Showing posts with label frugal French cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label frugal French cooking. Show all posts

30 December 2013

Coq au Vin: Frugal French at its Best


A dozen or so years ago, my husband and I discovered the joys of a quiet Christmas day, just the two of us, snacking, reading napping the day away.

I spend part of Christmas Eve preparing finger food, and we nosh on that until Christmas dinner, eaten about 5 or 6 p.m. is ready. Dinner is sometimes ham or chicken, sometimes even salmon (we're not overly fond of turkey).

I've made Chateaubriand a time or two but was looking for something different this year. My husband took the lead and pored through this cookbook, my father's favorite. Coq au vin was my husband's suggestion. We try to keep holiday meals - every meal, really - simple and prepare as much as we can in advance.

The recipe in my father's cookbook looked easy. Coq au vin can be as complicated as you want to make it. Here is a slow-cooker version I want to try.

But I draw the line at spending a whole lot of time in the kitchen on a holiday, especially when new books are always waiting under the tree for me.

As is often the case with old French cookbooks - any old cookbook - the instructions were brief. There was no ingredient list; that was buried within the pithy instructions.

Coq au Vin 
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 4 slices bacon
  • brandy or
  • 4 large onions, quartered
  • 12 large button mushrooms
  • 2 gloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 ounces brandy
  • 4 large carrots, chopped (mine were slightly par boiled)
  • bouquet garni
  • 16 ounces red wine (I used this Cote du Rhone)
Brown the chicken in a skillet with butter and bacon. Add onions, mushrooms, carrots and garlic, adding brandy and setting the dish aflame. (Note: I add the last of my Calvados, purchased in Paris in 2007, and skipped the flames.) Next add the wine and the bouquet garni (you can make your own) and cook uncovered over medium heat for at least an hour, longer if the chicken does not seem fully cooked. Because the wine will color the chicken, you may want to have a meat thermometer on hand; chicken must be cooked to 165 degrees.

The original recipe called for setting aside blood from the chicken to use as a thickener. I used cornstarch, with moderate success.

We were pleased with the results. The chicken was moist and tender, and the vegetables pleasantly sweet and wine soaked. The dish really tasted of rural France, I thought.

Coq au vin is an excellent rustic dish that needs little embellishment, even on Christmas. Some people love a holiday dinner table that is quite literally - to use a cliché - groaning under the weight of four vegetables and three starches along with numerous side dishes, all supporting ham, turkey, beef or even all three. Not to mention several desserts.

I prefer a simple approach. Coq au vin, which includes mushrooms and onions and often carrots as well as chicken and wine, is a complete meal. All it needs is a crusty baguette and a green salad with tomatoes and olives. And a good wine for drinking.

And that is what we had for Christmas dinner.

I forgot about dessert. But sometime around 5 p.m., before setting the table, I ventured out on our side porch to plug in the lighted wreath. There on the garden bench was a small box containing melt-in-your-mouth fudge. I know who the fudge was from, and I thank this dear friend, for he provided our Christmas dessert.

We had plenty of food left over. The day after Christmas, I cut up about a cup of chicken, prepared some pasta, and made a small casserole with leftover Alfredo sauce, carrots, mushrooms and some peas. Topped with cheese and crouton crumbs, it was a humble and unpretentious meal - which is how coq au vin began, too.

That night I made chicken paté with another chicken breast, adding one hard-boiled egg, mushrooms, minced red onion, parsley, grainy French mustard, sea salt and a bit of mayo. Great with a baguette.

Finally, I tossed all the leftovers in a pot and made soup stock, adding ham, lentils, and leftover cold potatoes. This I froze for the cold winter nights ahead.

For there will surely be many of those nights. Winter has come early to the Upper Midwest.

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08 November 2012

Frugal French Friday: Roasted Chicken



One of the best things about not working is having the time and energy to spend time in the kitchen. You can make use of everything.

Take a roasted chicken, for example. A $7 whole (chemical-free) chicken yields a variety of meals, including chicken with roasted potatoes, chicken with rice, and chicken sandwich spread. I also made soup stock from the carcass, something I always try to do.

I also - for the first time ever - did a pretty good job of trussing my chicken. Do this to keep the chicken moist and tender. It really works. I have occasionally forgotten this step, to my great regret, and ruined my share of whole chickens.

