Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chicken Marengo – the famous French dish invented by Napoleon’s battlefield chef to celebrate Napoleon’s success in northwest Italy in 1800

Chicken Marengo is one of our favorite easy “go-to” dishes. If you use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, it can easily be made in under an hour and the wonderful history alone is enough reason to serve it at a dinner party. A great conversation starter at the table is to tell your guests about its colorful history.

Napoleon’s chef was a man named Durand. According to legend, when Napoleon defeated the Austrians on the battlefield near the village of Marengo in northwest Italy in June of 1800, Durand created the dish Chicken Marengo. The supply trains hadn’t been able to keep up with the troops, so there wasn’t anything with which to make dinner for the temperamental Napoleon. Durand decided to send some of his men into the countryside to find provisions for a celebration dinner. On a nearby farm they found chicken, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, olive oil and garlic.

There are dozens of stories about the creation of the actual dish. Some say it was garnished with crayfish and fried eggs; others insist it included olives, anchovies, and Italian Prosciutto, which would make it Chicken Provencale.

It’s simple to use Chicken Marengo as a base recipe for Chicken Provencal. Just exclude the mushrooms and add the prosciutto, olives and anchovies. If you’re not an anchovy fan, simply leave them out. I usually don’t mention the anchovies and follow Mario Batali’s rule of “you’re not obliged to tell.”

Just for fun, I combined the two dishes today and included mushrooms, prosciutto, olives and anchovies. I like to serve this with parsley rice that I’ve molded into a small dish. Spray a mold with a bit of cooking spray and pack the rice in well. To serve, invert over a plate and carefully remove the mold.

Chicken Provencal
Adapted from A Jug of Wine by Morrison Wood & 60 Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey

4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts, about 6 ounces each
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 small yellow onions, peeled and chopped, about 1 cup
1 ½ cups sliced fresh button mushrooms
2 teaspoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
Generous pinch of dried thyme and oregano
½ cup Italian Prosciutto, diced
1 14-ounce canned whole tomatoes, cut into pieces, juices reserved
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon flour
4 – 6 chopped good quality anchovies, chopped (optional, but recommended)
1 cup olives, preferably small French ones

Dry the chicken well and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dust the chicken pieces lightly in flour. In a large skillet heat the olive oil and sauté the chicken until it is golden brown, turning frequently so that all pieces are done evenly. If they don’t all fit, cook them in two batches. Do not crowd in the skillet or they will steam. When the chicken is browned nicely on both sides, remove and cover to keep warm.

In the same skillet put chopped onions, sliced fresh mushrooms, minced parsley, and, if necessary, a little more olive oil. Cook until the mushrooms are tender, seasoning the mushrooms with salt and freshly ground black pepper as they cook. Add garlic and cook for one minute more. Add the thyme, oregano, and prosciutto cook for another minute, and then add the tomatoes, dry white wine, brandy, tomato paste and flour. Mix and blend the ingredients well, and allow it simmer over a medium flame for about 10 minutes. Now put the chicken back in the sauce, cover the pan, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is completely tender. Add the anchovies to the sauce about 10 minutes before it is ready and the olives five minutes before you serve. Serve in the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add a little of the reserved tomato juice. Serves 4.

Monday, March 22, 2010

French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Fontaine de Vaucluse in Provence

When we were in Provence, I stuffed my suitcase with souvenirs of our market finds to bring home – golden olive wood spoons, small rustic burlap bags of herbs de Provence and the grainy French finishing salt fleur de sel, dried lavender sachets in colorful Provencal print fabrics for my lingerie drawers, fat square olive oil soaps stamped with savons de Marseilles, bags of nutty brown rice harvested in the Camargue, a bottle of carefully wrapped truffle oil, and several boxes of the tiny French green lentils lentilles du Puy.

We’ve long since consumed the nutty tasting French lentils and I hadn’t thought of them in a while until I saw a recipe for Salade of Lentilles du Puy on Stacey’s Snacks. Stacey blogs daily and has some wonderful recipes. If you’re not familiar with her blog, you’re missing some great food and I highly recommend her site.

Today the photographs in this post are from Fontaine de Valcluse, 7km east of L’Isle sur la Sorgue in France. It is very popular tourist destination, so if you go, I recommend you go early in the day.

Stacey adapted her lentil salad from David Libovitz, food authority and celebrated author who currently resides in Paris and also has a fantastic blog. David refers to lentilles du puy as “cheap caviar.” They are from the Auvergne area and David insists when you purchase them, be sure they’re labeled A.O.C. so you don’t buy the ordinary French green lentils. If you’re not lucky enough to live in Paris where David buys his lentils at La Graineterie du Marche, Amazon sells them on line.

When I made it the first time, I didn’t think it had enough of either one so I added more carrots and red onion than the original recipe called for. Perhaps my carrots were smaller, I don’t know. I also used dried thyme.

If you can find sherry vinegar, I think it makes all the difference in the dish. I usually get it at Fresh Market, but you can also buy it on line at Sur la Table. I like the Columela 30-year Reserva Sherry Vinegar, that’s been aged in oak barrels for 30 years (just like wine). Sherry vinegar can also be used in vinaigrette with nut oil for a change of pace from a red wine vinaigrette. Here’s my recipe.

French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese
Salade of Lentilles du Puy
Adapted from David Libovitz via Stacey’s Snacks

1 ¼ cups lentils, preferably French Lentiles du Puy
1 dried bay leaf
Kosher salt
Best quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 large carrot or two small, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small red onion, peeled and chopped
½ teaspoon dried thyme
4 or 5 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, peeled and minced
Crumbled goat cheese

Rinse the lentils well and remove any stones. Transfer the lentils to a large saucepan and cover with lots of water, at least 3-4 inches. Add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, add a bit of salt, and simmer for 15-25 minutes, until the lentils are just tender, adding more water if necessary. I suggest testing them after 15 minutes and if they aren’t done, continue to taste every five minutes until they are still a little crunchy but taste done. Do not to overcook them or they will become mushy when you dress them.

