French cooking

Chicken with Apple Brandy Sauce (Poulet Vallée d’Auge)

It’s apple season, and I’m in heaven. Last weekend I was finally able to get out to the orchards to pick apples, but I spent the next three days on the road. The apples have been taunting me ever since.

But  right now it’s raining, I have nowhere to be, and this recipe was calling to me from my to-do list.


Poulet Vallée d’Auge is a traditional French recipe from the Normandy region (I say that as if I have any idea what that actually means…) combining apples and Calvados, or apple brandy, with chicken and mushrooms. I *love* apples in savory dishes, and this one did not disappoint.

You can pull it off on a weeknight — plan for about 90 minutes of cooking time — but I’d lean toward a crisp fall weekend. Serve with potatoes or rice (or skip the starch altogether, like I did), and green beans.


Poulet Vallée d’Auge

(Chicken and Apples in Brandy Cream Sauce)

Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 4

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 small to medium firm-tart apples, peeled, cored, quartered
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 chicken (3 1/2-4 lbs), quartered
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small leek, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise ¼” thick
2 small or 1 large shallot, finely chopped
1/4 cup Calvados (or other apple brandy)
2/3 cup apple cider
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 pound crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, trimmed, halved
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 large egg yolk

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add apples and cook, turning occasionally, until golden in spots, 10–12 minutes. Transfer apples to a plate and set aside.

Increase heat to medium-high and add oil to pot. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches, cook chicken until browned, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to another plate; set aside.

Add leek and shallots to pot; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Remove pot from heat, add Calvados, and ignite with a long match or lighter. After flames die down, return pot to heat and add cider. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.

Return reserved chicken to pot and add thyme, bay leaf, and broth. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover pot, and simmer, adding reserved apples back to pot halfway through, until chicken is cooked through, 20–25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, tossing occasionally, until browned and softened, 6–8 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Transfer mushrooms to a plate.

Whisk crème fraîche and egg yolk in a small bowl. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken and apples to a baking sheet and remove pot from heat. Whisk crème fraîche mixture into cooking liquid in pot. Gently mix in chicken, apples, and mushrooms.


Leek and Potato Soup

My dad is a meat-and-potatoes-loving, comfort food-eating farmer.

We don’t always see eye-to-eye on food — I insist that corn is a starch, not a vegetable; he questions my decision to pair meat and fruit together in a dish — but that doesn’t stop him from taking an interest in what I’m doing, even from 1,277 miles away.

He’s a good reminder to keep my cooking simple and accessible, to never assume that what I’m cooking or eating is commonplace.

Today’s conversation was one such reminder.

“You’re making what and potato soup?” my dad asked. “Meat? What kind of meat?”

Leeks. L-E-E-K-S.

“What’s a leek?”

Well, it’s like a mild onion. It looks like a green onion on steroids.

“Never heard of it. Is that a regional thing? Do they grow that around here?”

No, they’re —

And then I catch myself. I have no doubt leeks are available in Nebraska, but come to think of it, I don’t think I had eaten them until a few years ago. It’s one of many foods I didn’t grow up eating, but have learned to love.


And as I was typing this the best ad of the Super Bowl came on. Serendipity.

Note to self: remember your roots.

Leeks hold onto a surprisingly large amount of dirt, even if they look clean on the surface.

Leeks are dirtier than you realize

After removing the roots and dark green tops, slice them lengthwise, plunge them into a bowl of water, and give them a good scrub with your hands before returning them to the cutting board.

This soup is simple, classic French cooking, perfect for a cold winter’s night. The total cooking time is just over an hour, half of which is hands-off, making it achievable on a weeknight as well as a weekend. The soup is great with a salad or sandwich, or as a side to the protein of your choice. Substitute water or vegetable broth for the chicken broth for a true vegetarian option.


Leek and Potato Soup

Adapted from Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan

6 servings

2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper (note: the original recipe calls for white pepper; I used black)
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, split lengthwise, washed, and thinly sliced
1 or 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed (use 2 if you like a heartier soup)
6 sprigs thyme
4 cups chicken broth (or water)
3 cups whole or 2% milk

Optional toppings: Snipped fresh chives; minced parsley, sage, tarragon, and/or marjoram; grated Parmesan or Gruyere; croutons; a drizzle of truffle oil; cooked, crumbled bacon

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir until they glisten with butter. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook until the onion is soft but not colored, about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, along with a little more salt, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the soup bubbles, turn the heat to low, mostly cover the pot, and simmer gently for 30 to 40 minutes, or until all the vegetables are mashably soft. Taste the soup; season generously with salt and pepper.

