At first, French cuisine certainly seemed rich, complex and downright illusive to me. But, as I have recently found, with the right foundations, there’s a world of French recipes out there we can easily cook at home. French cooking ranges from the quick an easy for regular folks like me, to the grand displays of culinary creativity only a trained professional should attempt (of course, that usually doesn’t stop me from trying). What I finally decided, after a little wine to calm my nerves, was that the only thing any cook needs to accomplish French culinary greatness, is a deep appreciation and respect for fine food.
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Potato and Leek Soup (Vichyssoise) with Zucchini and Yellow Squash
(Pomme de terre et poireaux (Vichyssoise) aux courgettes et la courge jaune)
4 tablespoons butter
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 pound large leeks, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, peeled, cut into cubes
1/2 pound zucchini, cut into 1-inch rounds
1/2 pound yellow squash, cut into 1-inch rounds
6 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
Chopped fresh scallions
Melt butter in heavy stock pot over medium heat. Add garlic; sauté until tender. Pour in broth and bring to a boil. Add leeks, potatoes, zucchini and squash. Return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Cool 30 minutes.
Puree soup in food processor working in batches. Press soup through a strainer or sieve. Mix in heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours. Ladle soup into bowl and serve topped with chopped scallions.
Sautéed Chicken with Shallot Cream
(Poulet sauté à la crème d’échalotes)
2 1/2 to 3 pound frying chicken parts
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
1/2 shallot, minced
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 cup heavy cream
Melt butter and oil in a frying pan over moderately high heat. Dry the chicken pieces then lay chicken pieces skin side down in the hot butter and oil. Leave a little air space between each piece to prevent steaming instead of browning. Turn the chicken every 20 to 20 seconds, allowing it to brown evenly on all sides. Once the chicken is browned, baste the meat with the pan drippings and season with salt, pepper, and herbs. Cover and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook the meat slowly about 5 minutes; turn the chicken, baste again, and cook 8 minutes more. When done, juices should run clear and meat should be about 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the chicken pieces to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Drain all but about a tablespoon juices out of the sauté pan and return to high heat. Stir in the shallot and cook until clear. Whisk in the vermouth and reheat to boiling. Continue boiling until the liquid reduces by a third. Wisk in the cream and cook until thick and coats a wooden spoon. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.
Ladyfingers with Orange Buttercream Filling
(Biscuits a’ la Cuiller avec Orange au beurre Remplissage)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs separated
1 teaspoon almond extract
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour, sifted
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
3/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
Gradually beat egg yolks and sugar together, add almond extract and continue beating until thick and pale yellow. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and salt together until soft peaks form. Slowly sprinkle in the granulated sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
Working in equal parts, alternate folding in the egg whites and sifted flour into the egg yolk mixture. Gently fold until just combined. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, grease the paper and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Spoon the combined mixture into a plastic bottle with a pointed tip (1/4-inch opening) or a plastic storage bag (trip a corner). Squeeze out batter about 1 inch wide by 4 inches long onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
Cream powdered sugar and butter. Add orange juice and orange zest and continue beating until fluffy and thick. Spread filling on the bottom of one ladyfinger and top with another, bottom side down, pressing lightly. Repeat with remaining ladyfingers. Store in the refrigerator between sheets of waxed paper and sealed in an airtight container.