While the lentils are cooking, heat a few spoonfuls of olive oil in a skillet and add the carrots and onions. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried thyme. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender. Set aside and remove the bay leaf.

In a small jar with a tight fitting lid, make a vinaigrette by adding the vinegar, oil and shallot, then shake well to emulsify and set aside. When the lentils are done, drain them well, and toss them with the vinaigrette, the cooked vegetables and the parsley. Taste and season with more salt, pepper, and olive oil if needed. . Serve warm or at room temperature on baby lettuce and top with crumbled goat cheese. Serves 6. Cooked lentils will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. They can be gently reheated in a pan on the stovetop or in a microwave, but take extra care not to overcook them.

This will be linked to Oh the Places I've Been at the Tablescaper. Have a nice weekend everyone.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An easy dessert made for friends celebrating a few new awards

I’ve received a few awards in the last month from some friends and I want to say thank you to them by making a super-simple dessert. I saw these gorgeous sesame glass biscuits in a Donna Hay magazine and thought they would be perfect with a few scoops of sorbet for an easy dessert.

Sesame Glass Biscuits
Adapted from Donna Hay

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a quarter sheet pan with parchment paper and sprinkle with ¾ cup super-fine caster sugar. (If you can’t find caster sugar, put fine sugar in the bowl of a food processor and whirl for about thirty seconds to make super-fine sugar.) Sprinkle the sugar with about a tablespoon of black and white sesame seeds. Bake 30-35 minutes or until the sugar is melted and golden. Set aside to cool and harden. Break the sugar into shards. The shards may be stored at room temperature in an air-tight container for several days. Serve with sorbet, ice cream, dessert wine or coffee. Serves four to six.  

I am always so honored with friends pass along an award. I feel like I’ve just won the Triple Crown with three awards. Awards make you feel special, much like a thank you from a dear friend.

Along with awards come certain responsibilities, such as

1- Thank the person who awarded you
2- Copy the logo and paste it on your blog
3- Link to the person who nominated you for the award
4- Name things about yourself that people might find interesting
5- Nominate other bloggers to receive the award
6- Post links to the blogs you nominate
7- Leave a comment on each of the blogs to let them know they’ve been nominated

I’ve told so much about myself that I know you don’t want to know more. If, by chance, you’ve missed that, here’s “more about me.” I know some of you have award free blogs and that’s fine. It’s up to the individual to pass them along or not as they see fit. I’m not much into rules, as you probably know.

Tish of A Femme d’un Certain Age has a fabulous blog filled with everything chic and fashionable with a French twist. She makes you feel good and I’m so pleased she’s honored me with the Sunshine Award. Thank you Tish. You bring a lot of sunshine into my life. I would like to pass the Sunshine Award along to:

Rebecca’s Chow & Chatter
Kathryn Stripling Byer’s Here Where I Am

Jeanne-Aelita of Through the French Eye of Design is a former Paris stylist converted to interior design in New York and has a beautiful blog filled with gorgeous pieces. She and Tish of A Femme d’un Certain Age has a Transatlantic parallel post each Monday where they compare the difference between the French and the Americans. It’s a wonderful reason for looking forward to Monday. I want to thank Jean-Aelita for the Sugar Doll award and I wish to pass it along to:

Last and certainly not least, my friend Sophie of Sophie’s Food Files presents fabulous healthy food treats with a twist from Belgium. I subscribe to Sophie’s Food Files and always look forward with great anticipation to those new email posts. I would like to thank Sophie for the Honest Scrap Award and wish to pass it along to:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Laid-Back Breakfast at the Abaco Inn on Elbow Cay in the out islands of the Bahamas and visiting with friends at our old home on Lubbers Quarters

There’s no better way to start a lazy Sunday morning that to have breakfast at the laid-back Abaco Inn on Elbow Cay in the Bahamas with old friends. Judy, the manager of the inn and also a friend, greeted our group with steaming pots of coffee and seated us at a large table by the window overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Anyone for a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa? Or how about Abaco Inn’s house drink, a tropical rum punch called the Bahama Breeze.

Viola was custom making omelets on the breakfast buffet line and the special of the morning was Bahamian Chicken Souse. Souse is a favorite of locals made with chicken, potatoes or noodles, and celery in a spicy, soupy broth seasoned with fiery bird peppers, allspice, and native lime wedges. Here’s an authentic recipe for Chicken Souse.

Wednesday night we visited our old home on Lubbers Quarters where they had a big dinner in our honor. They say you can never go home, but thanks to our friends, we did. The owners of our old house Lazy Days had a big party for us and as you can see, everyone was having fun.

I want to tell you a story of going to dinner at our old house several years ago right after we sold it. When houses are sold in the islands, they are sold completely furnished and all the new owners have to do is bring their toothbrush and that’s how we sold our home Lazy Days. The new owners invited us over for dinner. As we entered the house, nothing had changed except it was no longer our house.

I asked Meakin later if he had a nice time. “No,” he said.

Shocked at his answer, I said, “Well, why not? They are lovely people and Patti cooked a fabulous meal.”

“He was sitting in my chair.”

“I can understand how you feel honey, it’s his chair now and David paid you plenty for it.”

Somehow the story of the chair got out and on this visit (remember, nothing is secret in the islands), David announced that tonight it was once again Meakin’s chair in honor of our visit. The whole evening no one dared to sit in the chair. Here’s Meakin enjoying “visiting” his chair.