French in a Flash: Fall-Apart Lamb with Prunes

RECIPE: Fall-Apart Lamb with Prunes
Braised Lamb with Prunes

Braised Lamb with Prunes

When I was in Paris for my birthday a few weeks ago, I heard about the Bistrot d’Henri, a local-type bistro good enough to draw crowds from all over Paris, and well beyond, with homestyle French food at reasonable prices.  It sounded too good to be true.  Mr. English and I walked over from our hotel, and when we saw the place was half empty, my heart started beating wildly against my ribs.  Could I really get a table at a place like this, unannounced, on a Saturday night?  All over the tables were little crocks of braised stews, crispy round whole potatoes, bottles of wine.  It was dark and small and cozy.  I wanted it so badly.

“No!” the owner told us–all the empty tables were reserved.  “But!” he chimed, calling his friend at another bistro down the street.  He walked us over to his friend’s bistro, dropped us at the last empty table in Paris that night (or so it seemed) and said his “adieus”.  It was a small menu, so we both ordered the lamb with prunes.

I’m not always the biggest fan of fruit in my meat, even if I am half Moroccan.  But this was not a heavily spiced dish, oh no.  It was simple, seared lamb shanks, stewed in a delicate wine and broth mixture with sweet onions and garlic, and of course, prunes.  The meat, as a must, was falling off the bone.  The prunes added a delicate sweetness, just enough to enhance the sweetness of the onions and garlic, and lend a counterbalancing flavor to the lamb and its broth.  The onion is so sweet and soft it dissolves in your mouth, and the garlic so mellow that it pops out of its paper like gooey savory paste.  It was gorgeous, poured over a brick of potatoes Daupinoise, and followed by a chocolate mousse.  Paris!  Will I ever stop being amazed?  I sincerely hope not.

Here is my version, which I serve with a light herb-and-orange laced couscous, far less labor-intensive than Dauphinoise.  This dish is so simple and so easy, yet so complex and interesting.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Fall-Apart Lamb with Prunes
serves 4

Braised Lamb with PrunesINGREDIENTS

  • 4 lamb shanks

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly cracked black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced

  • 1 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc

  • 2 cups low-sodium organic chicken broth

  • 12 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled

  • 20 pitted prunes

  • Fresh mint and parsley to serve


Season the lamb liberally with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a high-sided sauté pan until it shimmers.  Brown the meat on all sides.

Set the meat aside, and lower the heat to low.  Carefully add the sliced onions, and sauté on very low heat for 20 minutes, until soft and lightly caramelized.  Season the onions with salt and pepper.  Raise the heat to high.  Deglaze the pan with the white wine, and cook off for 2 minutes.  Add the stock, garlic, prunes, and lamb to the pan.  Bring the broth to a boil, then lower the heat to low, and cook, covered, on the lowest heat for 2 hours.  Serve piping hot, with torn fresh leaves of parsley and mint over the top, with Dauphinoise or couscous on the side.

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Categories: Cheap, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Meat, Recipes, Series

The Secret Ingredient (Honey): Honey-Thyme Roasted Pork Loin

RECIPE: Honey-Thyme Roasted Pork Loin
Honey Thyme Roasted Pork Loin

Honey Thyme Roasted Pork Loin

I hated honey growing up.  My mom used to make me eat it off a teaspoon as a kind of cloying cough syrup when I was sick.  But I’ll admit that I’ve acquired the taste, very strongly, for honey.  Whether I lick it off a spoon, or cook with it as a full fledge ingredient, I think it is incomparable in terms of that sticky texture.  And it has the fantastic protean ability to take on whatever sweetness you need it to have.  When you taste it on its own, it’s natural to think, ‘this is too sweet to put on meat,’ or on anything savory for that matter.  But it just mellows out and works.  It balances the acids in vinaigrettes, it cuts the gaminess in meats, it enhances and brightens vegetables.  It does what lemon does, only on the sweet side of the spectrum.

This recipe is one of my favorites.  It’s seamless, easy, and it just works.  I sear a salted and peppered pork tenderloin in olive oil until it’s nicely dark and golden brown.  Then, I deglaze the pan with some stock.  Meanwhile, I mash together tons of fresh thyme, lavender or thyme honey, and a bit of softened sweet butter.  I rub the meat with the honey-thyme glaze, and roast it along with the pan sauce.  The pork cook to a blushing pink, while the glaze bubbles up and caramelizes to the outside of the meat.  The honey cooks into the pan juices, and creates a naturally thick and flavorful jus.  You would think the pork would be very sweet, but it’s not.  The salt and thyme and stock and the meat itself completely balances the sweetness of the honey.  Instead, the honey helps to add to that glorious brown crust on the outside of the meat, adhering all the earthy time straight onto the pork like Krazy Glue.  I can’t wait to make this one again.  Such pedestrian ingredients, such a great dish.