I did a masterful job this time, if I do say so myself, and the chicken was so tender and moist, it fell apart in my hands. I had to use a photo from five years ago, which I am disclosing in the interest of transparency.

I've spent a considerable amount of time researching various methods of chicken roasting, and I've come up with my own approach, which - save for the falling apart stuff - is close to perfection.

Roasted Chicken

Preheat oven to 450.
  • 1 medium whole chicken
  • 1/3 stick of butter
  • sea salt flakes
  • 1 small lemon
  • freshly ground pepper
  • herbes de Provence
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • roughly 1/3 to 1/2 bottle leftover white wine (I used Riesling)

Remove the liver or whatever is packed inside the chicken. I actually forgot to do this once.

Wash the chicken; pat dry. Quarter the lemon and cut the garlic cloves in half. Stuff these inside the chicken, along with a small handful of sea salt and herbes de Provence.

Truss the chicken; rub with butter after trussing (or it will slide around and trussing could become a contest between you and the chicken). Next rub the entire chicken with more sea salt, ground pepper and even more herbes de Provence.

Place in roasting pan. Add wine and about a cup of water. Roast for 90 minutes. I carefully turned the chicken over for the last half hour of roasting, so it would brown evenly.

When the chicken is completely roasted, remove it form the oven and let it rest about 30 minutes, covered, before removing it from the pan. Save any liquid in the pan; you can add this to your stock pot. I recommend removing the lemons if they have fallen out of the chicken. They impart a fresh flavor to the chickens while roasting, but will spoil your stock. Trust me on this one.

This chicken was packed with meat, yielding a total of eight servings. I made chicken sandwich spread, chicken vegetable soup, and used the pan drippings for pumpkin soup. I froze a small serving of chicken, so I can make a casserole for one some night when my husband is eating something I don't like.

Cost: I paid almost $7 for the chicken, but had everything else on hand. It was easily under $1 per serving.

Wine pairing: I like an oaky chardonnay. But there are many other options.

Roasting a chicken is one of the best ways to eat frugally. I have served it for Thanksgiving during lean times, and enjoyed it just as much as turkey or ham.  

01 November 2012

Frugal French Friday: Warm Brussels Sprout and Leek Salad with Roasted Walnuts and Dried Cherries



I love this time of the year. Well, I love every time of the year, but especially the countdown to Thanksgiving with its unabashed emphasis on food.

As I ponder what we'll have for Thanksgiving dinner, I've also given a fair amount of thought to where I am going with this blog and my cooking.

As some readers know, I picked the blog up again after a couple of years during which family and work obligations occupied much of my time. Blog posts were rare. We ate out a lot, and relied on simple meals.

Simple is the operative approach for me. If I'm going to continue to post at French Kitchen in America, I've got to make a commitment to myself (and anyone who reads my posts) that all recipes featured must be very doable. I'm not going to feature any dishes that take hours to prepare. I'm going to assume you are as busy as I am.

Even though I quit my full-time job five weeks ago, like most of you I have a lot going on in my life: Family, friends, workouts and fitness classes, volunteer work and yes, maybe a little bit of paid work. I like to spend time with my husband, too. And I prefer to make dishes both of us like - that can be tricky.

This pairing of Brussels sprouts and leeks was simple. I wanted to create something festive enough to serve for Thanksgiving dinner. But my immediate need was a side dish for a small filet and some herb-y roasted potatoes.

Warm Brussels Sprout and Leek Salad with Roasted Walnuts and Dried Cherries
(measurements are guidelines and subject to taste preference)


  • 24 fresh Brussels sprouts
  • 3 small-to-medium leeks
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • dash sea salt
  • dash freshly-ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup roasted walnuts
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries


Trim Brussels sprouts at the flat end; remove outer leaves. Cut into thin slices as you would an onion. Place in a large bowl. Wash and trim leeks, using only the white or very light green portions. Slice thinly; add to the Brussels sprouts. Drizzle with olive oil. Set aside.

Meanwhile, roast walnuts in a preheated 350 oven for 10 minutes. I drizzled mine with melted butter and a scant tablespoon of brown sugar.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet under medium heat,  and add sprouts and leeks. Stir constantly until golden brown and tender, lowering heat if necessary. Add lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss in roasted walnuts and cherries. Cranberries are another option.

