I LOVE casseroles! Surprisingly, I didn’t discover them until I became a college student and cooked in my dorm with other people and the wide variety of home cooking recipes that we shared. I’m excluding all forms of baked pasta from the category of casseroles as my half-Italian mother was a master of lasagna and baked mac-and-cheese.
As I learned many years later, when asking why she didn’t make casseroles, there were two reasons, one from each of my parents. The first was that my father did not like leftovers. Casseroles being a creative way to reuse leftovers, he was onto that game. The second was that my mother didn’t like her food mixed together. Most of my childhood meals are what I call “three position dinners”: meat, starch, and vegetable, arranged separately on the plate. I had no idea that this was my mother’s preferred way of interacting with her dinner.
I love my food mixed together. One reason is probably because I don’t like to eat that much meat. With it mixed with vegetables and other ingredients, I like to think it’s less noticeable to other people eating what I cook.
Pot pies are a favorite. Good in any cooler weather season, a pot pie is my favorite vehicle for post-Thanksgiving leftovers. The turkey, vegetables, and gravy all get a second life. I’ve always topped a pot pie with pastry or biscuits. In this French version, Chicken Pot Parmentier, a dressed-up pot pie filling is topped with smooth mashed potatoes. It’s kind of like a potpie-Shepherd’s pie mashup, but the filling can’t disguise its Francophile leanings: a dash of wine, a handful of chopped tarragon, miniature onions.
As any casserole requires, I tweaked the ingredients to work with what has on-hand. I didn’t have an open bottle of wine, so used sherry. I had leftover turkey breast, so used that instead of chicken. I couldn’t find pearl onions at the grocery store but used cute little Cippolini onions that they did have. I also quartered them because they seemed too big relative to the diced carrots and celery.
There were a few standout takeaways from the recipe. First, simmering the vegetables in the broth to be used for the velouté sauce was a genius nod to simplicity. I also loved the flavor the wine added to the sauce. The egg yolk added to the mashed potatoes added extra structure that worked well.
This week we weren’t eating many meals at home, so I made only one-third of the recipe (always divide by the eggs) and made two individually-sized Chicken Pot Parmentiers. They were adorable and just the right serving size for each of us. No leftovers from the leftovers!
I’d definitely make this again, full-size or maybe divided into more individual servings, depending on my mood. Chicken Pot Pie amped up a notch or two into French comfort food. This is a winning recipe.
Want to make this yourself? You can find the recipe on page 166 of David Leibovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. Want to know how other renditions turned out? Follow the links of my fellow home cooks from Cook the Book Fridays here.
I have mixed feelings about French desserts. Tarts I adore, but I’m indifferent to many of the pastries. Maybe it’s because I’m not a big fan of pastry cream and whipped cream. There are plenty of French sweets I’d never met before. Over the past couple of years, making more French recipes, I’ve started to have a new appreciation for little French cakes.
The past two challenges for Cook the Book Fridays have been for little cakes. Both are rich from butter, but in counterpoint, are not too sweet.
The first one, financiers, are little almond cakes with browned butter. They taste nutty from almond flour and the browned butter. The French have a special mold for baking these, but I used mini-muffin pans. These baby cakes are simple to mix up and are a good way to use up extra egg whites. And they taste good too!
The other little cakes I made were madeleines. The batter is also simple to make, but these require a special pan. I had more trouble with these. In the past, I’ve chilled the batter, but this time, the recipe just said to let it rest (at room temperature, I assumed). The molds are supposed to be filled just three-quarters. The imprints are so shallow, it’s hard to judge. I used my smallest cookie scoop, but it was a bit too much. The cakes rose and touched their neighbors. Not the way it’s supposed to work. There was some extra batter, so I chilled it overnight, and tried again.
Round 2, I was more careful about filling the molds, erring on the side of underfilled. That worked much better, though my pan-buttering technique had some shortcomings. The cakes stayed inside the expected boundaries, but most of them stuck to the pan. When they finally came out, they were NOT pretty. I had brushed the mold with melted butter, but I think I should have smeared it around with a paper towel for better coverage.
Even though their appearance was lacking, these baby cakes tasted lovely. I liked the subtle flavor of honey – just a touch, not cloying at all.
I’d be confident in whipping up some financiers any time, but the madeleines will need more practice.
If you want to try yourself, you’ll find the recipe for financiers on page 268 of David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen and the recipe for madeleines on page 274. My friends’ reviews for financiers can be found here and for madeleines here.
Boston people: I have something you must check out this month. Last week I went with some friends to check out some of Fujiko Nakaya’s fog sculptures on the Emerald Necklace. At 5 different locations, special misting nozzles create fog that rolls through the landscape. It’s hard to describe, but it’s quite magical. Fog x FLO is a special exhibit in honor of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s 20th anniversary. It runs through the end of October. Find all the details here.