Statue of Liberté

July 16, 2017

La Vie en Provence

Happy (belated) Bastille Day, everyone! I’ve been dying to make Boeuf Bourguignon lately, but, in the interest of keeping things manageable, I decided to put together a meal that eats like a member of the bourgeoisie, but can be done on a proletariat budget.

I tend to feel like most French food is comfort food because it’s got a ton of butter in it (and who doesn’t like butter?), but it’s the kind of comfort food that you don’t feel like you need to loosen your belt and never move from the couch again, after you’ve finished eating it. I decided to tackle my approach to the French classic dish, the quiche (pastry crust and all), Poulet Rôti à l’Orange et aux Olives Noires (roasted chicken with oranges and black olives), and, my favourite, black chocolate creampuffs. French cooking, I’ve learned, is incredibly precise – use the wrong speed on your food processor, and you’ll end up with butter, not pastry dough. But oh, is it worth the effort.

First up: the quiche. The thing I love most about quiche is how versatile it is – easy to make, not very expensive to prepare (depending on what you fill your quiche with), healthy (again, depending on what goes into your quiche), and delicious, this dish is pretty while also being perfect for those times when you need to use up ingredients in your refrigerator or want to let your inner chef come out to play. I happened to have some bell peppers and feta I needed to use up and love how the flavours of feta, peppers, spinach, and tomatoes work together, so I decided to make a Feta, Bell Pepper, Tomato, and Spinach Quiche.

Interestingly, while the quiche is most immediately associated with France, this dish was originally called kuchen (koo-chen) and actually originated during the Medieval Period, in the then-German-controlled territory of Lothringen, later renamed Lorraine when it became part of France. The quiche became popular in England after World War Two and made its way to the US in the 1950s, gradually adapting to reflect the tastes and traditions of individuals all over France and the world. Popular flavours include broccoli and cheese, ham and potato, and the famous Quiche Lorraine.

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Before we get to the goodies, let’s start with the crust. I cannot emphasize this enoughif you feel confident enough to make your own crust for this quiche, do so. If you don’t, you’re welcome to buy a pre-made, deep-dish pie crust from the store, but I recommend at least trying to make your own – it makes all the difference in the world with how the crust (and the quiche overall) tastes. I used a 9-inch deep pie dish (pictured above); to make the crust, you need the following (this quiche will serve 6-8 people):

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 sticks cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cups ice water
  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Lightly coat bottom and sides of pie dish with olive oil.
  3. Pulse flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until just combined (consistency should be crumbly).
  4. Add butter; pulse 5-6 times until mixture consistency is crumbly, with tiny pieces of butter appearing in the mixture.
  5. While pulsing food processor intermittently, add ice water. Mixture should still have a crumbly consistency, but hold together when pinched.
  6. Remove dough mixture from food processor and form a 3/4-inch thick disk. Wrap in wax paper and let chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove chilled dough from refrigerator and roll between two pieces of wax paper, until dough is approximately 14 inches around; remove top layer of wax paper and carefully drape crust over pie dish.
  8. Cover bottom and sides of pie dish with dough; crimp dough around top of pie dish.
  9. Lightly poke dough on bottom of pie dish 4-5 times with a fork; blind bake 5-10 minutes.
  10. Remove pie crust from oven and set aside.

The filling is pretty direct; you’ll need the following:

  • 1/2 cup bell pepper, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach, rinsed and julienned
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 tbsp. herbs de Provence
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  1. Lightly coat skillet with olive oil.
  2. Add peppers to skillet and sauté over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add spinach and continue cooking, stirring periodically, until spinach has wilted (about 2-3 minutes).
  4. Remove from heat and combine mixture with 1/2 tsp. salt and black pepper; set aside and let cool.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, half-and-half, herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper.
  6. Sprinkle tomatoes evenly over bottom of cooled pie crust, then add pepper and spinach mixture and top with feta.

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7. Pour egg mixture over feta, tomatoes, spinach, and peppers and let settle briefly.
8. Place pie dish on baking sheet and place in oven to cook (about 30-45 minutes).

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9. Make sure quiche is cooked completely through by inserting a toothpick or fork into the center; remove from oven and set aside to cool when finished.
10. Enjoy!

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The next dish, Poulet Rôti à l’Orange et aux Olives Noires (roasted chicken with oranges and black olives) is so simple, it’s amazing. Even better, it combines the comfort of French, Provençal-style country cooking with the Sunday chicken dinner tradition familiar to so many people of different cultures, making this dish an ideal comfort food. Bonus points for also being healthy.

