Cook On: A Toast to France

By Mary Ann Ebner

A short but food-filled visit to see friends in France over the summer centered on art, architecture and history in Paris and Normandy, but the long days of trekking around with museum passes were sustained through meals of all sorts. Yes, Notre Dame ranks as a remarkable creation, but after checking out its wondrous attributes, our family of four was eager to step around the corner to sample Berthillon’s praised ice cream.

Counting calories never seriously crossed my mind, and somewhere around 5,000 per day it seemed as if a translation issue could be used as an excuse to disregard any sense of keeping track. Whatever the calorie cost, from enjoying an assortment of delicate macarons or a fine coffee, proper protocol called for sampling with appreciation.

I can’t speak for the rest of my family, but the afterglow of France and its food and drink remains with me. Not long after our return home, we hosted a teen student from Paris for two weeks. Igor thanked us with an artisanal box of luxurious chocolate, classic pralines and silky truffles that tasted so rich and indulgent that I was tempted to sign up to host another student. And over the last few months, each bottle of wine that we’ve picked up as a hosting gift or to share at home seems to boast a French label.

Now that autumn has arrived, cool weather delivers the optimal climate to recreate the hearty dishes served with red wine that we discovered as affordable specials of the day in France. Artisan Wine Shop in Beacon offered several French wines and a lineup of California selections at its October Second Saturday tasting, which prompted even more French-inspired cooking in my own kitchen. Shop owners Tim Buzinski and Mei Ying So stock more than a few French wines, and they poured several for tasters to try.

“The Mee Godard (Domaine Mee Godard Morgon AOC Grand Cras 2013 France) is from Morgon which is a Cru village in Beaujolais,” Buzinski explained. “This is the kind of gamay that’s not a guzzling wine. It’s sophisticated. You want to have it with food — a roast chicken or pork.”

Artisan Wine Shop stocks a broad range of French wines.  (Photo by M.A. Ebner)

Artisan Wine Shop stocks a broad range of French wines.  (Photo by M.A. Ebner)

At this time of year, selecting wines becomes food focused. Many wines stocked at Artisan will age well for a couple of years, but a high volume of bottles leaving the shop on Main Street now and in the weeks ahead will be ready to drink and won’t have a chance to age much.

“Most people buying right now are going to be drinking the wine in the next few weeks,” Buzinski said. For an occasion like Thanksgiving, with an array of food selections around most tables, guests will appreciate a wine with structure and character that will enable them to taste where a wine comes from.

Co-proprietor Mei Ying So, who along with Buzinski is a Culinary Institute of America graduate, developed an appreciation for French wine during their six weeks of mandatory wines course work at the Culinary Institute, but she credits her partiality to an even earlier experience.

“I got my degree in literary studies with a concentration in French literature and I spent my junior year in Paris,” she said. Though she dedicated far more time to studying in Paris than sampling wine, Mei Ying recalls her time in France fondly. “I do favor French wine in general, and once people taste our wines, they love it. One of our best-selling reds is the L’effet Papillon. People come back for it.”

Rich and creamy sliced potatoes (Photo by M.A. Ebner) 

Rich and creamy sliced potatoes (Photo by M.A. Ebner)

We sampled the L’effet Papillon at home and at a modest price it made a welcome companion to dinner, which mirrored one of our Paris meals — bistro fare with a 50-cl carafe of red. Along with a suggestion that Mei Ying recommended, a vegetarian shepherd’s pie loaded with tons of mushrooms, we’ve found a little comfort in a starchy serving that appeared on our plates with roast duck at a restaurant near Normandy. It may be a distant cousin to your great aunt’s scalloped variation or Gratin Dauphinois, the paper-thin potato slices with a crusty baked finish championed by Julia Child.

This dish is a simple stovetop preparation, perfect served as a side to just about anything but also so full of warmth that the creamy sauce and thick slices can stand alone as a main course — partnered with a glass of red wine.

Perfect Potatoes

Serves 6

3 pounds of potatoes
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, diced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon dill weed
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
¼ chopped fresh chives

Place potatoes in pan and cover with cold water. Boil potatoes over medium heat until done to an almost-tender consistency. Drain and allow time to cool. When fully cooled, peel skin away and slice.

In heavy saucepan, cook cream, milk, butter, garlic and mustard over medium heat until just reaching a low boil. Fold in herbs. Gently layer in potato slices and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook 15 minutes over low heat. Top with chives.

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