Paris in April is a lovely experience

Published 12:02 am Saturday, April 21, 2012

A good book led to a good dinner from this cookbook by David Lebovitz.

I have always had the fantasy of going to Paris in April, but have never made it. I have been to Paris many times, but it was in the summer or fall and winter. But every April I always think about what it would be like to spend a month in Paris.

I just finished reading a book by David Lebovitz called, The Sweet Life in Paris, published in 2009. Lebovitz is a pastry chef and was for 12 years at Chez Panisse, the famous restaurant created by Alice Waters in California. He has written five dessert cookbooks and writes for major food magazines and has a Paris-based blog. He decided to just up and go live in Paris and did not know the language at all. His stories about getting into Parisian living are superbly funny, and I found myself laughing throughout the whole book. He also has some recipes at the end of every chapter, mainly desserts (which one would expect) but there are some main course dishes given as well.

He also has some good advice for those planning to visit Paris. The French do judge you on how you look and present yourself, even if you are dumping your garbage. In Paris, the rules dictate one should not dress in grungy jeans and a ripped T-shirt. Since only 20 percent of Americans have passports, we don’t get out as much as we should, and our dealings with foreigners are usually on our own turf. Most Americans complain about such things as, “Why is there no ice?” “Why don’t they have doggie bags?” “Why can’t I pick something up off the store shelf?” or “Why is that waiter having a cigarette when we asked for our check over 30 minutes ago?” This is France after all!

Lebovitz tells of cooking his first dinner for some French friends in his little kitchen. He assumed that half a chicken would be the right amount for each person, American-style. But he finally cut back on his shopping since the French are content and patient enough to fuss endlessly with a lone chicken leg for much longer that he thought possible. He derived endless fascination from watching them extract each and every morsel of meat from a bony wing with finely honed, surgical precision. Of interest on this matter, I was reading the latest issue of “Garden and Gun,” and Julia Reed, a writer from New Orleans, was bemoaning the fact that some of her fancy friends had begun sucking on the chicken bones to get the marrow out of them. Julia was shocked, and so was I when I read this. So, maybe the French are way ahead of us on a good thing!

I decided to do David’s first meal for his French friends. The French have taken a liking to North African food, so he did a chicken tagine with apricot and almonds. It was wonderful and so tasty with all the different spices. It was so good I actually thought about sucking on the bones. My husband says the spicy sauce is a keeper.

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds

Tagine De Poulet Aux Abricots Et Aux Amandes

Makes 4-6 servings

4 ounces dried apricots

1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, and each beast cut in half crosswise, leaving wings attached)

I bought an organic chicken from Whole Foods; free range would be even better.

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons paprika

½ teaspoon saffron threads (did not have any)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cups chicken stock (if using canned, use a low-salt brand or water)

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a bit extra for garnish

1 tablespoon honey

Juice of ½ lemon

3/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the apricots in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the chicken pieces with the ginger, turmeric, paprika, saffron, cinnamon, salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or similar ovenproof casserole. Add the onion and cook for five minutes over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent.

Add the chicken and cook for three minutes, turning the pieces with tongs to release the fragrance of the spices. Pour in the stock, add the cilantro and cover.

Bake for 50 minutes, turning the chicken pieces once or twice while they’re braising.

Remove the casserole from the oven. Use tongs to transfer the chicken to a deep serving platter, then cover with foil. Return the casserole to the stovetop, add the honey and lemon juice, and reduce the sauce over medium-high heat by about one-third. Taste, and add more salt if necessary.

Return the chicken to the pot, add the almonds, and reheat in the sauce. Transfer the tagine back to the serving platter. Drain the apricots and spoon them over the top, then garnish with additional cilantro.

I served this with cous-cous, which you can buy at all stores.

If you want to know how to behave and where to go in Paris, I would suggest you buy this book by David Lebovitz. It is in paperback and was on the New York Times bestseller list. The recipes are excellent, so you get a good story and some ideas for food also.