CHICKEN WITH MUSTARD AND RED PEPPER (a.k.a. Picnic Chicken) . . . a Paris classic . . . Poulet Grille a la Diable

 

The winter rain that falls in Paris comes down in silver threads,  and streets  glisten and reflect the light.   Moisture fogs the windows of cafés and bistros and turns them into welcoming beacons of comfort.

Down the street from my little house in Paris is a tiny bistro. The wooden chairs and the tiny black and white tiles on the floor show their age.    Decades of patrons have worn them to comfortable perfection The tables are close together. The menu is chalked on a blackboard.   It is where you want to be on a cold, damp, raining winter night.

The chilly night calls for something hot and fiery,  á la diable.   Diable is associated with anything hot and fiery. You will find various versions of this classic chicken in cafés and bistros all over Paris.   Chicken or meat seasoned with mustard and hot pepper then coated with bread-crumbs.

My recipe for CHICKEN WITH MUSTARD AND RED PEPPER is a riff on a recipe by Patricia Wells.  Her book, THE PARIS COOKBOOK.  To read or cook from it  is pure delight.   I use French Dijon and coarse-grain French Dijon, a whisper of cayenne pepper, a dusting of red pepper flakes .  It goes together quickly.  Almost before you finish singing La Marseillaise you  top it with a little butter and pop it in the oven and bake it (despite the name).     Pour yourself a glass of sauvignon blanc (it goes well with the chicken)  and voila!   That’s it.

Here’s the very, very best part of this recipe.  I think it tastes better the next day.    It is NOT left over chicken.    You can double or even triple the recipe.   Don’t be concerned about the amount of red pepper flakes and cayenne called for in the recipe.  For some wonderful and unexplained reason they become just a hint of spice.   This is the chicken recipe to serve again and again and call it your own.  Tweak the spices.  Add a little more of this.   A little less of that.  To go with the chicken I roast chunks of  Yukon Gold potatoes tossed in a glug of extra-virgin olive oil and a generous sprinkle of coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  This chicken recipe is known in our home as PICNIC CHICKEN because it is so delicious eaten cold the next day.  The flavours absolutely sing.

I always pack  Poulet GvillÉ a la Diable  in my big wicker basket  when Theadora, The Tin Man and myself head to the summer sandy Paris Beach.  We lounge on the beach next to Pont Neuf bridge.  Full size palm trees provide shade, and the passing parade of chic Parisians in beach attire provide the entertainment.

This no-fail chicken recipe that speaks of good things with a decided French accent awaits you in MRSBUTTERFINGERS kitchen.  Bon Appetit dear friends.

(Paris photo by Patrick Horpar)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SROOGE’S NEPHEW TELLS US HOW TO KEEP CHRISTMAS . . . 174 years later.

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, “Christmas among the rest.  But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round-apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-as a good time:  a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time:  the only time I known of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it HAS done me good, and WILL do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

(Charles Dickens.   Published in 1843.  Copied from the pages of  “THE ANNIVERSARY EDITION OF THE WORKS  OF CHARLES DICKENS  FEBRUARY, 7 1812” .   In the quiet evenings leading to Christmas Day I have been reading from my copy of this book (1911 edition).  More than one hundred years ago other hands turned these pages.  Read “A CHRISTMAS CAROL. IN PROSE.  BEING A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS”.  Other eyes studied intently the illustrations then turned to the next story.  “THE CHIMES.  A GOBLIN STORY OF SOME BELLS THAT RANG AN OLD YEAR OUT AND A NEW YEAR IN”.  This was followed by “THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.  A FAIRY TALE OF HOME”.    Then “THE BATTLE OF LIFE.  A LOVE STORY”.     Dickens took me to dark places with “THE HAUNTED MAN AND THE GHOST’S BARGAIN”.    A waiting me in the New Year “PICTURES FROM ITALY”.  This classic book, with introductions to each tale, has insightful critical comments, and notes by  critics and writers including Wm. Makepeace Thackery.  Dickens’ peers judging him.  Some not kindly.

I found my faded, red book with sepia illustrations, years ago in a second-hand book store in our tiny village of Ladner.  It was like rediscovering an old friend from the past.    Through the long, bitter cold winter nights of Northern Saskatchewan, we would huddle around the kitchen stove and our Mother would read to us.  A Christmas Carol and The Cricket On The Hearth were our favorites.

. . . . . ” it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us! 

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

HOW OSWALD, GENTLEMAN RABBIT CELEBRATES THE WINTER SOLSTICE AND TRIES TO SAVE THE WORLD ONE TREE AT A TIME. A fairy tale for adults who care.

