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Tina LaiTIna Lai, Gourmet

Extended Families

The Extended Pot
One Pot Cuisine

my daughter Emma is an only child who has her dream come true every summer--becoming part of a large and boisterous family.
Although it’s been years since I have divorced her father, she  has maintained contact with his side of the family by spending two months every summer with her aunt, uncle and of course the troupe of  “les cousins”.  Sometimes there are five kids, sometimes eight as other cousins, godchildren and friends join the pack.
Summer in France is idyllic, as the family packs the caravan and hits the road with the kids and Sam the dog.  They usually start in Paris, work their way down to southeastern Perpignan, back to the grandparents in central Poitiers and a dip into the waters of northern Bretagne.
What better way to maintain my child’s heritage and language and hone her survival skills than throwing in her mix of her colorful extended family? She learns all the social skills of sharing that she needs and all in perfect French to boot.
I for one never liked the term “nuclear” for family. Extended family, besides sounding a heck a lot friendlier and happier than “nuclear”, affords a certain model of economy for our society.
It is certainly more environmentally friendly, so claims our French relations.
For one, you can throw as many kids in the bathtub as it can fit, and all that water doesn’t seem to have gone to waste. You can dry all of them with one towel and not feel guilty to toss in the laundry hamper right after!
Eating however, can resemble feeding times for the seals sometimes as “Tata” (French for Aunt) deftly  flings baguette and jambon sandwiches to the air to whom ever can catch.
Being the single mother of a single child, that still eats a meal course by course, I fantasize myself of what I would do if I had a huge French family to feed.
I would wave my gourmet wand around and come up with the most wonderfully chic one pot dishes served with plenty of  hearty rusty bread that would magically be perfect for eight (or even ten if the neighbors came over). 
Then I would whip up  a beautiful simple dessert  that would be so satisfying that one little piece would do the trick.  And of course and a choice but inexpensive “coup de rouge “ wine for the deserving adults. Ahh… I  would love to live that dream-- but only once a year, of course.

Pasta with Chicken, Nicoise Style

2 packages of pasta such as Farfalle, Rotelle, Shells
cooked and tossed with olive oil
6 large skinless chicken breasts (cutting the meat in small cubes, helps it stretch)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
2 yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 yellow squash, about 1 1/2 lb. total, quartered and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 lb. green beans, trimmed at the ends
1 bunch chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 small bunch chopped thyme
2 10 oz can of plum tomatoes
1/2 cup dry-cured black olives, pitted
1 cups chicken stock

Pound the chicken breasts to soften and flatten the meat, cut into 1” cubes. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large heavy casserole over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the chicken and brown, set aside. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the squash, green beans and sautee until vegetables are al dente. Add one half of the parsley and 1/2 of the tarragon. Cook, stirring occasionally, another 2 minutes minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. In a large serving bowl toss the cooked pasta with olive oil and mix with the sauce. Layer the cooked chicken on top. Sprinkle the remaining parsley and thyme, over the top, garnish with olives. Serve immediately. Serves 8

Homey Crème Brulèe

1 cups sugar
1 can of condensed milk
1 can of half and half
4 eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla
1 tsp. grated lemon zest

For the Orange Sauce
6 oranges peeled and sliced in thin rounds
½ cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

Preheat an oven to 325°F.
In a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, cook 1 cup of the sugar without stirring just until it begins to liquefy. Reduce the heat to low and whisk until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is amber, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat quickly as it sugar can burn quickly.
Coat the bottom and sides of the eight 1/2-cup individual ramekin or metal custard cups with the caramel.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the once can of condensed milk, one can of half and half. Stir in vanilla and lemon zest until blended. Place the caramel-lined cups or dish in a large baking pan. Pour the egg and milk mixture into the cups, dividing it evenly. Pour hot water into the baking pan to reach halfway up the sides of the cups or the dish. Bake until the mixture is set in the center when it is gently shaken, 50 to 60 minutes. The caramelized sugar will have then liquefied and loosened the custard . Carefully transfer the cups or dish from the hot water to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours.
To serve you can either leave them in the ramekins and just pass the spoons around. If you want to see the beautiful amber caramel over the glossy creamy custard, loosen the edges of the chilled custard with a thin knife blade and invert cup onto a small dessert plate . Lift off the cup, holding it over the custard until all of the caramel has released from the cup. Spoon the orange sauce over each portion.

If you are trying to stretch to 10 portions, I would suggest substituting the ramekin cups with a large round oven proof dish , invert a large round serving plate over the custard and follow the same instructions above. Cut the large custard into wedges before serving. Serve chilled. Serves 8 or 10 with the large dish.

Wine Suggestion

This meal would pair perfectly with a red Cotes du Rhone from the Southeastern part of France, a fruity medium bodied wine typically made of a blend of grapes, Grenache, Syrah and other local grapes such Mourvèdre, and Cinsault.

If you can manage to sneak some cheese into the meal, I would suggest a French Saint-Aubin, a soft cow’s milk cheese traditionally packed in a wooden box.

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