I usually steer clear from these sorts of posts, but after a recent long walk in the Columbia Gorge rendered me insatiably starving and seriously contemplating eating my family, I decided to post what I do love, and coincidently miss most about life, in a vain attempt to save their lives.
Earlier in the week, we had cut every single thing I love dearly about life as part of some satanic ritual known as the ‘New Year's Resolution’. Foolishly, we thought adding exercise might reduce our surface circumferences quicker; instead, visions of the doomed Donner party haunted my mind.
1. French Onion Soup
I have fantastic childhood memories of going to La Creperie in Chicago with my late father and eating steaming bowls of French onion soup. My face was awash with a beautified gaze as I slowly lifted golden strands of molten Emmental cheese from the depths of the soup crock. Fortunately, making onion soup at home is quite easy, and will add one incredible benefit you can’t get from ordering it in a restaurant: your house will fill with the sweetest smells in the world.
2. Snails in Garlic Butter
Escargots are one of France’s most iconic dishes and rightfully deserve their place on the golden pedestal of French Culture; right next to cheese, berets, and the croissant. This year marked a special moment in my six-year-old son’s culinary development — he became thoroughly addicted to snails in garlic butter.
During the course of perfecting this recipe, Beau went from beloved gastronome toddler to a pint-sized Peter Wells, the stinging New York Times restaurant critic who caused the famous Thomas Keller to cry. There is something magical about having your son taste your escargots and scream at the top of his lungs ‘Hey Putain (not the Russian president), you call this Escargots? I wouldn’t serve this merde to my dog!’
3. Olive Tapenade
When the weather starts to warm up, my stomach boards a plane and flies directly to the South of France to eat for the summer. Long renowned for its golden sunshine, bouillabaisse, and copious quantities of pastis, Provence is the region I feel most akin to and could spend the rest of my days in a small farmhouse tending to ancient olive trees.
The word tapenade is derived from the Provencal word for capers, tapeno, so any tapenade made without capers is simply a spread.
4. Pistou Soup
Ah soupe au pistou, I love you. Thanks for making every single bite a golden taste of sunshine on a spoon! No other soup defines Provence more clearly than soupe au Pistou. It is the edible history of the ‘arrière-pays’, or hinterlands of Provence, where farmers have long tended their fields growing some of the most amazing vegetables and fruits. There are several versions of Pistou ranging from ham and bean-based ones to purely vegetable. This one is how my maman taught me, though she would probably roll her eyes and mutter zut at the very thought of canned beans and San Marzano tomatoes being used.
5. Simple Loup de Mer
As a small child, I believed in two things; Santa Claus and the virtues of a simple grilled Loup de mer, or as it more commonly referred to in the USA branzino. Perhaps it is my favorite dish.
Get your coals white-hot, put dried fennel branches on top, then the fish and let the licorice smoky flavors pleasantly permeate your fish, lending a feeling of being in Provence. There is no greater act of love than sharing a wonderful meal you cook with the people dear to you. Remember, good food can happen anywhere, this one is especially good cooked over an outdoor fire, preferably deep in the woods, with loved ones and a few bottles of great wine.
6. Coq au Vin
Coq au Vin is as synonymous with French culture as hamburgers are with American culture. It’s a dish I grew up eating quite a bit of, and still find very comforting when I’m longing for my mother and France. The sauce is packed with so much flavor that begs for a starchy vehicle to soak it all up. Classically boiled or mashed potatoes are served, but I think creamy spätzle, potato gratin or buttered noodles work better. It’s important to let the raw chicken marinate overnight and let the wine and aromatics fully penetrate the meat. Like all great stews, flavors continue to develop after cooked. It usually tastes best a day or two later.
7. Daube of Beef
Maybe I am like one of Pavlov’s dogs; I start to crave beef daube (Provencal beef stew) the first second cool Fall weather begins. Long ago, Lisa and I lived in a small, off the grid hippie cabin deep within the green woods, on the edge of Van Damme State Park in Mendocino, California. Our cabin often reminded me of Daudet’s windmill in Provence, though beaten and forlorn, it provided a quiet and safe refuge from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
Fall had started in earnest; a cool, light mist was falling on an otherwise drab day when we decided to take our dog Lucy for a long walk foraging wild cèpes. I built a roaring fire in our wood stove and placed a daube of beef perfumed with a cinnamon stick and dried orange peel on top to slowly braise. We decanted a heady bottle of red wine and walked out into the dank Mendocino forest on a narrow track through the dense, overgrown pygmy forest collecting two shopping bags full of precious boletes before returning home to enjoy our simple feast.
As we neared our home, wood smoke commingled with the ever enticing aromas of slow-cooked meat and hung nose high in the clammy mist surrounding our cabin. Every step closer, the smells grew more ambrosial and inviting, prompting us to quicken our pace. By the time we reached the cabin door, I was drooling and my stomach growled uncontrollably in bated anticipation.
8. Chocolate Eclairs
Do you want a fun, edible project to tackle this weekend? Then try making these delicious chocolate eclairs for your family. They are only slightly harder than making basic brownies, only because there are three main components to prep instead of one. You will need a few tools like sil pats, pastry bags and star tips to make this. There are plenty of stores like Michaels or Sur La Table where these easy to find items can be purchased if you do not have them already. The results will be worth any frustrations you may experience.
