On occasion, or when someone requests it, I teach a short course on making a simple French or Italian meal at home. Sometimes it’s quiche and salad, complete with learning how to make a crust and vinaigrette from scratch. For the Italian cooking session, it could be learning to make your own pizza and/or crostata. Other times it’s something like this soup-fricassee-mousse meal where all my food fantasies merge into one happy morning/afternoon and lunch or dinner. Soup, chicken, chocolate, paired wines: what more could you want for a short French menu class or for Valentine’s Day at home?
NOTE TO READERS: I’VE INSERTED 2/14/15 CLASS PHOTOS INTO THIS POST, WHICH WAS WRITTEN BEFOREHAND.
This Saturday’s class is full. I might repeat it if enough students are interested. Let me know if you are by leaving a note in the Comments, on fb, or via email. I’m currently looking at a 3-month series at home beginning next September — one Thursday night or one Saturday per month focused on basic French menus. I’ll keep you posted.
For those enrolled in this Saturday’s Valentine class, here are recipes and a few basic instructions with photos. I’ll have the whole deal printed off for you–no need to copy and paste from here. We’ll take some photos together and I’ll replace these as needed or make another post just for grins and giggles.
Bon appétit, mes amis! I can’t wait to cook with you.
Entrée (first course) ou le potage (or a blended soup)
below: Mike prepping the carrots for the soup, photo by Sara, 2015
CARROT SOUP (Potage Crécy)
I’ve heard that some of the best carrots in France (or the world!) are said to come from Crecy, not far from Paris, so favorite carrot soups are often called “Potage Crecy”. There are many versions, but here’s mine using lovely carrots from my local King Sooper’s grocery store in Colorado Springs. Serves 4-6
- 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil
- 2 leeks (white and light green parts only), trimmed and sliced or 1 medium onion, chopped)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 6 large carrots, trimmed and sliced (well scrubbed, unpeeled)
- 1 small peeled and chopped potato
- Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and crushed red pepper
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 4 teaspoons fresh thyme, divided (2 for cooking and 2 for garnish)
- 15-ounce can tomatoes, chopped*
- 3 cups chicken stock
Warm the butter, oil, and leeks over medium heat and cook for just a few minutes until softening; add garlic, carrots, and potato. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, a pinch of crushed red pepper, parsley and half of the fresh thyme. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring a time or two. Pour in tomatoes and stock; bring to a boil and reduce to simmer, cooking until all the vegetables are very tender–40 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning. (continued below)
Purée using an immersion blender or in small batches in a food mill, electric blender, or food processor. Return to pot if needed and warm through. Taste and adjust seasonings again. Serve hot in your sweetest bowls garnished with a few leaves of thyme.
*You can use fresh tomatoes, too–chop up 1 – 1 1/2 cups in lieu of the canned tomatoes if it’s summer and your tomatoes are lovely.
Wine for the soup: White Burgundy.
PLAT PRINCIPAL (Main Course)
(below: my test fricassée)
Fricassée is a technique, not a recipe…. Typically it involves cut-up meat – say chicken, but it could even be gizzards- lightly sautéed (no browning) with or without vegetables and a sauce of broth, water, wine, cream, or a combination. Just for fun, google it and take a look at all of the options from which you can dream and choose…
Many cooking references describe fricassee simply as a French stew, usually with a white sauce. Mastering the Art of French Cooking describes it as “halfway between a saute and a stew” in that a saute has no liquid added, while a stew includes liquid from the beginning. In a fricassee, cut-up meat is first sauteed (but not browned), then liquid is added and it is simmered to finish cooking.
above definition: courtesy wikipedia
below: the class’ fricassée 14 February 2015
ALYCE’S CHICKEN FRICASSÉE (fricassée de poule)
As long as you’re going to all the trouble to cook a whole chicken in a pan on top of the stove, you might as well add whatever you can to make it a one-pan or nearly a one-pan meal. Sauté the chicken, add onion and garlic, toss in some vegetables and cook in broth and wine until done. Add cream before serving. That’s it, though I like a little couscous with mine and so include a simple recipe below. I used a 14-inch frittata skillet, but you can accomplish this in a 12-inch (5-quart) sauté pan or deep skillet.
- 2 tablespoons each salted butter and olive oil
- 1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces, patted dry and seasoned well with salt and pepper
- 2 teaspoons flour
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces) sliced mushrooms
- 1 zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped tarragon or 2 teaspoons dried
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 cup chicken broth plus more if needed
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 lemon, cut in half, for garnish
In a large, deep sauté pan or skillet, melt butter with oil; brown seasoned chicken for 5 minutes or until nearly golden; turn and lightly brown other side. Sprinkle with flour and add onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini to skillet. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, tarragon and parsley. Pour in wine and broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover partially. Simmer until cooked through and chicken registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir in cream and heat through; don’t boil. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve as is hot in a warm shallow bowl or plate or with couscous (below) garnished with a bit of fresh lemon juice. Another option might be rice or mashed potatoes for hearty appetites or to stretch the meal.
Couscous*: Add 2 teaspoons butter to a 2-quart saucepan, melt over medium flame, and add 3 tablespoons each minced onion and raisins. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and cook until onions are tender. Pour in 1 1/4 cups water; bring to a boil. Pour in couscous and stir. Cover and let rest five minutes. Fluff with fork or spoon.
*I used the Near East of Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil Couscous, but use just a good sprinkle of the flavor packet.