You can serve the soup as is, mash lightly with the back of a spoon, or puree the soup through a food mill, blender, immersion blender, or food processor. If desired, garnish with the topping(s) of your choice. Or, if you prefer, chill it and serve cold.

Store leftover soup covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or pack airtight and freeze up to 2 months.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

Pumpkin Trifecta Day, Recipe #2.

I have a soft spot for pumpkins. I also have a soft spot for the folks over at Bon Appetit’s The Feed. Not only do they keep me in a constant state of inspiration with their posts, they also regularly review and give away cookbooks.

Last fall, I was a lucky winner, and as it happened, I already owned the cookbook I’d won — the review was that good, I’d already gone out and bought it. I casually mentioned to the sweet editor who contacted me that I owned the cookbook, and was there any possibility of switching?

“Yes, we could give you a different cookbook. I have a gazillion ones sitting in front of me. Want to give me an idea of what you’re looking for and I can suggest some titles?”

Enter Dorie Greenspan. I’d been swooning over Around My French Table for awhile, and had recently come across one of the featured recipes, “Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good.” If even a dozen recipes looked half as good as that one, I knew it would be right up my alley.

The editor agreed, and a few days later, a big, beautiful hardcover cookbook with gorgeous photos and mouthwatering recipes was sitting on my coffee table, just waiting for me to dive in.

So far, “Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good” is still my favorite recipe from the book. It’s really more of an outline than a recipe, meant to be adapted as the mood strikes you.

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The original recipe calls for stale bread, but I like cooked rice for the risotto-like end product. Dorie also suggests adding cooked sausage or ham, nuts, chunks of apples or pears, or cooked vegetables such as kale, spinach or chard. These all sound absolutely perfect.

You have choices for serving, too: cut wedges of the pumpkin and filling; spoon out portions of the filling, making sure to get a generous amount of pumpkin; or dig into the pumpkin with a big spoon, and pull the pumpkin flesh into the filling and mix it all up. Serve with a salad as a cold-weather main course, or as the perfect fall side dish. It’s a worthy addition to any Thanksgiving table. Omit the bacon, and it’s also vegetarian.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

Adapted from Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)

Makes 2 very generous servings or 4 small servings

1 sugar pumpkin, about 3 pounds

Salt and pepper

1 1/2 to 2 c cooked rice

1/4 lb cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmental (Emmenthal), cheddar or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I used Trader Joe’s Emmental)

4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and crumbled (I used Trader Joe’s applewood smoked bacon)

1/4 c snipped fresh chives

1 1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme

1/3 to 1/2 c cream

Pinch of nutmeg

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a heavy-duty baking sheet with a baking mat or parchment, or use a Dutch oven or casserole dish slightly larger than the pumpkin, coated with butter, oil or cooking spray.

Wash and dry the pumpkin. Using a sturdy, sharp knife, cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle (like carving a jack-o’-lantern). Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and the inside of the pumpkin. (I like to use an ice cream scoop). Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper. Put the pumpkin on the baking sheet or in the pot or casserole.

In a bowl, toss together the filling ingredients (everything except the cream and nutmeg). Season with pepper. (Note: you can also add salt to the filling, but the cheese and bacon may make it salty enough; be sure to taste it first.) Pack the filling into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well-filled; you might have a little too much filling, or you might need to add to it. Stir the nutmeg into the cream and pour into the pumpkin to moisten the ingredients. You don’t want the ingredients to swim in cream; the pumpkin will exude some additional liquid while cooking.

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for 90-120 minutes, checking at 90 minutes. Everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling, and the flesh of the pumpkin should be tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork. If desired, remove the cap during the last 20-30 minutes so that the liquid can bake away and the top can brown a little.

Carefully transfer the pumpkin to a serving platter or to your table.

This dish is best eaten immediately. Scoop out any leftovers, mix them up, cover and chill; reheat the next day.