Excerpted from my weekly column The Secret Ingredient on Serious Eats.

Honey-Thyme Roasted Pork Loin
serves 2 to 3

Honey Thyme Roasted Pork LoinINGREDIENTS

  • 1 1 1/4-pound pork tenderloin

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly cracked black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme

  • 1/4 cup thyme or lavender honey

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1/4 low-sodium organic chicken stock


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Take the pork out of the fridge 15 minutes before you want to use it.  Pat it dry with a paper towel, and season the pork liberally on all sides with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil shimmers, sear the pork until golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per sides, or 12 minutes total.  Take the pork out of the pan, and add the chicken stock.  Scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, and reserve the sauce.

While the pork is searing, whisk together the thyme, honey, and butter until completely incorporated.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper.  Carefully rub the mixture all over the outside of the seared pork.

Place the honey-ed pork on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet that has been lightly oiled.  Use a spoon to pour any of the honey mixture that runs off the meat back on top of the pork loin.  Pour the chicken stock from the searing pan into the baking sheet.  Roast the pork in the oven until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F, about 10 to 12 minutes.  Take the pork out of the oven, tent with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Slice into medallions, and serve with the pan sauce and a few extra sprigs of fresh thyme.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Main Courses, Meat, Recipes, Series, The Secret Ingredient

French in a Flash: Spaghetti with Pistachio Pistou

RECIPE: Spaghetti with Pistachio Pistou
Spaghetti with Pistachio Pistou

Spaghetti with Pistachio Pistou

This recipe is the brain child resulting from the marriage of a meal I had at Da Silvano (a seriously yummy meal I had about three years ago that I’m STILL salivating over) and the sheer volume of pistachio items that I consumed this summer in the south of France.  (I can’t get into it now for risk of publicly offending peanut, cashew, and walnut, but a LOT of pistachios were consumed).  Pistachios all over the world are trembling in fear at the thought of it.  It’s super simple: spaghetti, tossed with pistachio butter fresh from the Whole Foods grinder, some olive oil and butter, Parmesan, and maybe some garlic.  It makes the perfect, gorgeous green side dish.  The green for the holidays is naturally festive, and I love, as I write in this week’s column, serving pasta as a side.  So often I just sit down to a big bowl of spaghetti, that I’ve forgotten how well it works as a creative side.  I served this with roasted pork loin with honey, and it was so much more expressive than plain ol’ roast potatoes or rice.  Bon app!

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Try saying pistachio pistou three times fast.  This recipe is actually a little bit sly.  You see, what separates a French pistou from an Italian pesto is that a pesto has nuts, usually pine nuts, while a pistou has only basil, garlic, olive oil, and sometimes a good hunk of Parmesan.  But in this pistou, the nuts don’t act as the binder, as they would in a pesto.  Instead, they replace the basil altogether as the prime flavor and ingredient.  The result is a sauce that creamy, rich, nutty, and vibrantly green.  Hence, a pistachio pistou.

I love this recipe for how unusual it is, and how decadent.  And, now that I think about it, how uncommonly easy it is as well.  It is a simple no-cook sauce made by whisking together garlic, olive oil, butter, pasta water, and the secret ingredient, pistachio butter, which has a phenomenal mixture of textures, from creamy and buttery to finely granular, so you get a pistachio cling to each strand of spaghetti, but also little crunchy shards of nut throughout.  The result is a pasta dish that is green, and rich, and perfect for the holidays.  The garlic makes it a pistou, but it is a strong flavor, and can be omitted for just a rich, buttery nut sauce.  I like it equally both ways.  I served it with roast pork loin, and I just think it makes the most beautiful holiday lunch.

I love the idea of serving pasta as the side dish, instead of mashed potatoes, or rice, or some other starch.  A really special nest of pasta next to some roast meat or charred fish can have a much more interesting profile than the same old olive oil roast potatoes–and I think in our love of big pasta plates we forget how well it works not as the center of attention.  This dish works perfectly as that kind of side.  Try it either way!

Spaghetti with Pistachio Pistou
serves 4

Spaghetti with Pistachio PistouINGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound spaghetti

  • Salt

  • 1/2 cup pistachio butter

  • Freshly cracked black pepper

  • 1 clove garlic, grated (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons finely sliced basil, plus extra for garnish

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter

  • Good Parmesan cheese for serving


Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pistachio butter, garlic (if using), salt, pepper, basil, olive oil, and butter, until smooth and completely incorporated.

