Week Sixteen

Last year to celebrate my birthday, my girlfriends and I went to Paris for the day to enjoy lunch at a typical Parisian bistrot. The lunch was incredible and the authentic French atmosphere was the icing on the cake! The fact that we did this all in one day was rather exhilarating, it definitely highlighted one of the benefits of living in London – we left at 6am and were back home at 10.30pm (having gained an hour!). I was so impressed by this French daytrip that I repeated it a few months later with Nick. I was hoping to return again this autumn, but with Covid, unfortunately this treat will have to wait, so instead I’ve been looking through my many French cookbooks to feed my need for comforting bistrot food. I find traditional French food particularly comforting during the winter months; the generous lashings of cream and butter with the touch of cider or brandy is my heaven – indulgent yes, but we all need something to get through the winter months!

This week I am sharing a couple of my favourite ‘French style’ recipes, the first menu is Chicken au Cidre, a recipe from Normandy.The chicken is cooked in a pot with cider, and at the end of cooking the delicious cider and chicken juices are combined with crème fraiche to make a fantastic sauce! Menu Two is Duck, not ‘a l’Orange’ as is often the traditional, but with raspberries, I serve this with Dauphinoise Potatoes, a classic French indulgent dish – this menu is one of our family favourites! Menu Three is the popular bistrot dessert, Pot au Chocolate. You must try this recipe, I’ve tried many chocolate mousse recipes over the years and this is by far my favourite, very light with just the right level of chocolate! Of course I couldn’t ‘go to France’ without sharing a cocktail with you, and so to use the créme de cassis which is an ingredient in the raspberry sauce (for the duck), I thought it would be fun to share the recipe for a Kir Royale – super easy, you just need to add the champagne…it’s a great midweek pick-me-up!!

Finally, moving away from the French theme, but nevertheless very comforting, is a recipe which I am also sharing on my Menu Mistress @ Uni page, a simple midweek meal for all – Chicken, Pea and Leek traybake. Despite its simplicity it is very tasty, the vegetables are cooked under the chicken thighs so catch all their delicious juices!

Menu One

Chicken with Cider (Poulet au Cidre) (Serves 4)

This is a classic dish from Normandy and Brittany, the apple growing regions of France. The sauce, with the apples, is perfect for an autumnal evening meal. This recipe is taken from a  French recipe book I have had for many years, ‘The Food of France’ .

8 chicken thighs, skin on

2 dessert apples, such as granny smith

Juice of ½ lemon

60g butter

½ onion, finely chopped

½ celery stick, chopped

10g plain flour (gluten free if required)

80ml Calvados or brandy

375ml cider

100ml créme frâiche

  1. Peel and core the apples. Finely chop one half of one apple and cut the rest into 12 wedges. Toss in the lemon juice (this will stop it browning).
  2. Heat half the butter in a large frying pan and brown the chicken thighs, skin side down. Turn over and cook for another 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the chicken. Pour away any fat and heat 20g more of the butter in the same pan. Add the celery, onion and chopped apple. Fry over a moderate heat for 5 minutes until softened but not browned.
  4. Sprinkle the vegetables with the flour, stir, then add the calvados (or brandy). Gradually add the cider, stirring.
  5. Bring to the boil, return the chicken to the pan, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook gently for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (make a cut on the underside of the thigh beside the bone to check).
  6. Meanwhile heat the remaining butter in a small frying pan and fry the apple wedges over a moderate heat until browned on each side, and tender.
  7. Remove the chicken from the pan, keep warm. Skim off any excess fat from the sauce. Add the créme frâiche, bring back to the boil, and boil gently for 3-4 minutes until the sauce it slightly thickened – enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Check the seasoning.
  8. To serve, pour the sauce over the chicken with the apple wedges on the side. I like to serve this with Green Beans and Concetta’s potatoes (recipe below).

Staple Side Dish – Concetta’s Potatoes (Serves 4)

Concetta’s Potatoes

4 large potatoes – such as Maris Piper (roasting potatoes)

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried sage

Sea salt and black pepper

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Olive oil

  1. Peel and slice the potatoes, and parboil in boiling water for 4 minutes.
  2. Place in a roasting tin, sprinkle over the rosemary, sage and garlic, season with salt and black pepper and drizzle over some olive oil – mix well.
  3. Place in a preheated oven, 200’c, for 35-40mins until crispy and well browned.

Menu Two

Duck Breast with Raspberries, Dauphinoise Potatoes and Tenderstem Broccoli (Serves 4)

Duck breasts are a great midweek meal as they are so easy to cook – just brown in a frying pan to render the fat, then place in the oven for about 10 minutes! The raspberry sauce in this recipe is lovely, as it has a slightly sweet, tangy flavour which compliments the rich meat of the duck perfectly. I like to serve the duck breasts quite pink, so if you prefer them more well done cook for a little longer than I have specified in the recipe. For a really special meal serve this dish with Dauphinoise Potatoes, I also like to serve Tenderstem Broccoli as it cuts the sweetness. The sauce calls for crème de cassis, which is something that you may not have lying around the house, but it is something which will keep for a very, very long time in your cupboard; I’m sure like me you’ll make this recipe again plus having it in the house gives you the perfect excuse to make a Kir Royale cocktail (recipe below!!). This duck recipe is also from my well used edition of  ‘The Food of France’.

