was only an hour, this took at least an hour and a half for me to make.  It proved to be a lot of work.

2. Herbed Steamed Rice.  I had to look up this recipe before I started on the chicken.  Herbed Steamed Rice is very simple.  For those who have a rice cooker (which I highly recommend having in your cooking arsenal…you can get small ones for about $20), just add the rice to the pot, add water (for me, I measure the water by placing my hand flat on top of the rice and stopping when the water reaches my knuckles), put in fresh herbs (I used fresh mint, dried cilantro and dried basil), and salt to taste.

I recommend using a rice cooker because it makes your job easier in the kitchen.  While the rice cooks, you can focus on other parts of the meal without worrying that you may burn the rice.

There are many variations of herbed steamed rice, this version is basic, no real overpowering flavors, just basic so that the flavors from the chicken with vinegar sauce takes center stage.

3.  Green Beans with Shallots and Toasted Almonds.  This recipe from Williams-Sonoma is very simple and only takes a few minutes to make after you get the water boiling.  It’s a nice, light side to add to this meal.

I also used dried, pre-sliced shallots instead of fresh shallots.

Wine Pairing: Red Burgundy (I just had a simple Red Wine)

The Result

6A little something I picked up about French cooking…the cook needs a moment to take a step back and enjoy the process of making the meal.  After I put the chicken in the oven, I poured a glass of red wine, tore off a piece of baguette, put it on a plate along with a slice of butter and some apricot jam, sat down next to the peonies I had bought earlier in the day and rested for a little bit, absorbing the process of making a good French meal.

After the chicken was done, arranged on a plate with the herbed rice and green beans, I sat down to enjoy my meal.

I had ma petite chat making a huge fuss over what I was eating so I gave her some of the chicken.  Generally, she doesn’t like tart flavors, but she couldn’t get enough.  Ends up her introduction to French food may be a bit of a problem…

Sunday’s Dinner: Pasta in Lemon Sauce

Sunday’s Dinner was a little simpler than the evening before.  This recipe is adapted from Laura Calder’s “French Food at Home.”

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Grated zest of 4 to 5 lemons*
1 cup heavy cream
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Salt and Pepper
Lemon Juice to taste
1/2 pound fresh egg pasta

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.  While you wait, melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the lemon zest.  Pour over the cream and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add the cheese, stirring to melt.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add lemon juice to taste.

Cook the pasta.  Drain, return to the pot, and toss with the sauce. Divide among four serving plates, garnish as you like,** and serve immediately.

*(I had 1 lemon and a bunch of limes, so I used the zest of the one lemon with 3 limes)

**(she uses shredded smoked salmon, poppy seeds, shredded basil leaves, chopped dill, to name a few options.  I didn’t use any extras.).

Wine pairing: Riesling (Note: I had an Italian Riesling, which I do not recommend, stick to the German Riesling.)

3The Result

This recipe was so much simpler than the dinner before.  It’s also great if you want a very quick, French dinner (yes, this apparently is possible).

I used regular egg noodles for the pasta, substituted in grated limes to make up for the lemons I was missing.  I also sprinkled some cayenne on top of the noodles (on my plate) to give it a little extra kick.  All in all, the meal was fabulous.

During my meal, the cat sat down next to me and was begging for some of the food.  Despite my telling her that I did not have any meat, a few paw swipes into my plate and I decided to just give her a couple pieces of the pasta…which to my astonishment she gobbled up!

The irony to both dinners is this…she doesn’t like vinegar or lemon, yet she would not leave me alone when it came to both dishes.  I guess I have a French loving feline foodie on my hands.


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