When the pasta is al dente, reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid, and drain the pasta.  Add 1 cup of the reserved pasta water and the pistachio mixture to the empty pasta pot, on low heat.  Whisk the pasta cooking water into the pistachio mixture, and when smooth, toss the pasta gently with the sauce with a pair of tongs.  Add additional pasta water if the sauce is too tight.  Pour the pasta into a large serving bowl, and use a vegetable peeler to scrape strips of Parmesan cheese over the top.  Garnish with some whole basil leaves, and serve right away, especially next to roast pork.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Vegetarian

The Joys of Canned Cassoulet

Cassoulet in a Can

Cassoulet in a Can, with Pork Confit and Duck Fat, from Castelnaudary. 4 Euros, 2 big servings.

Mr. English took me to Paris for my birthday, which, definitely, took the edge off of turning twenty-nine.  Next year, at this time, I’ll be thirty.  Pretty reductive concept from the outside I’m sure, but to me, it is nothing short of astonishing.  We did our usual circuit of St. Germain gems: Le Comptoir, Le Bistrot de l’Alycastre, Les Deux Magots.  I had gorgeous Breton razor clams broiled with herb butter and pain au levain for my birthday lunch at Le Comptoir, followed by their gorgeous “Salade Niçoise à ma façon,” which has the most delicious tuna, whole white anchovies, caper berries, potatoes, oil-cured black olives, deliciously limp haricots verts…it’s the best Niçoise in the world.  For dinner, at Bistrot de l’Alycastre, Mr. English and I both had Moroccan spiced rare-seared tuna and vegetables, and then I had calamari charred with cêpes in a light cream sauce.  And then, a little lemon tart with flickering birthday candles from Carlton bakery, as Mr. English sang me a happy birthday serenade in harmony with Maman over Skype.  A clarinetist played downstairs.  It was breathless.

Cassoulet CornerCassoulet Spread

Despite all the walking and shopping and eating on the Ritzier side of normal, I still found myself in the trenches: the basement of the 6th arrondissement Monoprix.  Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.  Mr. English and I went down there to buy a little padlock, to etch our initials in the metal and snap it onto the Pont des Arts, along with all the other couples whose locks dangle from the bridge over the Seine, into which we ardently threw the keys.  But while I was there, despite Mr. English’s tugging on my coat sleeve, I couldn’t help but snatch up a few key pantry items: Maille cornichons, caviar d’aubergines, and after this summer in Toulouse, a can of cassoulet from Castelnaudary.

If you read this blog with any frequency you will have read my over the top emotional diatribes on the cassoulets of Castelnaudary–there are no words.  I can call myself a writer, but in reality, I’m an eater, and at times, with my mouth full, words fail me.  In Paris, we were a long way from Castelnaudary and Toulouse and the Pyrenees from this summer.  So, when I saw the gorgeous hand-drawn label, informing me that I could buy real Castelnaudary cassoulet with either pork, duck, or goose confit, for 4 Euros, rest assured that I had all three cans in the basket before Mr. English pried away the duck and goose from my scraping, scrabbling grasp.

Saturday lunch was the perfect moment.  I opened the can, and heated it gently in a small covered pot over low heat.  I squeezed in half a head of roasted garlic, to emphasize that garlicky Castelnaudary punch that haunted me way past dinnertime all summer, and added in some fresh leaves of thyme.  The haricots blancs were creamy, the sausage and pork confit falling apart and perfect.  When the cassoulet was bubbling, I poured it into a shallow baking dish, and covered it with fresh breadcrumbs (3/4 cup to be exact) and a small handful of chopped parsley, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.  I baked it at 400 degrees until the crumbs were crispy golden brown, and then I covered it in foil and lowered the heat to 325 to let it get good and hotter.  I tore up some bread, and tossed a salad (you must always have salad with cassoulet!).  I brought it to the table, straight from the can, with a couple of added embellishments.  It was gorgeous.  I had had cassoulet two weeks earlier at a fancy London French establishment, and it didn’t touch Castelnaudary in a can.  The sausage was porky and garlicky, like Toulouse sausage should be.  The pork confit was lean, and firm, but falling apart with the nudge of a fork.  The beans were creamy, and so flavorful that Mr. English, carnivore that he is, told me he wished they sold cassoulet beans without any of the fixings.  Because wouldn’t that be healthier?

Sigh.  If only he understood about the duck fat.

How is it that French food can still be this good–from a can?  Canned food, to me, is hurricane emergency preparedness–eating baby corn from salty canned water with my fingers in a shuttered, August-hot powerless room.  But this, it was real food.  It was no wonder they named a whole dance the can-can.  Makes perfect and absolute sense.

Cassoulet PlateCassoulet Closeup

This cassoulet was made by La Belle Chaurienne.

Available from Monoprix.

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Categories: Finds, Paris, Voyages

French in a Flash: Camargue Red Rice Salad

RECIPE: Camargue Red Rice Salad
Camargue Red Rice Salad

Camargue Red Rice Salad

A few summers ago, I spent a day in the Camargue, a part of France that had, for some reason, completely eluded my knowledge of the country.  Cowboys.  French cowboys, that ride around on snowy white horseback, in a flat grasslands, herding.  I had always thought that we Americans had the monopoly on cowboys, but as it turns out, that is not the case.  Beautiful crystalline salts are dried out in the sun.  And restaurants serve stews made of the bulls herded down the grasslands.