Serve warm. I opted not to use a dressing, but a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing would be perfect; so would a creamy honey-mustard dressing.

Cost: This festive side dish can be made for about $7.

Wine Pairing: Since this side dish would be as good with ham as it would be with turkey, chicken or beef, almost anything goes!










26 October 2012

Frugal French Friday: Green Beans with Shallots and Pancetta



Clean Out the Fridge Month, which was nearly two months in duration, came to a back-breaking climax when we thoroughly cleaned our refrigerator this week. It took hours, and our blue recycling bin was quickly filled to the brim with empty jars, cans, and bottles. When we were finished, I tackled the pantry shelves, a two-day effort.

Our next project is the freezer. Right now, because of my recent flurry of soup-and-stew-making activity, the freezer is filled with individual servings. The contents should see us through the next three months.

Now my task is to eat up what's in the freezer before buying or making more. First challenge: A bag of frozen organic green beans.

What do you do with a bag of frozen green beans? I'm not the first person to ask that question. Here's an approach I really liked. I will try that sometime.

Given what I had on hand and what I wanted the dish to accompany, this recipe was a good alternative.

(You can never go wrong making Elise Bauer's classic blog, Simply Recipes, your first stop when you need a recipe that fits a specific ingredient, season, or occasion. Her ingredients are generally very accessible. I love that she wasn't afraid to use Ritz Crackers as an ingredient recently. This is how real people eat.)

This tasty side dish was incredibly simple to make and incredibly delicious to eat. The pancetta was a great foil for the blandess of green beans, and the shallots held the two flavors together nicely.

Cost: The total came to about $4. This is a side dish that will yield 3-4 servings, at about $1 per serving. I would serve this with chicken and roast potatoes. Or, make it with your Thanksgiving turkey, in place of that other green bean casserole.

Wine Pairing: Of course, this depends on what else you are serving. I'd go with a dry, crisp white. But experimenting is 50 percent of the fun.














18 October 2012

Frugal French Friday: Slow Cooker Vegetable-Lentil Soup



Perhaps the mark of a truly good cook is the ability to make a meal out of nothing, or at least make a meal out of what is on hand.

When I ponder this, it always brings to mind the traditional story of stone soup, which my father told so many times I began to think he was one of the soldiers (or travelers) who made the soup in one of the many versions of this legendary tale about sharing and cooperation.

At any rate, the ability to use scarce resources to make a nourishing meal is something I pride myself on being able to do. In my college days, it was an absolute necessity; now that I'm retired, it's fun.  

My approach has always been simple: When in doubt, make soup. So it was this week, when I surveyed the ingredients in my refrigerator and pantry. What could I make that did not involve a trip to the supermarket? The weather has been, for the most part, gray and damp. Not leaving the house but staying inside to sip soup was extremely desirable.

I keep about a dozen soup basics on hand at all times: Lentilles du Puy, frozen vegetables, stewed tomatoes and, of course, onions. (I have made my own stewed tomatoes one or twice, but I usually don't have time for this, and while I may try it again, for this particular recipe I used canned tomatoes.)

Lentilles du Puy are smaller than ordinary green lentils. They seem to retain their shape and crunch in the slow cooker. You can read more about them here.

I found this recipe online, and thought it was perfect for Frugal French Friday. When I go to France, I stock up on lentilles du Puy and other "necessities" for future kitchen adventures. I had everything else on hand. What could be more frugal?

I did not make any other ingredient changes, other than to use plain old mixed vegetables, which I bought last week on sale, earmarking them for vegetable soup.  I did place two small bay leaves in the slow cooker while the soup was cooking. I used French thyme from my own garden and onions that were grown locally.

Prep time is about 40 minutes. I found that my soup needed seven hours to bring out the maximum flavor and tenderness. My slow cooker is old, so perhaps it is a bit slower than most.

Cost: The entire production cost about $7-8, and I expect to get 12-14 servings from it. That's about 66 cents per serving. I'm freezing about two-thirds of it for suppers on cold winter nights. It will be stashed away next to the beef stew and cabbage soup I've already made and popped in the freezer this fall.

Wine Pairing: A rustic syrah is recommended.