The Culinary Adventure of Cookbook Club: My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Introducing a whole new side trip for this blog: a cookbook club! In truth, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been cooking with this great group of people for over two years now, and it’s one of the great pleasures of my life. The culinary experience of our little gang ranges from professional chefs, to enthused hobbyists (hello!), to a some very busy moms who love to have an excuse to cook up a storm once in awhile. We embrace whatever everyone brings to the table, because it is all good.

Selection of cooked dishes on a countertop
Cookbook Club! (image by The Global Reader)
We meet once every other month, and hosting duties rotate. The current host picks the cookbook, and then everyone selects their dish or dishes from there. It’s a great system, and we are clicking along nicely with the format. We’ve also started to add more informal dinners on the off-months, but that’s a post for another time…

This month, the cookbook was My Paris Kitchen, by David Lebovitz. If you’ve caught any of the of the hype around this book, go ahead and believe it because it is EXCELLENT.

The first dish I brought to the party: Chicken with Mustard. Straight-forward ingredients, relaxing to cook, so good to eat; this is a keeper.


Chicken with Mustard (adapted from My Paris Kitchen)

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika ( I used smoked)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • 8 pieces dark-meat, bone-in, skin-on chicken (separate thighs and drumsticks; 4 to 5 pounds total) ( I used boneless thighs, since I knew some folks prefer that)
  • 1 cup diced smoked thick-cut bacon
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (may substitute 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme) I used dry
  • Olive oil (optional)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed (may substitute coarse-grain mustard)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons crème fraîche or heavy cream ( I used heavy cream)
  • Warm water (optional)
  • Finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or chives, for garnish
Directions

Mix 1/2 cup of the Dijon mustard in a bowl with the paprika, a few generous grinds of pepper and the salt. Toss the chicken pieces in the mustard mixture, lifting the skin and rubbing some of the mixture underneath. Note: I had a combo of drumsticks, and then boneless thighs. I knew that a few of our group preferred chicken off the bone (as does my husband), so I wanted to see how that would go. Tastes just as good!

Line a plate with a few layers of paper towel. Heat a large, wide skillet with a cover, or a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking. Add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until it has crisped and browned and most of its fat has rendered. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon pieces to the lined plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet.

Add the onion and stir to coat. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times, until the onion is softened and mostly translucent. Stir in the thyme; cook for a few minutes, until fragrant, then use a spatula to scrape the contents of the skillet into a large bowl.

Return the skillet or Dutch oven to medium-high heat; once it’s quite hot, add the chicken pieces skin side down; if they don’t fit, work in two batches, adding oil as needed. Cook until well-browned on the bottom, then turn the pieces over and cook to achieve good color on the second side; this might take 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the onion.

Pour the wine into the pan to deglaze it, keeping clear of the steam that rises. Use a firm spatula to quickly dislodge any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. (This is the key to the whole dish. Get all of that browned up goodness into the sauce!)

Return all of the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet or Dutch oven and add the onion mixture and bacon. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the chicken pieces over a few times during cooking. To check for doneness, insert the sharp tip of a knife into the meat next to the thigh bone; if the meat is still pink, cook for a few more minutes.

Once the chicken is cooked through, remove the skillet or Dutch oven from the heat. Stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, the mustard seed and the crème fraîche or heavy cream to form a sauce. If it seems too thick, stir in a little warm water.

Sprinkle chopped parsley or chives over the top. Serve hot.

Chicken with Mustard in an orange Dutch oven
Chicken with Mustard from My Paris Kitchen (image by The Global Reader)

 

I also made the Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse. Hello! SO GOOD! I’m sort of sad to know that I can make this, because now I always will and there’s no chance of ever being skinny again.  Oh well!

I’m just going to link out to Epicurious for this one, since my photos of the mousse are terrifying. Note to self: chocolate doesn’t look awesome just flatly photographed on a white plate. One note before I send you on your way: I made this twice, once with semisweet chocolate, and then with bittersweet. Both are fantastic, but I recommend the latter. The mousse is already very sweet with the caramel sauce; you don’t need the extra sugar at all.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse

An absolute 5 star rating for this cookbook! Go buy it now, and cook happy!