That is where Camargue Red Rice comes from.  I am a rice fanatic: a simple food that I am content to eat simply, with just a pinch of that Camargue salt.  I recently discovered Camarge Red Rice at the supermarket: it looks like grains of long-grain black rice merged with brown basmati rice, and turned a deep russet red.  It has a chewy texture, and a delicious mild but present flavor.  I cook it as the French do, like pasta, in a huge pot of salted boiling water until it is al dente, and then I drain it in a colander.

Finally, for this salad, I toss it with everything green: a lemony green parsley and olive oil sauce, little jewels of zucchini and haricots verts, slivers of green olives and walnuts, shards of scallions and fresh raw spinach.  It is so full of flavor and health and texture that you can’t help but love it.  Serve it room temperature next to some roast chicken or charred whole fish, and you’re in business.

You can find Camargue Red Rice online, but if you can’t use it for whatever reason, try a wild rice blend, or some forbidden black rice with this recipe.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Camargue Red Rice Salad
serves 4 to 6

Camargue Red Rice SaladINGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups Camargue Red Rice

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 medium zucchini, small dice

  • 1 cup chopped haricots verts

  • 1 1/2 cups flat leaf parsley

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • Freshly cracked black pepper

  • 2 scallions, finely sliced

  • 40 French green olives, such as lucques or picholine, pitted and chopped

  • 2 cups spinach, chiffonade

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts


Boil the rice just as you would pasta, in a large pot of boiling salted water, for 30 minutes, or until it is tender, but still has a firm texture.  Add the zucchini and  haricots verts, and cook an additional 5 minutes.  Drain the rice and vegetables together.

While the rice and vegetables are draining, roughly chop the parsley, and add it to the food processor with the olive oil and salt.  Run the machine for 5 minutes, until you have a very green parsley oil.  Add the lemon juice and some pepper, and then add all the sauce to the rice, along with the scallions, and toss well.

Leave the rice salad to cool completely to room temperature.  Just before serving, toss in the olives, spinach, and walnuts.  Serve at room temperature alongside poultry or fish, or as one of many vegetarian salads.

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Cheap, Eat, French in a Flash, Recipes, Salad, Series, Sides, Soup & Salad, Starches, Vegetarian

Thanksgiving Redux: Autumn Apple Sangria

RECIPE: Autumn Apple Sangria
Apple Sangria

Autumn Apple Sangria

Aside from my champagne toast, I don’t like to have straight wine with my Thanksgiving dinner.  I like just a touch of sweetness to cut through all the savory turkey.  And stuffing.  And potatoes.  And sprouts.  And beans.  Something bright and bubbly to break through the parade.  I always serve cidre buché, or corked cider.  It’s a term that applies to dry apple cider from Normandy or Brittany, cheap even though it comes in bottles that are strangely reminiscent of champagne.  Dry, but still apply.  This cocktail is even more fun.  I soak slices of green apples and grapes in white wine and Calvados, a Norman apple brandy.  Simple syrup and seltzer add sparkle and sweetness.  Something to toast with, and to.

Autumn Apple Sangria
serves as many as you want.

Apple SangriaHow to Make My White Apple Sangria

Boil 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water for 3 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  In a large pitcher, pour a cold bottle of white wine and Calvados to taste.  Add in slices of Granny Smith apples and halved green grapes until it's quite full of fruit.  Allow to sit in the fridge, covered, for a few hours.  Add a bottle of seltzer and the cooled simple syrup to taste.  Stir, and serve cold.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cocktails, Drinks, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Vegetarian

Thanksgiving Redux: Maple Cracker Jacks

RECIPE: Maple Popcorn and Peanuts
Maple Cracker Jacks

Maple Cracker Jacks

I love Cracker Jacks.  And they somewhat inspired this popcorn.  I bubble up maple syrup until it forms a caramel, and then toss it with air-popped popcorn and toasted salted peanuts.  I let it set and get sweet and crunchy, then I scoop it into cellophane bags and give it to my guests to take home with them–if they can wait that long.

Maple Popcorn and Peanuts
serves a crowd

Maple Cracker JacksHow to Make My Maple Popcorn and Peanuts

Boil 1 cup of maple syrup to 235 degrees F.  Toss in about 9 cups of freshly popped plain popcorn and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of salted, roasted cocktail peanuts.  Toss well and carefully with a silicone spatula.  Spread the mixture on parchment-coated baking sheets sprayed with nonstick spray.  Allow to cool completely.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Desserts, Eat, Recipes, Vegetarian