Much to my husband’s dismay, I am bit of a Francophile. I first ventured to France on a student exchange trip when I was a 17-year old junior in high school. Precisely the age when you think you are all-that, but really don’t have it as figured out as you think. As we speak, the tiny, 4-inch golden Eiffel Tower that I bought at the top of the Eiffel Tower on that trip sits in our bathroom now. That thing is older than both of my children combined but I have hung onto it all of these years. It represents one of the first great adventures in my life and one that made quite an impression on me. There are so many fabulous memories from that trip…seeing Versailles for the first time, experiencing the French Rivera, wandering the streets eating fresh baguettes, being the “stupid Americans” and almost attempting to cross the round-about that circles L’Arc du Triomphe (because we didn’t realize that there was an underground tunnel), having a tad too much to drink out on a jetty in Monaco harbor (zut), or being taken by our teacher to the Can-Can and watching, in awe, as the french girls’ can-cans swung in front of us (what the heck was he thinking for a bunch of high schoolers? That little “field trip” was so obviously for him). What a trip. There was a little bit of everything crammed into those three and a half weeks and I still look back on those days fondly, can-cans aside. Funny part is that I don’t even speak the language really. I was, unfortunately, not one of those students who picked up languages easily, much to dear, looming Madame H’s disappointment in school. Alors. I have always used a fair amount of little french expressions, though, which cracks up one of my best friends, as she’s the one with the advanced degree in French. But ah…the decor, cuisine, fashion and architecture of that culture has always resonated with me….the romance, the passion…love it all. Somehow, it’s polished and elegant but still earthy and rustic at the same time. A brilliant mix. Not quite sure how the French manage to pull that off, but they do.
Culinarily-speaking (is that a word?), one of my goals for this year is to master the baking of the french macaron. This lovely, pastel cookie has somehow become the new cupcake. Which was the new Red Velvet. Which, I think, was the new black. Hard to keep up. Up until about a year ago, most folks thought a macaron was a clumped cookie made of coconut, egg whites and served rampantly at Passover. Nooo…those are macarOOns. Don’t be adding “o’s” and turning this into another confection, please, delightful as those are. Somehow the dainty-yet-mighty french macarons got themselves some impressive marketing and are now showing up in cooking catalogues, pastry shops and all places that serve sugary treats. They honestly drive me wild. I love the way they look…the pastel colors, the flavors, even the cute way they stack. When I was vacationing in London a few years ago, I stumbled across some BIG macarons (how to Americanize a french treat: super-size it.) and almost hyperventilated. 4.5 inches across of pistachio goodness. C’est si bon! Thankfully, my husband just knows now to put up with me lingering in front of patisserie windows and he says nothing. He’s learning. At the moment, I have the almond flour and a whole cookbook devoted to macarons in my kitchen. Simply looking at the book is almost satiating in and of itself. But not quite. I just haven’t dived in yet, but will soon, and no doubt it will result in a few good posts.
For now, though, I do have a few lovely, easy French recipes to offer you to start your week off on le droit chemin (the right path). Go get your hands on a crusty baguette, some good cheese and serve up these dishes for a perfectly wonderful meal. Bon Appetit, all!
Crock-Pot Cassoulet (for the purposes of this post, we are going to call it Le Crock Pot)…recipe from my dear Mom. Where she got it, I have no idea.
*Note: I’m generally not a big Crock-potter and I admit that a crock-pot seems exceedingly anti-french-cuisine, but for this recipe it totally works and works beautifully. Be aware, though, that you have to start this recipe the night prior to serving, as the beans get soaked overnight.
2 cups dried white beans
1.5 lbs. boneless pork, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 lb. boneless lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes (if you are not a big lamb-fan, I’ve used beef tenderloin and it’s good. It just won’t be as authentic)
3 slices of bacon, diced
1.5 cups chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2 sausages, sliced
1 tsp. salt
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1.5 cups dry white wine
Soak beans overnight in water. Drain. Saute bacon in pan. Remove bacon, leaving drippings. Brown meat in small batches in the bacon fat (oh, mama!). Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Add water to within 1-inch below level of food. Cook on low for 10 hours. How easy is that? Makes 6-8 delectable servings. Serve with a great wine and great bread.
And to finish…Pear Clafouti-The Barefoot Contessa
*This is easy and delicious and just nicely sweet.
1 Tb. unsalted butter, room temp.
1/3 cup plus 1 Tb. granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs, room temp.
6 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1.5 cups heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons worth)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbs. pear brandy, such as Poire William (I’ve also made this recipe without this and it’s just fine)
2-3 firm but ripe Bartlett pears
Preheat oven to 375. Butter a 10-inch pie plate (or baking dish) and sprinkle with 1 Tb. granulated sugar. Beat the eggs and the 1/3 cup of granulated sugar until light and fluffy. The, slowly mix in flour, cream, vanilla, lemon zest, salt and pear brandy. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Peel, quarter, core and slice the pears. Arrange the slices in a single layer, slightly fanned out, in the baking dish. Pour the batter over the pears and bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is firm, about 35-40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temp., with a sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar.
Oooo la la!