Week 3: France

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This is the third in my European Staycation series, introduced here.

This week we finally made our way to the culinary destination of France! I’ve always wanted to visit France, and taste real French food, especially since Julia Child and Jacques Pepin happen to be my two favorite chefs.

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Neither of us knew anything about cooking French food, but with our recently acquired library cards we knew just where to go. We picked up Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. (Both are fabulous cookbooks and I highly recommend them.)

Sadly, due to crazy schedules, our dinner got moved to a school night (yuck), so it was quite rushed. We picked dishes that would only require quick preparations and saved the crepes for after class. Still, the dinner was amazing, and my only regret about the meal was that I had to rush through it. Something about French food says it should be savored. I’m sorry, France.

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Our main course was an improvised Ratatouille and Steak au Poivre, and we finished it off with dessert crepes with whipped cream and strawberries. The Ratatouille was superb: the vegetables were tender and it was so simple I can’t believe it. We are most definitely going to make it again. The steak, similarly was moist and delicious. Just the simplest flavors and it tasted gourmet.

We sampled French accordion music available on Spotify and later devoured a generous stack of crepes while watching Paris, Je t’aime. We savored our flavorful, albeit brief, visit to France and who knows, we might even come back some day! Bon apetit!

Next week: it’s off to Spain!

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These are the recipes we used for our diner francais:

Ratatouille

There are about a million ways to make ratatouille, not including the one in the Disney movie of the same name. We needed something fast, but that would keep warm while we make the steak. So we modified this recipe from taste.com (we used the cooking method and the red wine vinegar, but only about a half-cup of water), then threw it in a 13×9 baking dish, tossed on about 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup bread crumbs and roasted it at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, when the steak was done. The topping idea came from Julia and Jacques’ cookbook.

Steak au Poivre

from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home

1 thick-cut well-marbled strip steak, about 1 pound total weight and 1 1/2 inches thick

2 Tbs or so mixed whole peppercorns

Salt

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 Tbs butter

1 Tbs minced shallots

1 Tbs cognac (or bourbon or red wine)

1/2 cup flavorful dark stock (we used beef stock)

1 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Trim the steak of all the excess fat and cartilage. Cut the meat into 2 pieces (to serve 2 people). Crush the peppercorns using the back of a skillet against a cutting board.

2. Sprinkle salt to taste on top and bottom of the steaks. Press each side into the cracked peppercorns, encrusting the steaks lightly or heavily, per your preference.

3. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy saute or frying pan over high heat. Lay the peppered steaks in and fry for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until the undersides are well seared.

4. Turn the meat and cook the second side until desired doneness. Remove the steaks to a warm platter.

5. Add the shallots to the pan and saute briefly, stirring with a spoon to scrape up the drippings. Lean away from your face and pour in the cognac/bourbon/red wine. Cook for a few moments and then add the stock.

6. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook for about 1 minute to thicken the sauce, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the soft butter, swirling the pan until it melts and incorporates. Pour the sauce over the steaks and serve immediately.

Dessert Crepes

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1 cup all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

1 egg yolk

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup melted butter

2 Tbs sugar

a large pinch of salt

3/4 cup water

1. Pour the flour in a blender, then add the egg and egg yolk, milk, melted butter, sugar, and salt. Blend for 5 or 10 seconds to make a thick, lump-free batter. Add the water and blend until smooth. Refrigerate the batter for at least an hour.

2. Whisk the batter well. Set a 7-inch non-stick frying pan over moderate heat for a minute or two. When hot, brush the bottom with a very thin coat of butter. Ladle 1/4 cup of batter and pour into the pan. Tilt and rotate the pan to swirl the batter around the bottom until it is even and very thin.

3. Cook over medium to high heat for about 45 seconds to one minute, until the edges are cooked and the bottom is lightly browned.

4. Loosen the crepe and flip it over. Cook for another 30-45 seconds. Slide it onto a plate to keep cool. Repeat with the remaining batter.

5. Serve with delicious things like powdered sugar, cinnamon, homemade whipped cream, strawberries, nutella, or apricot preserves.

-debarbibee

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