I borrowed this recipe from Hillary Davis’ French Comfort Food, with a few tweaks. To make this dish (and wow all of your guests), you’ll need:

  • 1 medium, ripe orange
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp. fresh tarragon leaves
  • 12 leaves fresh, flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp. herbs de Provence
  • 4 tbsp. Seville orange marmalade (available at Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 (2.25 oz.) can sliced, pitted black olives, drained
  • 1 (5-6 lb.) whole roasting chicken (I used two 2-3 lb. chickens at Costco, but one 5-6 lb. bird will work just as well)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Zest orange; squeeze 1 tbsp. orange juice from orange and divide orange halves into quarters. Set aside.
  3. In a food processor, combine olive oil, orange zest, garlic, tarragon, parsley, herbs de Provence, orange juice, marmalade, and half of the olives. Combine until ingredients make a paste.
  4. Remove innards from chicken and discard.
  5. Place chicken(s) in a roasting pan with rack.
  6. Cut a slit just under the skin of the chicken, near the cavity, and generously slather some of the paste under the skin, making sure to cover the entire breast area.
  7. Use the remaining paste to coat the top of the chicken, allowing any extra to slide off the chicken into the roasting pan.
  8. Stuff the cavity with the quartered orange pieces.
  9. Add chicken stock and olives to bottom of roasting pan.
  10. Place in oven and bake 1.5-2 hours, or until chicken is fully cooked inside. About an hour after placing roasting pan in oven, cover with aluminum foil and place back in oven to continue cooking.
  11. When chicken is done, remove from oven and let cool.
  12. Serve and enjoy!
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Fresh from the oven, with the flavour from the paste crisped up on top.

Last but not least… dessert! I feel like this treat needs no further introduction – who doesn’t love chocolate and cream (especially when those things appear together in the same place)? This sweet treat, known in France as a profiterole, has been a favourite since the 16th century and is credited to a chef employed by Catherine de Medici (wife of French king Henri II), who began the long (and delicious) tradition of filling puffed pastries with cream, though the concept of the profiterole was originally invented, not as a dessert, but as a means of tipping servants with small rolls of bread that were often filled with savoury items.

While their names are different, the profiterole and the cream puff are conceptually the same, the main difference being that profiteroles are typically filled with whipped cream, custard, or pastry cream, while their American counterparts, the cream puff, often contain ice cream as a filling. I decided to go for an option that sounds fancier to eat than it is to make, chantilly cream, and borrow the recipe for profiteroles found in French Comfort Food.

I’ll be honest – I was somewhat afraid to tackle this dessert, since the process of forming the dough used for making the cream puffs happens pretty quickly (not so quickly that it’s not doable, but enough that I unfortunately wasn’t able to make any photos of the first few steps) – but as long as you’re on top of things (literally – the entire process of making the dough is done over a stovetop), you should be fine.

This recipe makes 12-18 profiteroles. You’ll need:

DOUGH:

  • 1 stick of butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1.5 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature

CHANTILLY CREAM:

  • 1.5 cups cold heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

BLACK CHOCOLATE SAUCE:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 bag Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips

DOUGH:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. In a saucepan over low-medium heat, slowly melt the butter in the milk and water.
  3. When butter is melted, add vanilla, almond extract, sugar, and salt, and stir to combine.
  4. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and add flour.
  5. Stir mixture with a wooden spoon and cook until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and forms a smooth ball.
  6. Scrape the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer and let cool to room temperature.
  7. Once dough is cool, turn on mixer and beat dough on medium speed, adding eggs individually and mixing until all eggs have been combined into dough and dough is thick and glossy.
  8. Remove the dough from the mixer bowl; if you have a pastry bag or quart-sized storage bag available and feel comfortable piping the dough, fill the bag with the profiterole dough and pipe out round balls onto a greased baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. If you prefer to use spoons to place the dough on the sheet, use two large spoons (one for scooping the dough out of the bowl, one for scraping the dough off the first spoon) to place the dough on the baking sheet and form it into a round shape. The balls of dough will need to be large enough when baked to hold about 1 tbsp. of filling, so don’t be afraid to make the dough balls a little on the larger side.
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The dough balls may come out a little on the lumpy side; brush the tops with some water to smooth them out before baking.

9. Place baking sheet in the oven to bake for 15 minutes.
10. Rotate baking sheet, cut a small slit in the side of each dough ball to release some of the steam, place back in the oven to bake for another 5-10 minutes. The puffs should be dried out inside and sound hollow when tapped; cut one open before removing the baking sheet from the oven to check. If the puffs are not done baking, place them back in the oven for another 5-10 more minutes.
11. When puffs are done, turn off the oven and leave puffs inside the oven to cool and to prevent the puffs from collapsing in on themselves.

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Do as I say, not as I do – some of my puffs began to sink in the process of taking this photo.

12. While puffs are cooling, make the chantilly cream and chocolate sauce:

CHANTILLY CREAM:

  1. Combine cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla in a bowl.
  2. Using a mixer or a whisk, beat mixture together until thick; mixture should form peaks. Do not overmix.
  3. Store in refrigerator until ready to use or cut puffs in half (if cool) and fill with cream.

BLACK CHOCOLATE SAUCE:

  1. Heat cream and vanilla in a saucepan over medium-low heat until just boiling.
  2. Add chocolate, lower heat to low, and stir until chocolate is completely melted and sauce is smooth and dark.
  3. Set aside to cool or drizzle over finished profiteroles.

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Enjoy!

Fun fact: The metric system and the camera phone were both invented in France; the metric system was established in 1793, with the camera phone being developed by Philippe Khan 204 years later, in 1997. The kilt, known around the world as a symbol of Scottish heritage, also has French roots, having actually originated in France, not Scotland. “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (“Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”) is the national motto of France, and was officially adopted at the end of the 19th century.

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