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There are tales told over and over again.  Repeated from one generation to the next.    Every year on December 21st, the shortest day of the year,  the tale of Oswald,  gentleman rabbit, is recounted to young rabbits.  Their noses quiver and their ears wiggle in anticipation.  It is the tale of Oswald, the rabbit who wore a magic coat.  A coat that allowed him to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye.  A coat with bottomless pockets he could fill with the universe.   A coat that allowed  that even allowed him to become a human for a day.

And so the tale begins.

Oswald, gentleman rabbit, stamped the snow off his rather generous feet.  Brushed the ice crystals from his whiskers.   Shook the snow off his magic coat.   Everything was in place for the grand party.  Rabbits the world over would soon arrive at his burrow to celebrate the winter solstice.

Oswald’s ancient burrow was immense.  Deep, deep beneath the earth  the rooms in the burrow were so large one alone could hold more that a thousand rabbits.  Massive,  thick, gnarled  tree roots formed the ceilings.  Fireflies became living chandeliers  chasing away the darkness.

Oswald  reached deep into the pocket of his magic coat and began to pull out evergreen trees. Hundreds and hundreds of trees   The fragrant smell of cedar and fir, spruce and pine enveloped the room.  The tree roots were wrapped in burlap tied round with holly and ivy vines.  Every year he filled the largest room in the burrow with the trees of Christmas.  Trees of every size circled the room.  Touched the ceiling.  Sparkling and glittering with diamonds of snow.  An indoor forest to celebrate the winter solstice.

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Oswald was very particular about the menu for his Winter Solstice Dinner.    He shopped for the finest delicacies in London.  In the rush of Christmas no one noticed the gentleman with  rather large ears wearing an elaborate red coat.   In the enormous kitchen of the burrow,  Oswald reached into the pockets of his magic coat  and drew out hamper after hamper marked F & M – Fortnum and Mason.

Tonight the rabbit guests would dine on magnificent vegetable patés,  Terrines of leeks and spinach,  Carrot and ginger puddings and salads of delicate butter lettuce and dandelion greens.   There would be bottles and bottles of ginger beer, elderberry wine and raspberry cordial to celebrate this the longest night of the year.  Rabbits are fond of nibbling on tasty bits of this and that.  Scattered through the dining hall were generous platters of ruby-red radishes and emerald-green asparagus, golden persimmons and scarlet pomegranates.

It is an unknown fact that rabbits have a very sweet tooth.  Oswald was ending the Solstice feast  with the very finest,  sweetest treasures from his favorite shop in Paris.   He walked along the Champ-Elysées  every inch the flâneur in his imposing red coat.  (A flâneur is a stroller enjoying the life of the city.)  Ladurée  enveloped him in sweetness.   From pale green boxes he would fill crystal bowls with sublime treats.    Chocolate truffles and tiny lemon tarts,  raspberry macarons and St-Honoré cakes.    It would be a delicious ending to the shortest day of the year.

When the hundreds and hundreds of  plates were empty. When the last little crumb of pastry was nibbled away,  silence filled the room.   The  well fed rabbits settled back on their golden chairs in anticipation of what was to follow.

From the top most branch of the tallest tree in the cavernous room came a glorious sound.   A single bird singing.     A lark ascending.  The tiny bird sang of peace,  compassion and understanding.   One by one from  surrounding trees birds joined in song.  Louder and louder.    A song  swooping, soaring, climbing higher and higher until the very earth around the burrow vibrated with its magnificence.

Midnight.  The fireflies folded their lighted wings and disappeared into the winter night.   Oswald donned  his magic coat.   He gathered into its bottomless pockets the forest of trees that had decorated the dining hall.  He left the burrow to travel through the dark, cold night.  He would plant these trees on struggling  clear-cut  hills.  On burnt, scorched  unyielding ground. On barren boulevards where anything green and growing struggled to survive  the killing breath of city pollution.

The Solstice night was ending when he  returned to his burrow.  Oswald’s  gift to the world was so simple, so unassuming when dawn broke  those who lived above the burrow passed by the newly planted trees.  Unaware.   Blind to their presence.  Thinking  they had always been there.  Taking for granted these trees so necessary for their living, breathing planet.

Rabbits have the stewardship of all growing things.  An enormous responsibility  in a world where many  deny  and disbelieve what is  happening to our changing planet.  Perhaps you don’t believe in fairy tales.  Than tell me this.    How do you know  that group of  young people planting trees on a  clear cut hill  are not rabbits wearing magic coats?