Tudor Cooking: Tarte Owte of Lent

I’m just getting started with a really fun online class, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, a collaboration between University of Reading and Historic Royal Palaces.

I’ve been a history nerd most of my life, and I’ve always had a very soft spot for those most rowdy of English monarchs, the Tudors. All those good stories…and as luck would have it, the first week of this course is focused on foods that appeared on the tables of Henry VIII, so I’ve been super excited to dive right in.

The lesson focused on a savory cheese tart that was one of the first dishes served right after Lent, because it’s loaded with goodies folks had been denied for 40 days: cheese, cream, butter, eggs. You know, the stuff of life.

Very easy to make, and so tasty. It certainly isn’t low-calorie, but it is the definition of respecting high-quality ingredients in a very clean, simple way. This will be going into the regular rotation at my humble home…

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Tarte Owte of Lent (image by The Global Reader)

Tarte Owte of Lent (Tart Out of Lent)

adapted from a recipe from Historic Royal Palaces

Ingredients: to make 6-8 portions

For the filling

  • 1/3 pound  Cheddar cheese (I used a really good Welsh Cheddar)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 medium sized egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste ( I wanted this to be peppery, so I used a couple big pinches)

For the pastry case

  • 1 package frozen deep-dish pie crust (2 crusts), thawed
  • Egg yolks for glazing

Instructions:

  • Chop or shred the cheese and then pound in a mortar
  • Add cream, egg and butter and mix together to make a thick cream (about the consistency of Cottage Cheese – add more cream if too dry, more cheese if too wet)
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter a 9 or 10 inch tart pan
  • Roll out your bottom crust, and press into prepared tart pan
  • Fill with cheese, cream, egg and butter mixture
  • Roll out the second crust, a bit thinner this time then fold out as a lid.
  • Seal and glaze with egg yolks
  • Bake at 375°F for 35-40 minutes, or until golden
  • Allow to cool a little and serve

I served it with a simple salad of lettuce and mint (herbs were commonly used in salads during that period), dressed with oil and vinegar. I also put a little cherry ginger jam on the side of the tart. We learned in our class that Henry was particularly fond of fruit jellies and jams, and cherries and ginger were ingredients commonly encountered at his court. I also just got back from a trip to Northern Michigan (cherries everywhere!) and was thrilled to come across this wonderful stuff from a company called Cherry Stop while I was there. You should get some; nicely gingery, and not too sweet.

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A serving of the tart with cherry ginger jam on the side, and a simple salad (Image by The Global Reader)

And to finish this up, I have to toss in some pics from my recent trip to Hampton Court.
An overcast, blustery day in late January. Hardly anyone there. My husband and I just wondered around, taking it all in. We even got to be alone with this crackling fire for a few minutes. Total and complete bliss.

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Kitchen fireplace at Hampton Court (image by The Global Reader)

And finally, where Henry and his most honored quests would dine: The Great Hall. A tart very similar to this was probably served there!

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The Great Hall of Hampton Court (image by The Global Reader)

Sweetness from Niger

Been intrigued by that $10 box of hibiscus tea that seems to be popping up everywhere lately? Just keep walking, to the nearest African or Latin market, and buy the real stuff. Known by many different names (sorrel, flor de Jamaica, roselle, arhul ka phool, and on and on), this little red flower is beloved just about everywhere.

In Niger, it’s called bissap, and is the basis of this super pleasing drink. You should make it. Right now.

Dried hibiscus flowers
Dried hibiscus flowers
(image by The Global Reader)

Bissap Juice

Adapted from a recipe at Seeking the Songhai

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dark red, dried hibiscus flowers
    2 cups sugar*
    2 teaspoons of vanilla
    2 cups pineapple juice

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan or dutch oven, bring 2 quarts of water to boiling.
    Remove from heat and add the hibiscus.
  2. Steep for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Separate the flowers and leaves from the water with a strainer.
  4. Add the sugar, vanilla, and pineapple juice. Let cool.
  5. Transfer to a pitcher, and serve over ice with few fresh mints leaves as a garnish.
Hibiscus leaves steeping
Hibiscus leaves steeping
(image by The Global Reader)

This also makes GREAT ice pops. I plan on having some bissap pops in my freezer at all times. I’m eating one right now, as a matter of fact.

