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Thu, April 09

Bon Appetit! French cuisine sure to please dinner companions

Thyme-Toasted Almonds

(Recipe from Patricia Wells at epicurious.com.)

1 tablespoon fresh or dried thyme, leaves only

2 teaspoons fleur de sel (high quality sea salt, fine sea salt is ok)

1/2 teaspoon piment díEspelette (Tabasco OK)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces whole, unblanched almonds

Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large, shallow bowl, combine thyme, salt and oil. Set aside. Place almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven and toast until the nuts are lightly browned, fragrant, and making crackling sounds, about 8 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Immediately add the hot nuts to the thyme mixture. Stir for a least 1 minute to coat the almonds evenly and thoroughly. Let cool (they get very hot) and adjust the seasoning, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store well-sealed for up to two weeks. To refresh, reheat in a hot oven.) Makes 8 ounces.

Chilled Watercress Soup with Leeks and Creme Fraiche

(Recipe from Bon Appetit magazine.)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 cups sliced leeks (about 3 medium; white and pale green parts only)

1-1/4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, sliced 3/4-inch thick

2 garlic cloves, chopped

7-1/4 cups (or more) canned low-salt chicken broth

3 large bunches watercress (about 1-1/2 pounds), thick stems trimmed

2/3 cup whipping cream

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Creme fraiche (available in dairy section of some supermarkets) or sour cream

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add leeks, potatoes and garlic. Sauté until leeks are tender and potatoes are beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes. Add watercress and simmer until wilted, about 5 minutes.

Cool soup slightly. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Transfer soup to bowl; stir in cream and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until cold, at least 4 hours. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Thin soup with more broth, if desired. Ladle soup into chilled bowls. Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream. Makes 8 servings.

Green Salad with Walnut-Shallot Vinaigrette

(Recipe from Bon Appetit magazine.)

1/3 cup chopped shallots (about 2)

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 cup walnut oil or olive oil

1 package (5-ounce) mixed baby greens (about 10 cups)

1/2 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts

Whisk shallots, vinegar and mustard in small bowl until well blended. Gradually whisk in walnut oil. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper. Combine greens and 1/4 cup walnuts in large bowl. Toss salad with enough vinaigrette to coat. Divide salad among eight plates. Sprinkle with remaining walnuts. Makes eight servings.

Champagne Chicken

(Recipe from Cooking Pleasures magazine)

Mushrooms

1 pound various mushrooms (such as crimini, portobello, shiitake and/or chanterelle), very coarsely chopped

1/4 cup minced shallots

3 small garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 cups brut Champagne or other sparkling wine

1/2 cup whipping cream

Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (or equivalent amount tenders)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Fresh chervil, chives or chopped parsley

In large nonstick skillet, brown mushrooms in 2 batches over high heat. Reduce heat. Add shallots, garlic, tarragon, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; stir to mix.

Reserve 2 tablespoons Champagne; set aside. Add remaining Champagne to mushroom mixture; boil over high heat about 10 minutes or until liquid has reduced to about 1/3 cup. Add cream; cook until reduced slightly. Taste and add more cream if mixture still has a sharp wine taste. Set mushroom mixture aside. (Recipe can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.)

To make chicken breasts more uniform for sautéing, place each breast between 2 pieces of plastic wrap; lightly pound thicker end with meat mallet. (This can be done in advance; refrigerate chicken until ready to cook.)

Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Lightly dredge chicken with flour; shake off excess.

Heat large sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add oil; heat until hot. Reduce heat to medium. Add chicken; cook 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown and no longer pink in center, turning once. Remove chicken from pan; place on warm platter.

Remove any excess oil from pan; place pan over medium heat. Add reserved 2 tablespoons Champagne. Stir to remove any browned bits from pan. Add mushrooms; mix well. Bring to a boil. Spoon mushrooms around chicken. Garnish with fresh herbs. Makes 4 servings.

TIP: To prevent meat from sticking to a metal sauté pan, heat the pan before adding any oil. Add the oil after the pan is hot; wait only moments until the oil starts to shimmer and then add the meat. This may not prevent all sticking problems, but it will eliminate most of them. In addition, the meat will build up richer color and flavor. Per serving: 340 calories, 17 g total fat, 525 mg sodium.

Vinegared Carrots

(Recipe from Food and Wine magazine)

This lightly pickled condiment can be served on its own as a side salad as well as on sandwiches. Itís great as a side dish with Champagne Chicken.

1 pound carrots

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1-1/2 cups water

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Julienne the carrots on a mandoline or coarsely grate them on a box grater. In a colander, toss the carrots with the salt. Let stand in the sink for 30 minutes to drain, then rinse, squeeze dry and transfer to a bowl.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the water with the vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let the dressing cool to room temperature. Pour the dressing over the carrots and stir them gently. Let the carrots stand for at least 1 hour. To serve, lift the carrots from the liquid with a slotted spoon. Makes about 2 cups.

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