4 duck breasts

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons demerara sugar

250ml red wine

150ml crème de cassis

1 tablespoon cornflour

250g raspberries (defrosted if frozen)

Black pepper

  1. Score the skin of the duck breasts, through the fat but not all the way through to the skin.
  2. Place the breasts in a dry frying pan, skin side down, over a low heat to render down most of the fat, this may take as much as 10-15 minutes. When the fat is rendered, turn up the heat to crisp up and brown the skin (about 2 minutes). Finally, turn over to sear the underside for minute or so. Remove the duck breasts from the pan, pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. Keep this pan to one side to make the sauce.
  3. Meanwhile mix together the sea salt, cinnamon and demerara sugar.
  4. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the browned duck skin, pressing it down with your hands. Season with black pepper.
  5. Place the duck breasts on a baking try and place in a preheated oven, 200’c for 10 minutes.
  6. To make the sauce, mix together the red wine and cassis in a jug. Pour about 100ml of the liquid into a small bowl and mix in the cornflour, then pour this back into the jug and stir.
  7. Return the pan (with the remaining 2 tablespoons of fat) to the heat and pour in the red wine and cassis. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until it has thickened and some of the alcohol has burned off. Add the raspberries and simmer for another minute to warm through. Check the seasoning, remove and keep warm.
  8. Remove the duck breasts from the oven. To caramelise the sugared skin place under a really hot grill for a minute or so (don’t leave them too long otherwise you will overcook the duck meat – I actually use a kitchen blowtorch to caramelise them, so if you have one, I recommend using this).
  9. Finally slice the duck breasts, serve with a little sauce over the top and the rest served separately in a jug. Accompany with Dauphinoise Potatoes (recipe below) and Tenderstem Broccoli.

Dauphinoise Potatoes (Serves 4)

The French seem to be split over the recipe for Dauphinoise Potatoes, some call for the addition of Gruyére cheese, whilst others, lament its addition!…I like it both ways, I think there is a time and a place for both versions; the version without cheese is great for a more relaxed meal, whilst with cheese, being more unctuous, it is more suited to a rich dinner party meal – I particularly like it with a roast rack of lamb. This version is the one without cheese which is perfect for a midweek treat, I will be sharing my cheese version in the future…!

15g butter

1kg floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper

400ml double cream

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Rub a gratin dish liberally with the butter.
  2. Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly.
  3. In a large bowl whisk together the cream, garlic, nutmeg and season well with salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes in this cream mixture.
  4. Layer the potatoes in the gratin dish, spreading them flat and evenly, pour over any remaining cream.
  5. Place in a preheated oven, 160’c for 1 – 1 hour 15 minutes. Every 15 minutes or so press the down the potatoes with a spatula to stop them drying out. The gratin is ready when the top is golden and bubbling, and the potatoes are tender. You may want to turn up the oven to 190 -200’c for the last 5 minutes of cooking to achieve an extra golden crisp.

Menu Three

Chocolate Mousse – Pot au Chocolate (Serves 6-8)

In my opinion, this is absolutely the best recipe for chocolate mousse, it is extremely light with the perfect balance of chocolate – not overly rich. The recipe calls for brandy, don’t be put off by this, as you really can’t taste it, it just balances the chocolate. This recipe serves 6-8, which may be more than you need, but believe me you will eat it (and it will keep in the fridge), so I wouldn’t bother to half the recipe!..

300g plain chocolate (I use Lindt 70% cocoa), broken into small pieces

30g unsalted butter

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons brandy

4 egg whites

5 tablespoons caster sugar

500ml double cream

25g plain chocolate, grated to serve

  1. Put the chocolate in bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the bowl doesn’t touch the water (a Bain Marie). Gently melt the chocolate.
  2. Stir in the butter, until melted. Remove the bowl from the saucepan, allow to cool for a few minutes.
  3. Add the eggs and brandy, stir (the mixture may look a little scrambled at this point, but don’t worry it will smooth out later with the egg whites!)
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites, adding the sugar gradually, until they form soft peaks.
  5. Whisk one third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then fold in the remaining whites.
  6. Whip the cream to medium peaks and fold into the mousse mixture.
  7. Pour into glasses or small bowls, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  8. To serve sprinkle with some grated chocolate.

A Little Treat…A Kir Royale

A Kir Royale

This isn’t really a recipe as such, but I thought I’d post it, as if you’ve made this weeks ‘Duck Breast with Raspberries’ (recipe above), you will have some creme de cassis in your cupboard which gives you the perfect excuse to make a Kir Royale!

For one glass:

1 tablespoon of creme de cassis

Champagne

  1. Simply add the creme de cassis to a champagne flute and top with champagne!

Menu Four

Chicken & Pea Traybake (Serves 4)

This is a great, quick midweek meal, and because it is so easy to cook I am also sharing it on my MenuMistress @Uni page. I found this recipe in Nigella Lawson’s ‘At My Table’ cookbook, a great book full of tasty recipes which are also very straight forward in that very special ‘Nigella’ way. The peas and leeks are cooked underneath the chicken thighs, so soak up all their delicious juices while the leeks become beautifully caramelised. The original recipe called for dill, however, I prefer tarragon so I use this but you could, of course, use dill if you prefer!

8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in

900g frozen petit pois

400g leeks, cut into 3cm slices

2 fat cloves garlic, crushed

4 tablespoons dry white vermouth or white wine

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons sea salt flakes

Small bunch of tarragon, roughly chopped (or dill – see note above)

  1. Place the peas in large roasting pan, large enough to give space between the thighs. Add the leeks, garlic, vermouth (or wine), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and most of the tarragon. Mix everything together.
  2. Arrange the chicken thighs on top, skin side up, then drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
  3. Roast in a preheated oven, 180’c, for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven and give the peas a stir, so that any on top are mixed into the liquid and are not drying out too much. Don’t worry about the leeks, as you want the bits peeking out to caramelise.
  5. Put back in the oven for a further 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through with a golden and crisp skin.
  6. Scatter over the remaining tarragon and serve with some simply steamed new potatoes!

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