9. Crepes Suzette
Don your berets because I am going all Marcel Marceau on your ass with this one.
It has been said that crepes Suzette are served more often outside of France than actually in France. While the exact origins will never be known there are plenty of popular stories and some great theories. The most prevalent is that of Henri Charpentier, who at the tender age of 16, supposedly created it by accident. Henri recounted, “It was seven years earlier, in 1898, that I served crepe Suzette for the Prince of Wales, on the terrace of the Cafe de Paris in Monte Carlo. It was quite by accident as I worked in front of a chafing dish that the cordials caught fire. I thought I was ruined. The Prince and his friends were waiting. How could I begin all over? I tasted it. It was, I thought, the most delicious melody of sweet flavors I had ever tasted. I still think so. That accident of the flame was precisely what was needed to bring all those various instruments into one harmony of taste . . . He ate the pancakes with a fork; but he used a spoon to capture the remaining syrup. He asked me the name of that which he had eaten with so much relish. I told him it was to be called Crepes Princesse. He recognized that the pancake controlled the gender and that this was a compliment designed for him; but he protested with mock ferocity that there was a lady present. She was alert and rose to her feet and holding her little shirt wide with her hands she made him a curtsey. ‘Will you,’ said His Majesty, ‘change Crepes Princesse to Crepes Suzette?’ Thus was born and baptized this confection, one taste of which, I really believe, would reform a cannibal into a civilized gentleman. The next day I received a present from the Prince, a jeweled ring, a Panama hat, and a cane.”
However fantastic the story, the dessert is great and best of all you do not need to be royalty to enjoy this simple treat.
10. Tarte Tatin
Tarte Tatin has been popular worldwide since its birth at Jean Tatin hotel since its creation in the late 1800s. Jean Tatin opened his hotel (l’Hotel Tatin) in the 1800s. In 1888 his two daughters Caroline and Stéphanie took over when he passed away. Caroline managed the books while Stéphanie cooked. From morning to night she worked in her kitchen. She was a great and gifted cook but not the brightest of people. Her specialty was an apple tart, served perfectly crusty, caramelized and which melted in the mouth. The sisters were always busy during hunting season and their restaurant was exceedingly popular.
One day Stéphanie, running late because she had been flirting with a handsome hunter, rushed into the kitchen, threw the apples, butter, and sugar in a pan and then rushed out to help with the other duties. The odor of caramel filled the kitchen, Stéphanie realized she’d forgotten the apple tart, but what could she do now? She decides to put the pàte brisée on top of the apples, pops the pan in the stove to brown a bit more and then turns it upside down to serve. Raves of delight emanating from the dining room. The story continues a bit from that first day.
Curnonsky, the famous gastronome of the time, hears about the Tarte and declares it a marvel. Word of this new gastronomic delight reaches Paris. Maxim’s owner hears about it and he decides he must have the recipe. He supposedly sent a cook/spy, disguised as a gardener, to Lamotte-Beuvron to discover the secret. The spy is successful, brings the recipe back to Maxim’s, and it has been on the menu of that famous restaurant ever since.
If you enjoy my recipes and want more then click on the picture below and I will send you a FREE — that’s right, a no strings attached copy of my cookbook. YES, an actual hard copy and not a pdf. I have a limited amount left that I am trying to share.
François de Mélogue grew up in a very French household in Chicago. His earliest attempts at cookery began with the filleting of his sister’s goldfish at age two and a braised rabbit dish made with his pet rabbits by age seven. He eventually stopped cooking his pets and went to the highly esteemed New England Culinary Institute where he graduated top of his class in 1985.
Chef François de Mélogue has over 30 years of cross-cultural culinary experience and brings an impressive culinary history and a unique Mediterranean cooking style. After graduating top of his class from the notable New England Culinary Institute, Chef François began his career in a number of highly acclaimed kitchens across the country, including Chef Louis Szathmary’s restaurant The Bakery in Chicago, Old Drovers Inn, a Relais and Chateaux property in New York and Joel Robuchon Gastronomie restaurant in Paris, before opening award-winning restaurant Pili Pili in his hometown of Chicago, rated in the Top Ten new restaurants in the World by Food and Wine magazine in 2003.
While staging with Robuchon, Chef François began to shape his personal culinary philosophy of “Cuisine Actuelle,” which showcases the natural flavor in the ingredients used to create his dishes. In line with his belief that food should be prepared without unnecessary distractions or alterations, François creates honest, healthy and delicious cuisine that is approachable and always delightful. Chef François specializes in simply prepared Southern French-inspired cuisine enhanced by his appreciation and knowledge of fine wine, craft beer, charcuterie, and cheese. He is a fervent student and strong advocate of regional French cuisines, specifically the rustic cuisines of Lyon and Provence. With wife Lisa, they conduct highly personalized, insider gastronomic tours of Burgundy/Lyon, Provence, and the Pacific Northwest.
Chef François resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife Lisa and seven-year-old son Beaumont, who has proclaimed himself the family saucier. He has written his first cookbook about Provence, simply entitled ‘Cuisine of the Sun’, and works for Foods in Season, America’s foremost foraging company specializing in hyper-seasonal, wild foraged and fished foods from the Pacific Northwest.