Phew! That was a long break! Apologies for my absence, mes amis. I was working on revisions to my new book, which meant the rest of my communication was limited to caveman grunts. I’ve been subsisting on crackers and peanut butter and my husband’s cooking (turns out he’s a genius with ground meat: chili, bolognese, sloppy joe’s). We celebrated Valentine’s Day (that is, Due Day) with leftover lasagna eaten in the glow of my laptop as I frantically finished editing the final pages. Romantic, eh?
But now, the final draft has been turned in! And, the draft that came after the final draft? That has also been turned in! I am free again to blog, and bake, and read novels, and respond to email that’s been sitting in my inbox since December. But before I start on all those fun projects, I thought I’d cook my husband a lovely dinner, the one I wanted to make on Valentine’s Day. And who better to advise me on bonne femme recipes, than the author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook, Wini Moranville? Today she shares an elegant Tuesday Dinner: beef filet in cherry and red wine sauce.
Wini is a food writer, author, and summer resident of France — every year, she and her husband rent a little apartment in a town like Collioure, in the Languedoc (pictured above). These warm-weather sojourns have given her the opportunity to dive into honest French cooking, as eaten by real French families. Wini has gathered these tips in The Bonne Femme Cookbook, which offers 250 recipes for simple, fresh ingredients prepared well. I’m delighted to welcome Wini and discover a few French housewife cooking secrets.
On whipping up an elegant French dinner in thirty minutes:
I am all about the “sauté-deglaze-serve” method of cooking. That is, you sauté the meat in a skillet, then deglaze the pan with wine and/or chicken broth. Stir up those tasty browned bits clinging to the pan, reduce the liquids, and then finish this fabulous pan sauce with a few flavorings, such as mustard and capers for pork chops, balsamic vinegar and red grapes for chicken, olives and tomatoes for lamb — I have about 35 variations in the book. Round out the meal with whatever veggies looks good at the market and perhaps my Any-Night Baked Rice — a riff on an old Pierre Franey recipe.
When in doubt, freeze it:
Many French stews and braises freeze extremely well. Generally, they make big batches, with plenty of leftovers. So it’s not unusual to for me to have Blanquette de Porc, Beef Bourguignon, Basque-Style Chicken, or another one of my recipes ready to reheat from the freezer. They’ll thaw and reheat in about the time it takes for me to pour and enjoy a Kir with my husband. Which I do just about every night.
Her favorite pantry staples:
–Wine. It’s the key to intensifying flavors, from quick pan sauces to long-simmering braises.
–Dijon mustard. On the busiest of nights, I count Dijon mustard as a fine sauce for pork chops, steaks, or smoked sausage.
–Shallots. Whenever I don’t know what I’m cooking for dinner, I start chopping a shallot, as something will come to me soon, and it’s generally a key ingredient in one of my pan sauces.
–Butter. I adore what a little touch of butter can bring to a dish in terms of flavor, richness, and intensity.
–Parsley. French cooks use both curly-leaf and flat-leaf parsley, and it’s just a great boost of freshness.
On being prepared:
Think of the “sauté-deglaze-serve” method of cooking a little bit like an Asian stir-fry — it’s a really quick process, so you’ll want to get everything chopped, measured, and ready to go before you start the recipe. It’s amazing how fast a meal can truly get to the table when you take a few minutes to get organized in advance.
Beef filet with Cherry and Red Wine Sauce
By Wini Moranville
Note from Ann: I loved this variation on a traditional steak dinner — the sauce elegantly balances sweet and savory. I couldn’t find dried cherries, so I used a spoonful of sour cherry jam instead, which gave the sauce a lovely, luscious sheen.
Makes 4 servings
4 (6-ounce) tenderloin steaks (1 inch thick)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
3/4 cup low-sodium beef broth
3/4 cup dry red wine
1/3 cup dried tart cherries
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1. Season both sides of the steaks with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium- high heat. Add the steaks and cook, turning as needed, to the desired doneness (10 to 12 minutes for medium-rare); reduce the heat as necessary if the meat browns too quickly. Transfer the steaks to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
2. Add the shallot to the skillet and sauté briefly, until translucent. Add the beef broth and red wine to the pan and cook,stirring with a whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the cherries and vinegar and bring to a boil. Boil until the liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup — this should take 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the heat and your pan size. Whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Stir in the thyme. Season the sauce with additional salt and pepper.
3. Divide the steaks among four dinner plates, spoon the sauce over the steaks, and serve.
(All non-food photos courtesy of Wini Moranville.)