Around My French Table

By Dorie Greenspan

Chicken in a Pot

RATING: 4 out of 5 (earthy, simple tasting dish that serves up gorgeously)

THE TEST: For those of you who followed my Project Food Blog attempts, you will recognize this dish which was the one I opted to make for the fourth challenge that had us photo document a recipe. The whole concept of cooking a chicken in a casserole dish sealed tight with a flour and water dough mixture placed around the edges of a Dutch oven, was a technique I had never seen before let alone attempted. I was intrigued!

Overall the recipe was straightforward and the whole thing came together quickly. My biggest challenge (and I am blushing as I type) was coaxing the preserved lemon out of the jar. Yes, I actually just wrote that last bit. It’s true! In the end I had to resort to brute force in order to pop that sucker out. Note: a preserved lemon (or citrons confits) is a Moroccan and Middle Eastern specialty, and involves making deep slits into lemons which are subsequently marinated in a brine of salt and lemon juice for a minimum of three weeks.

THE RESULTS: From my very first bite I felt teleported right smack into the middle of France. I’ve never been to this part of the world but the dish evoked what I imagine to be simple, tasty, rural French food. The flavours were uncomplicated, allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves.

Pan searing the whole chicken (I recommend using tongs to turn the bird) ensured a nice crisp skin which otherwise wouldn’t be possible considering the meat is basically steaming within a Dutch Oven during the entire cooking process.

Being skeptical that a chicken this large (4 lbs) could cook in such a short period of time, I left it for longer and the chicken turned out to be overdone. Luckily the sealed pot technique kept the meat moist, but the bottom line here folks is to trust Dorie. She knows what she’s talking about!

Once the chicken is done, the recipe recommends using a screwdriver to help pry the lid free. However, I found the lid lifted easily on its own. Be careful not to get burnt by the steam when breaking the seal, and be prepared for intoxicating smells to waft through your kitchen.

Next time I make this dish I will be sure to season the chicken a bit more as the general consensus was that it tasted a smidge bland. Brining the chicken beforehand might make a difference, and I might even try stuffing the cavity with my usual roast chicken mixture of garlic and herbs.

Stuffed Pumpkin with Everything Good

RATING: 5 out of 5 (this will be served at all of my future holiday dinners!)

THE TEST: The concept for this dish is to simply hollow out a pumpkin and stuff it full of bread, cheese, garlic, and cream. The pumpkin is then baked in the oven until fork tender, the stuffing bubbling and slightly browned on top. Is your mouth watering yet?! Dorie encourages you to play around with different combinations, and even suggests using rice instead of bread for a nice gluten-free version that turns out creamy and with a consistency similar to risotto. For the purposes of my test I chose to go with French bread (mais oui!), Gouda, bacon, and a mixture of garlic, fresh herbs and cream.

I found the most beautiful sugar pumpkins at the market, perfect in shape but on the small side so I opted to make two which ended up being the perfect amount for Mr. Spock, me, and the kids. There was only one slice leftover after the meal and let me say there was quite a battle over who had rights to this piece!

Prepping this recipe was simple and quick, although I do wish I had thought to make extra bacon that morning which would have saved me cooking up an additional four strips to add to the bread mixture. Note to self; must plan ahead.

THE RESULTS: In a nutshell? I absolutely love this recipe! The stuffing was incredible with each flavour complimenting the others in a glorious combination of creamy gooey cheese, salty bacon, and mellow bread made rich by the cream. Every single ingredient had its own place and was distinct, even the small dash of nutmeg which balanced everything out perfectly. The wow factor in bringing a whole pumpkin to the table combined with the ease with which this dish comes together makes it a fantastic option for entertaining.

C’est magnifique!

(For a copy of the recipe for Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good, please click here)

Top-Secret Chocolate Mousse

RATING: 5 out of 5 (light, fluffy & utterly divine)

THE TEST: Any recipe Dorie Greenspan titles “Top-Secret” is one that no sane person would be able to resist. Add into that title the words “Chocolate Mousse” and well…it’s kind of a no brainer!

This was the first time I attempted to make mousse from scratch, and aside from some initial jitters I’d have to say it went really well and came together quickly. Even my egg whites cooperated which was nice! I must admit that when I first added the egg white mixture to the melted chocolate it became clumpy which resulted in a slight panic attack. In the end I put the bowl back over the simmering water and as the chocolate began to get warmer the whole mixture relaxed and I was able to whisk it smooth. Whew.

The recipe says that it serves four but perhaps the French are more modest in their serving sizes than us Canucks because I found it filled three small ramekins perfectly. Perhaps if I had opted to serve the mousse topped with whipped cream or crème fraîche it would have stretched the mousse further, but I decided to keep it plain.

THE RESULTS: I can honestly say that this was some of the best chocolate mousse I have ever tasted. The texture was incredible; light as air and so fluffy it instantly melted in your mouth. The intense chocolate flavour was pure and in no way heavy or too rich. The absolute perfect way to end a meal. Any meal. All the time.