A French Affair

It is always a very special time when my parents visit me in New York.

I have now spent over half of my life abroad, first in London and now here, and I know it can’t have been easy for my parents to always accept the fact that I will probably never come back to France.

Admittedly, I think they realized quite early on that they had given birth to a child with aspirations to live elsewhere when I created a “language” that I pretended was English when I was apparently barely 6 years old. I soon after asked my Dad to teach me the real thing and he had to dust off some of his old school books to give me the basics. Thanks to him, by the time I was old enough a few years later to take English as a subject at school, I had a pretty good basic command of the language and learned the rest quickly. And of course there was also the time when, for a school assignment when I was 12, I had to produce an essay in English and chose to write about my dream of living in America one day. It must have been an impassioned piece because I remember my teacher choosing to read it out loud to the entire class!

Without my parents’ complete and unwavering support, I would have never been able to go and study abroad in the UK and start this journey of mine. So every time they have visited me either in London or now in New York, I have always wanted to make sure that they have the best time possible.

It helps that they are so easy to please and also pretty adventurous themselves – I have no concerns about letting them explore the city by themselves, despite my dad’s now rusty English: they always manage to make themselves understood and even make new friends. I have witnessed first hand, and often in disbelief because I know how dismissive a New Yorker in a hurry can be (since I am one of them!), how helpful and lovely people are to them. My parents loved London and now they love New York too, which is wonderful to see.

They have also been delighted by my rediscovered love of cooking and I was particularly looking forward to treating them and making lovely meals for them this time around.

When they arrived after a long flight and battling jetlag, I knew I wanted to keep things simple and quite light. I had long told them about the chicken liver paté I make and that my friends are so fond of, so I made that the night before, knowing that it would also handily serve as an appetizer/aperitif for a few of the following evenings. The recipe I use is from the “I am a food blog” cookbook and I have copied it at the end of this post since I can’t find it online. I served some crackers and prosciutto alongside it, as well as a couple of side salads. A marinated fennel salad with parmesan shavings in a very citrusy vinaigrette – I love fennel in every form but especially raw and marinated a little so it still has a crunch and freshness to it. And the lovely tomato and almond salad that I had already experimented with while I was stuck at home with a broken foot.

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I made them a couple of other meals that I had already done in the past (such as salmon kedgeree and roasted halibut with basil butter and ground almonds) but I was also most excited to show them how amazing beef tenderloins taste when cooked sous-vide. So I made that one night using my previous recipe – simply setting the seasoned beef fillets in a 130F bath for 2 hours and then searing on high heat about 5 minutes before serving. I served the fillets with a dollop of shallot and tarragon compound butter on top (ridiculously good – but I personally don’t bother using the food processor and instead chop everything very finely by hand) and accompanied by a side of parmesan risotto and some simple but well seasoned steamed asparagus.

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And my Mum treated me by making her famous Boeuf Bourguignon (recipe also copied at the bottom of this post). I have made it myself but it never surpasses hers and I hope it never does – there is nothing more comforting to me than this dish knowing she has prepared it for me with so much love and care.

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Chicken Liver Paté Recipe

Warning – this is not for the faint hearted! Cleaning livers is frankly pretty grim and I usually tackle the task as fast as I can, with a glass of wine and some good music in the background to distract me. But believe me, however gross the initial preparation for this dish is, it is absolutely more than worth it!

450g chicken livers
2 small shallots, minced
30g butter
80ml whiskey
60ml heavy cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. five spice
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 sprigs of thyme
114g melted butter

Clean the liver (taking care to remove any connective tissue and blood spots) and chop into roughly 1.3cm cubes

Melt the 30g of butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and liver. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until slightly brown but still pink inside. Scrape into a food processor.

Add whiskey to the pan and boil over high heat until reduced by half. Add whiskey reduction, cream, salt, pepper, five spice and thyme to the blender. Blend until smooth. Add the melted butter and process again. Push through a sieve and into container (I like using a mason jar). While the original recipe calls for chilling the paté for just 2 hours in the fridge, I highly recommend making it the day before and chilling it overnight to achieve the very best flavor.

 

My Mum’s Boeuf Bourguignon

Please excuse the lack of very precise measurements for this recipe – this is basically what I have to deal with most of the time when trying to get a dish of out my Mum’s repertoire. She does not mean to be unhelpful, it’s just that so much of what she cooks is instinctual to her that she sometimes forgets the small touches she adds that make the dish so special and I am left to my own devices filling in the blanks and guessing the quantities 🙂

1.5 Kgs beef chuck cubes
200 g of diced pancetta (or ideally lardons)
2 medium onions, chopped
1 beef stock cube melted into around 2 or 3 cups of good red wine that has been heated on the stove (good enough that the same wine will be consumed with the dish)
Some thyme (perhaps a couple of teaspoons), a couple of bay leaves and a few pinches of Herbes de Provence
40 g of butter
A little olive oil
1 or 2 tablespoons of flour
1 or 2 potatoes per person, depending on appetite

In a casserole dish, melt the butter with a little olive oil (to prevent the butter burning at high temperature) and add the chopped onions, until they are golden and tender. Remove them and place on a plate.
In the same pan, add the diced pancetta and let it color a little before adding the beef cubes and then sprinkle the flour on top and stir well to coat.
Next, add the beef/warm red wine broth until it covers the meat completely – if necessary add water.
Then add the onions back in along with the thyme, bay leaves and  Herbes de Provence. Bring back to the boil and then cover and simmer slowly for at least an hour, checking and stirring on the bourguignon from time to time.
Simply cook the potatoes in their skin in generously salted water. My mum likes to remove their skin once they are cooked and then adds them to the bourguignon to keep them warm before serving.
This dish is even better served the day after!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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