  • Just pour into ice pop molds, or ice cube trays, freeze, and enjoy.

*Hibiscus is tart, which I really like. I personally found the above amount of sugar to be overly sweet. The next time I make this for drinking, I’ll use less. For the ice pops however, the sweetness level works really well as-is.

Bissap ice pop
Bissap ice pop
(image by The Global Reader)

Cooking for Niger: Getting to Know Millet

At least on-line, Niger seems to get a bit overshadowed, culinary-speaking, by a few of its neighbors (looking at you, Nigeria and Mali), but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. The book I read about Niger focused primarily on the Songhay in the northwestern part of the country, so I narrowed my recipe search to the same.

It does make me realize that as much as I’m learning from all of my reading and cooking, there’s still a whole world out there I’m passing by. Focusing on one group in one corner of a nation doesn’t give me the big picture, and I hope my very kind readers know that I know that. I’m limited by time; if I had the space, I would want to meet everyone and learn everything.

OK. Back to the food…

This was really good, by the way!

Peanut and Greens Stew

Adapted from a recipe at EveryCulture.com

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped roasted peanuts*
  • 2 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 3 cups trimmed and finely chopped spinach
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and peanuts. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until onion is soft.
  2. Stir in peanut butter, tomato, tomato paste, spinach, red pepper, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat.
  3. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Serve over millet*** or rice.

* I really deep-roasted the peanuts. I got raw peanuts in the shell, shelled and then roasted them in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes. They were dark brown, but not burnt, and they added a super rich, deep flavor that I highly recommend.

Peanuts and Greens Stew
Peanuts and Greens Stew
(image by The Global Reader)

Sort of cheating with this one, since Niger is not technically North African, but hey – grilled corn is popular here, there, and everywhere, and I thought the spices would go well with the stew…

North African Grilled Corn on the Cob

Adapted from a recipe at Food.com

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 12 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 12 teaspoon salt
  • 14 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    Spices mixed for North African Corn on the Cob
    Spices mixed for North African Corn on the Cob
    (image by The Global Reader)
  • 14 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 dash clove
  • 4 ears corn, with husks
  • 2 teaspoons (or really as much as you want) butter or olive oil**

Instructions:

  1.  Prepare grill.
  2. Combine first 8 ingredients in a small bowl or jar; set aside.
  3. Melt butter in small saucepan on stove or grill, add as much of the spice mix as you want, stir until blended.
  4. Pull husks back from corn, and scrub silks. Brush spiced butter over corn, sprinkle with spice mixture. Place corn on grill rack; grill 12 minutes or until done, turning corn occasionally. You will have some charred spots – you want those!

* *This recipe could easily be made vegan by using olive oil instead of butter.

Niger Dinner
Niger Dinner
(image by T. Farmer)

***How to Cook Millet

Millet is a drought-tolerant crop, and therefore a super important food in arid places where growing conditions can be challenging. It was mentioned quite often in reading about Niger, so it was for sure going to be on the menu for Niger.
First time cooking it, but it won’t be the last. Really good flavor and texture; you should check it out if you aren’t familiar. It’s a popular grain in many parts of the world; I found mine at a Polish grocery store. There are many ways to cook it; I went with the couscous-like style.

Adapted from a recipe at thekitchn.com

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw millet
    2 cups water (or broth, if you’d prefer)
    ¼ teaspoon salt, optional
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter, optional

Instructions:

1. In a large, dry saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat, toast the raw millet for 4-5 minutes. I stirred the whole time: the important thing is not let the grains burn.

2. Add the water and salt to the pan, being aware that the water will sputter and maybe splash since the pan is hot. Stir the millet well, increase the heat, and bring to a boil.

3. Once it boils, decrease the heat to low, drop in the butter (if using) and cover the pot. Simmer until the grains absorb most, but not all, of the water (the millet will continue soaking it up as it sits), about 15 minutes. Don’t lift the lid or stir too often. Too much fussing will cause the grains to break up and change texture.

4. Take the millet off the heat, and let sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Then fluff with a fork and add more salt, if needed.

5. Millet needs to be served warm, and don’t shoot for leftovers. This grain does not seem to reheat well, and really dries out.

Millet in its raw state
Millet in its raw state
(image by The Global Reader)