Wine for the chicken: More of the White Burgundy, or, if you choose, Beaujolais. I also like Côtes du Rhône, but it’s my own personal preference.
below: Sara working the fricassee
below: what fresh eggs look like
CHOCOLATE MOUSSE (Mousse au chocolat)
below: Jim and Mary Pat dishing up the mousse
It’s perhaps an odd or rather unnecessary thing to post a recipe for chocolate mousse, but because I worked on this one to make it just right for the 2-hour course, I’m including it in the post. There are hundreds of mousse recipes and a great many of them contain egg whites, which mousses do. (My verb-subject agreement alarms are going off.) If you have lovely fresh eggs–no mean feat in the U.S.–and no small children, elderly, or folks with impaired immune systems coming to the table, you might choose to make the traditional version such as Julia Child’s, here blogged by David Lebovitz. (The traditional version uses no cream, so is healthier and very much less caloric.) I’m careful about raw eggs with any guests and so used a recipe from Martha Stewart–with several changes– that uses cooked egg yolks and heavy cream or whipping cream, in this case. Do watch the divided ingredients as you measure.
- 8 ounces chopped semi-sweet chocolate (not chocolate chips)
- 4 large egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
- 2 cups whipping cream, divided*
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Ground cinnamon or cocoa for garnish
1. In a two-cup glass, covered microwave safe pitcher or bowl, melt chopped chocolate for 1-2 minutes on high in the microwave, stirring about half-way through. Set aside and let cool briefly.
2. In a heavy, medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and 3/4 cup of the whipping cream. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until mixture coats the back of a spoon, 3-4 minutes–do not boil. Remove from heat; whisk in the melted chocolate and the vanilla.
3. Whip the remaining cream and the other 2 tablespoons of sugar with an electric mixer or cold whisk until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whipped cream into cooled chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the rest with a rubber spatula.
4. Divide among 6 small bowls or ramekins. Chill 30 minutes – 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving. Garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon or cocoa.
*If you’d like to garnish the mousse with a little whipped cream, increase the whipping cream by 1/2 cup or so.
below: class’ mousse au chocolat 2/14/15
Wine for theDessert: Banyuls (a sweet wine from the south of France) or a tawny port from Portugal. (I know; port isn’t French, but it’s very tasty and drunk everywhere!)
below: our lunch table set the day before … photo by Sara
ABOUT PREPARATION AND ORDER OF COOKING:
Take your time; it’s a good kitchen rule. Eat when the food is ready; even the chicken can be rewarmed gently if it’s done before the soup. But to make the best use of limited time:
1. Set the table/open wine.
2. Begin mousse/refrigerate.
3. Start soup and get it on the burner.
4. Cook chicken and vegetables while soup bubbles on back burner. Make couscous.
5. Keep chicken covered and warm while you purée and serve soup.
If your timeline falls apart, which kitchen timelines often do, not to worry. All three dishes are forgiving: even the fricassee is lovely after it cools and is warmed gently–never boiling. Congrats! You cooked a beautiful meal and shared it successfully.
MUSIC and a BIT OF LANGUAGE:
I love to pair music with meals and so collect albums that are fun for listening while cooking or eating. For a French class, I sometimes include a tiny French speaking lesson via youtube (like the wonderful ones by Alain le Lait) and I always include a few fun French music cds such as FRENCH CAFE, a little Debussy, or even a little Edith Piaf, though–alas and alack– she’s far from my favorite singer.
There are so many books about French cooking, food, and culture, that I hardly know where to begin. But here are a few of my favorites–some old, some new:
~Colman Andrews: Saveur Cooks Authentic French
~Julia Child, et al: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes I and II
Edouard de Pomaine: French Cooking in 10 Minutes
~MLK Fisher: Two Towns in Provence
~Dorie Greenspan: Around my French Table
~David Lebovitz: My Paris Kitchen : Recipes and Stories
~Patricia Wells, an American who has lived and worked in France for many years, has several books about French cooking; each is wonderfully delicious! I might like Bistro Cooking best. You can also go to her website (http://www.patriciawells.com) and read about her cooking classes in Paris and Provence.
WEBSITES, VIDEOS, OTHER INFO YOU MIGHT ENJOY…
This is a teeny-tiny list. You can google to your heart’s content.
The 10 Essential French Recipes to Master First (…but only if you already know how to cook a little at least)
FAVORITE BLOGS DEVOTED TO FRENCH FOOD:
below: a favorite wine shop in St. Paul on Saint Clair is The Wine Thief
A Tiny Bit about the Wine:
There are many, many French wines and lots information available on the web, in magazines, in books, and in wine shops. I am no expert by any means, but would offer this basic, just-starting-out paint-with-one-brush advice as a cook and wine lover:
Begin with one white and one red. For the white, buy a Sauvignon Blanc or a White Burgundy and drink it for aperitif (a little before dinner drink), with your hors-d’oeuvres, or with salad, or soup. For the red, choose a Côtes du Rhône which is a Syrah blend, and serve it with meat dishes. Both are inexpensive (under $20) and don’t buy them if they’re not.
Skip Champagne; it’s too expensive except for a special occasion. If you need a sparkling wine, choose a Spanish Cava, an Italian Prosecco, or an American sparkling wine such as from Gruet in New Mexico.
Find a wine shop and go chat up the clerk for best tastes and deals. Give them your menu and your price range and don’t be shy about it. Follow their advice for your first adventure and then use your own good taste and sense.
Chante une nouvelle chanson, danse une nouvelle mélodie, (Sing a new song; dance to a new melody.)