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French twist on comfort food in 'Bistros and Brasseries' cookbook cookbook

For those blessed with a hunger for authentic comfort food and a willingness to take the time to create simple and satisfying food, consider The Culinary Institute of America’s (CIA) “Bistros and Brasseries” cookbook. Put together by John W. Fischer and Lou Jones, both CIA instructors, there is earthy reality, humor and two lifetimes of learning and loving bistro fare in a manageable manner in this book. It is full to the brim of experiences as recent as an intense tour through the French countryside seeking a “simpler, quicker lunch menu that was still undeniably French” for the CIA’s Escoffier Room Restaurant and as old as the authors’ combined experiences in the culinary world.

Of course, the concept of a bistro has migrated to other parts of the world and the authors developed some of their recipes from famous bistros with decades of fame in London and New York City.

The clarity of the writing and simplicity of the recipes make the cookbook one that may well inspire the cook and non-cook alike. For example, where there are additional skills required, say in the making of puff pastry, well, the truth is that puff pastry can be purchased and the results from this substitution likely to go unnoticed. In addition, there is a chapter devoted to the basics of French cooking as utilized in their cookbook, so nothing is left to chance.

So, as ’tis said, Bon appetite…and be comforted with these most delicious versions of comfort food.

Good onion soup may be hard to find. Learn to make your own and you can have it whenever appetite or occasion bring it to mind.

This version features a flavor fillip of curry powder. A thorough browning of the onions is critical to the flavor of this soup.

Soupe a l’Oignon Gratinee

(Onion soup topped with Cheese)

6 tbsp. unsalted butter

8 ½ cups thinly sliced

sweet onions

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. curry powder

1 ½ cup Chablis or dry white wine

2 tbsp. all purpose flour

8 cups cold beef stock (homemade

or high quality prepared beef stock)

Salt and pepper as needed

Cayenne pepper as needed

12 toasted baguette slices,

¼ inch thick

3 cups grated Gruyere cheese

1 tsp. chopped parsley

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Heat the butter on medium heat in a large, thick-bottomed pan. Add the onions and sauté until they’re softened and a light caramel color, 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and curry powder and continue to cook for another 2 minutes, until the spices release their oils and subsequent aroma. Add the wine and reduce until wine is cooked dry, 18 to 20 minutes. Add the flour and cook 2 more minutes.

4. Take the pan off the heat and pour in the cold stock, stirring thoroughly to distribute the flour throughout the soup. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

5. Season the soup as needed with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Ladle the soup into oven-safe bowls and top with slices of roasted baguette covered with plenty of Gruyere. Place the soup into the oven or under a broiler and cook until golden brown and bubbly, about 10 minutes.

6. Sprinkle each bowl of soup with parsley and serve it immediately.

Serves 6

Yes, French Fries are from France and there they are called Pommes Frites. They are standard fare at bistros.

If you want to make them at home, read the safety rules below and follow the recipe.

The two-stage frying process will ensure a crisp surface and a fluffy interior. McD’s will have nothing up on you!

Pommes Frites

(French Fries)

3 ½ lb. Russet potatoes

Canola or peanut oil as needed

Salt as needed

1. Peel potatoes and cut them into ¼-inch by ¼-inch sticks (if you have one, use a mandolin for this task). Hold the potatoes in cold water until you are ready to blanch. Just before blanching the fries, pat them dry with a clean linen or paper towel.

2. Add the oil to a deep fryer or a deep pot; there should be at least 2 to 3 inches of oil to fry the potatoes. Heat the oil to 300 degrees.

3. Blanch (fry) the potatoes in 2 batches. Maintain the oil temperature until the fries are cooked yet have no color, 3 to 4 mintues. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels.

4. When you are ready to serve the fries, heat the oil to 360 degrees and cook them in 2 batches until they are crisp and golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, sprinkle with salt and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Dishes named “boulangere” have a unique relationship with bread bakers.

At one time, bakers’ ovens were also pressed into service as large, communal ovens.

Families in a town would send casseroles like this to go into the oven after the bread baking was done, where they slowly baked for several hours in the residual heat.

Pommes de Terre Boulangere

(Baked Potatoes and Onions)

6 russet potatoes

2 large yellow onions,

thinly sliced

Salt and pepper as needed

1 cup beef stock

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 tbsp. chopped parley

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Peel the potatoes and slice them 1/8-inch thick. Reserve half of the slices for the top of the dish. Mix the rest of the slices in a bowl with the onions, then season with salt and pepper.

3. Place the mix into a buttered 9x13-inch baking dish. Neatly shingle (overlapping layers as in shingles for a roof) the reserved slices of potato on top.

4. Boil the stock and pour enough over the potatoes to come halfway up. Brush the shingled top with the melted butter.

5. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour. Brush occasionally with butter during baking and moisten the top layer by pushing it down and allowing the stock to baste the potatoes.

6. The potatoes are cooked when they’re golden brown on top and the bottom layers are soft. Remove the potatoes from the oven and sprinkle them with chopped parsley. Let them sit for a few minutes to allow the potatoes to absorb the stock. Serve while nice and hot. Serves 6.


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