I Declare War on Frisée!

No one looks at a coil of barbed wire and thinks, “I would like to eat that.” Yet there are eaters among us who see a plate of frisée and think that very thought. Psychologists have a word for these people: masochists. How else to explain the inexplicable desire to consume razor-like stalks of pale green lettuce, each bite ravaging the inside of one’s mouth? It’s time for someone in the food world to stand up and expose frisée for what it really is: a sadistic trick of nature, seducing chefs and gardeners around the world with a hidden pheromone that creates the illusion that frisée is actually good to eat. I assure you, it’s not.

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Food Book Giveaway: David Lebovitz’s “The Sweet Life”

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My friend David Lebovitz wrote a wonderful book about living in Paris called “The Sweet Life” (read my write-up about it here) and now that it’s out in paperback, his publisher has generously agreed to donate THREE copies to readers of The Amateur Gourmet. If you’d like to win a copy, make up a French dish that doesn’t really exist and describe it in the comments. The best three win.

UPDATE: The winners have been chosen! Click below to see them.

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How To Host A Vegetarian Dinner Party (Answer: Mushroom Bourguignon)

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My friend Lisa was there at the very beginning of this blog. Six years ago, she and I would have debates about the worthiness of olives, we’d sing songs about pumpkin cake, and often we’d cook together. Then I moved far away to a country called Brooklyn and even though Lisa and I still saw each other socially, we’d rarely cook together. Three years passed. In that time, my cooking improved immeasurably and Lisa got engaged. Life is funny that way. And now that I’m back in Manhattan and Lisa still has an appetite I decided to invite Lisa, her fiance Eric, our friend Ricky and his new boyfriend David over for a sumptuous feast. Only problem: Lisa still is (and always has been) a vegetarian. What would I make for dinner?

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Coq au Vin

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Dear New York Weather: it’s almost June, and yesterday I was wearing a sweatshirt and I had the heat on. And it’s almost June! I understand you have your peculiarities, that you’re grappling with a diminishing ozone and toxic emissions, but I bought some cute new short sleeve shirts from UniQlo in SoHo (what a deal!) and I want to wear them, ok?

But in the meantime, I forgive you because if it weren’t for your unseasonable chill, would I have tried my hand at Coq au Vin, a traditional cold weather dish? The answer, I think, is no. And what a loss that would’ve been because this dish, this French classic of chicken braised in red wine, may be one of the best dishes I’ve ever cooked. We devoured it.

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Squid and Leeks in Red Wine

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I’ve got a Valentine’s Day gift for you. It has a fancy French name–“Estouffade de Calmars aux Poireaux”–and it may be the most perfect thing for you to make tomorrow night as you try to seduce your Valentine.

What makes it so seductive? For starters, look at the color: a deep reddish/purple, it positively screams passion and romance. Secondly, the smell: there is no smell greater, in all of cooking, than the smell of red wine stewing away on the stove. And, finally, the effect: the resulting dish is quite satisfying, but not heavy at all. You’ll have so much energy for a post-dinner romp, even Cupid would blush at the result.

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Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps

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When Anthony Bourdain cooks with Michael Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of “No Reservations,” he layers meat and beans together in a giant drum, tops the whole thing off with breadcrumbs and produces a dish most of us aren’t used to seeing on Food TV (and I say that as someone who now works for Food TV): a classic French cassoulet that’d put Julia Child to shame.

Cassoulet is a dish that just makes sense. Why does it make sense? You take fatty, flavorful meat, put it in a big pot with moisture-hungry beans and bake the whole thing until the beans are infused with all that fat and flavor and the meat is cooked. It’s not meant to be a fancy dish–this is the kind of food French people make at home–and it’s infinitely variable, as evidenced by the infinite cassoulet recipes you will find in my infinite cookbook collection, recipes that vary the type of meat, the type of bean, even the amount of time it takes to make the dish (Bourdain’s recipe, in his “Les Halles Cookbook,” calls for three days). I didn’t have three days to spare on Friday night when I set out to make my very first cassoulet. So I turned to an under-praised, underused book in my collection: Daniel Boulud’s “Daniel’s Dish: Entertaining at Home with a Four-Star Chef”.

It’s a great recipe for its simplicity (it’s called “Casual Cassoulet”) and yet the recipe has a serious flaw: it’s meant to be cooked in a 15-Qt Dutch Oven. I completely missed that part when I shopped for my ingredients, so I prepped enough food for a pot 3X bigger than the one I had. Therefore, the recipe that follows is my adaptation of Daniel’s recipe for Dutch Ovens of a more realistic size. Daniel’s recipe calls for lamb shoulder, but I left that out too: sausage + duck + bacon = plenty of meat for one dish, thank you very much.

Since winter’s almost over, this is the perfect dish to make on one of our last cold winter’s nights. I promise it’s easy and I promise the pay-off is big. And so, without further ado, Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps.

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