Things The French Do Right: Part One
Posted on April 10, 2014
I’m as guilty as the next person of sending work emails after hours so I can get one thing off of the following day’s to-do list. To wit: The email I sent LSU about the class I’d like to teach in Fall 2014 left my inbox at 9:20 p.m. Monday night. Yes, it probably could have waited until Tuesday morning, but I console myself thinking about how my husband was up far later than I was sending emails that probably could have waited too.
This sets up my latest argument for why our family needs to pack up and move to France.
Yesterday, French employers’ federations and labor unions signed a new, legally binding agreement that requires staffers to turn off their work phones after 6 p.m. The deal affects one million workers in the technology and consultancy sectors, and aims to keep workers from feeling pressured to look at or respond to job-related requests after hours. When I saw this story, I thought “Well, how about that? That’s more proof that the French have some shred of good sense about work-life balance. Vive la France! Let’s move!”
So I took this tale to the mister who said that it sounded really nice (in an exhausted sort of “Oh boy, here we go again. Another argument for moving to France.” way). But he added that he actually didn’t feel the pressure to respond to after-hours emails. He only felt the pressure to send the missives that happen to be the root of the problem. And before I could exclaim, “but we could move to France and reform ourselves (after we bang our heads on the wall sorting through all the requisite residency paperwork),” he actually found a way of tying up all his work-related loose ends by 6 p.m.
Husband: 1, Paige: 0
But the battle rages on…
Blogger, cookbook author and former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz has a new book of stories and recipes out called My Paris Kitchen. What I love about the book is that it puts a culinary twist on this centuries-old question the French like to ask themselves: What does it mean to be French? Lebovitz answers this in his own inimitable way, illustrating how global influences from India to North Africa and even his native United States have shaped classic French cuisine. Plus, you get a tantalizing taste of what he might serve with cocktails or for dinner on a given day.
And that’s what makes it so difficult to decide what to cook first. It all looks so good and, better yet, accessible for the average home cook.
Last night I chose to make his chicken with mustard sauce recipe, the dish featured on the cover. It was a tricky choice because my husband and daughter are not big fans of mustard and if I ever want to use it in a dish, I have to sneak it in and refuse to answer them if they ask me what’s in the chicken. When my daughter asked me what I was making last night, I replied “Chicken in Awesome Sauce” because by then I had dipped my spoon into the skillet enough to know that the sauce was, indeed, beyond awesome.
Sometimes I feel like this is my theme song when it comes to tricking those two into eating things that I like:
Here’s what you need to make this:
1/2 cup and 3 TBS of Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. of smoked paprika
4 chicken legs and 4 chicken thighs
1 cup diced bacon
1 diced small onion
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 cup of white wine
1 TBS mustard seeds
2-3 TBS heavy cream
chopped fresh parsley to finish
1. In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the mustard with paprika, pepper and salt. Put the chicken pieces in the mixture and cover them with it, rubbing some of the sauce underneath the skin.
2. Heat a skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the bacon, cooking it until brown. Remove the bacon and drain it.
3. Leave 1 TBS bacon fat in the pan, then add onion and cook for five minutes until translucent. Stir in thyme, cook for another few minutes and scrape into a bowl big enough to fit the chicken.
4. Put chicken in the pan (adding olive oil, if necessary) and brown it well on both sides on medium-high heat. As Lebovitz advises, good brown color makes for a great tasting sauce.
Here’s the chicken when it first went into the pan. Please don’t deduct points because I used leg/thigh pieces.
5. When the chicken is well-browned, remove it from the pan and put it in the bowl with the onions. Then add wine to the hot pan and scrape up the fond (a.k.a. really tasty bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan).
Scraping up the fond. Loving the smell. Mmm…sauce.
6. Put the chicken, bacon and onions back into the pan, cover and cook on low to medium heat until the chicken is cooked through. This should take about 15 minutes.
7. Then, remove the pan from the stove, stir in the remaining Dijon mustard, mustard seeds and cream. Top with parsley and serve with linguine noodles (you gotta sop up that awesome sauce with something) and haricots verts.
The husband usually hates mustard, but liked this tremendously. The child was a little less convinced (but she is a work in progress; I tend to take a Karen Le Billon approach to her eating habits, anyway…trying, trying, trying again). Me? I loved this and will absolutely make it again.
And so, the new score:
Husband: 1, Paige: 1
We shall see what the next inning brings…
Lebovitz had a great behind-the-scenes post this week about what went into making his recent book. Aside from all the gorgeous photography and anecdotes about rose wine consumed, I really appreciated the look at the often-agonizing process of seeing a book into print. Few people know that the proposal stage alone can take almost a year in some cases, sometimes requiring total overhauls and reshapings along the way. He writes:
Writing a book is an all-consuming process, at least for me. My Paris Kitchen started out as a non-cookbook proposal that took me nearly eight months to write. People who want to write a book are always astonished when I tell them that it takes that long (at least it takes me that long), to write a proposal. But it’s the most important part of the cookbook process. It’s where you clarify and distill your ideas, and create your vision of the book. And in turn, it allows the publisher to grasp your idea of your book, who you are, and the intended audience…
After I sent the publisher at Ten Speed Press the proposal I had slaved over, he sent me a message: “You should do a book of recipes about how you cook. What is your Paris cooking?”
Grrr, eight months down the drain. But as a writer, sometimes you write and write and write for hours, thinking you came up with something brilliant. Then you go back and reread it the next day, and delete the whole thing. And start all over again.
But the point is, he persevered and has a really gorgeous book to show for it. His account is inspiring to me at a time when I’ve just finished a total overhaul of my own book proposal. So he gave me faith…and great chicken. And sometimes that’s all a girl can ask for.