 

OLD FASHIONED CHRISTMAS CHERRY ALMOND CAKE . . . It’s not too late to whip up this alternative to fruit cake.

The most loved and used  of all my many baking cookbooks is tattered, torn, mended and scribbled.   It has perhaps twenty pages.    More than fifty years ago it came free with a bag of Robin Hood Flour.  It contains the recipe for Wicked Wonderful White Bread and my stand by cinnamon coffee cake.  Every recipe is tried and trued and absolutely delicious in a wonderful old-fashioned way.    The recipes don’t call for exotic ingredients or special equipment.  They are stress free baking recipes perfect for almost any occasion.

I adore anything  baked with cherries, especially at Christmas time.  This recipe for Cherry Almond Cake is from the small Robin Hood Cookbook.  It is literally bursting with big, bright cherries.  It makes a generous cake.  Wonderfully generous.  You can cut,  slice and slice and nibble away to your hearts content.  It is a splendid cake for entertaining.  Large enough for second or even third slices.  What could be more perfect. You’ll find this  recipe on my food blog MRS. BUTTERFINGERS.

OOH LA LA . . . COCO CHANEL INSPIRED CHRISTMAS GIFT WRAPPED PRESENTS

The logs in the great fireplace crackled and sang warmth into the room.  Heavy, faded green velvet curtains shut out the dark night.   Le Noël de la rue, warbled Edith Piaf, on the old Victrola.    It was the top of the hour.  She opened the curtains inviting  the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower to fill the room with light.

Honest, plain brown paper.

A scattering of pearls.

An elegance of black ribbon.

A Coco Chanel wrapped Christmas gift.

Brown paper unrolled.

Silver scissors cut.

Pearls adorned.

Ribbons tied.

Champagne chilled.

Cassoulet simmered on the old La Cornue stove and filled the rooms with its rich aroma.

Footsteps whispered on the ancient stone stairs.  Theadora and The Tin Man had arrived.

It was Christmas in her little house in Paris.

 

 

 

CHEDDAR AND GRUYERE CRACKERS . . . Frozen savory assets for the holidays.

I like to make a splash  with holiday hors d’oeuvres.     Step out of the ordinary.  Conjure up the unexpected.   There is nothing more wonderful.  Nothing more special than freshly baked homemade crackers.  These are a snap to make.    A double dose of sharp cheese makes addictive crackers then don’t even need a topping.  Just whip up a handful of ingredients.  Pop them in the freezer and  slice off rounds whenever you want to serve freshly baked crackers.

They may seem like the last thing you have time for during the holidays but the dough for these savory slice-and-bake comes together in minutes.  Make a batch or double the recipe for a bigger stash.  You won’t regret it.

Dear friends, you know how I love to gild the lily.  These crackers take beautifully to hits of hot red pepper jelly or pungent blue cheese.  A little Brie or Gouda topped with a wafer thin slice of Granny Smith apple would go down treat.

Serve your wondrous cracker creations with glass of bubbly on New Year’s Eve.  You’ll be the toast of the town!  The recipe awaits your nimble fingers in MRSBUTTERFINGER’S kitchen.

EASY AS PIE! I promise you. This is a no-fail perfect pastry recipe.

It is every baker’s dream.  The ability to whip up the perfect pie with a crust so  light and flaky and  delicious you chase the last crumbs around your dessert plate.    There’s more than a baker’s dozen way of making pie crust.     They all require a certain level of skill and more than a modicum of knowledge of the various types of pastry required for specific pie fillings.

Here is “the little black dress” of pie crusts.  It is suitable for almost every filling.  It is superb for savory pies and fruit pies.   Single crust pies like lemon meringue.   Chicken pot pie or steak and kidney pie.  Hand pies and tarts.  And best of all follow the recipe faithfully and you should be rewarded with perfect pie crust!

This is the secret to perfect pie crust every time.  The flour, butter, shortening, and water most all be VERY cold.  Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or longer before rolling.  And  finally,  don’t stretch the dough when you’re placing it into the pan.

One of the most popular fruit pie to make is apple.  The secret to eliminating the  gap between the apple filling and the baked pie crust is to toss your sliced apples with sugar and let it macerate while your pie crust rests.  Then add the thickener, spices and butter before putting your pie together.

You can prepare the dough ahead.  Form it into two balls, wrap well, and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.  Defrost  in the refrigerator.

Dear friends. Skip over to MRSBUTTERFIELD’S kitchen for the recipe.