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Two French-inspired dinners
Pork with carrots
Concerto for chicken and onions
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Two French-inspired dinners

We're back from France, and already plotting how to shed a few extra pounds gained from eating and dining way too well during our 10-day visit. After four or five days straight, even such luxurious goodies as foie gras and duck confit start to pall, not to mention all those decadent desserts.

How do the French manage to eat so fat yet stay so thin? It's not magic, and it's not even the wine. It's a matter of lifestyle and a healthy approach to food, says Lauriann Greene, who with her husband Jean-Pierre Sollin owns French Wine Explorers, the company with which I partnered to host last week's "Best of Bordeaux" tour.

Although there's nothing much more luxurious than a fancy French dinner, most people don't eat like that all the time, Greene explains. Even our brief wining-and-dining itinerary, featuring substantial meals at top-tier restaurants twice daily for a full week, would send a typical Frenchman off in search of dry crackers and mineral water, nervously clutching his liver.

For the typical French family, like the typical family in the U.S. or just about anywhere, a fancy meal in a Michelin-starred restaurant is a special occasion, not an everyday event. Most of the time we'll find our French brothers and sisters dining rationally and almost never snacking between meals.

What's more, those exceptional restaurant meals will be leisurely dining and social events that last for hours (our dinners usually began at 7:30 or 8 p.m. and continued until 11 or later, and lunches generally extended over two hours), and will feature courses that showcase all that fat, cream and butter with small portions that don't leave you feeling any more stuffed than, say, cramming down a Big Mac while you're still in the drive-through lane. And speaking of driving, a French family is significantly more likely to walk home from dinner than most of us are.

All this is by way of saying that our return home this week found me eager to get back into the kitchen and throw together some culinary creations inspired by our trip; but I also felt a serious need to start paring off some of the excess poundage that we imported from France.

Rather than cutting out all the good things, though, or making the culinary compromises that going down the low-carbohydrate road requires, we're taking the French approach: Eat well, but keep portions under control, carefully measuring (and even weighing) ingredients, in particular meat, fats and starch.

Here are a couple of quick "bistro-style" dinners I fashioned during our first days home. This isn't so much authentic French cuisine as simple meals from an American "foodie" based on some of the principles that I observed during our quick tour of Champagne, Alsace, Paris and Bordeaux.

Pork with carrots

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

For the pork:
8 ounces boneless pork
1 tablespoon (15 grams) butter
1 shallot or 1/2 small onion
1 clove garlic
sprig fresh sage
2 carrots
1/2 cup (120 ml) dry vermouth (or white wine)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon (5 grams) cornstarch

For the "risotto":
2 1/2 ounces (75 grams) orzo pasta
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) chicken broth
1 ounce grated cheese (see below)


1. Chop the shallot or onion and garlic and mince the sage; peel the carrots and slice them into thick "coins," and cut the pork into bite-size pieces. (I used boneless country-style pork chops that I found on sale at a local organic grocery, but pork shoulder, loin or just about any cut will do.)

2. Melt the butter in a nonstick sautee pan over medium heat until it foams, then put in the pork and brown on both sides. Add salt and pepper to taste and the sage; then add the sliced carrots and the vermouth, stirring briefly to "deglaze" the browned bits in the pan. Add the chicken broth, lower heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, for 45 minutes or until the meat is very tender. Thicken the sauce with the cornstarch dissolved in a small amount of water, and serve.

3. I accompanied this dish with a salad and a quick pasta "risotto" made by cooking the orzo in the chicken broth for 15 minutes, stirring often, until all the broth is absorbed. (You can add a little extra water if necessary); then stir in a little grated cheese plus salt and pepper to taste. I made a Trans-Atlantic version by using very sharp white Vermont Cheddar, but feel free to substitute just about any cheese you like; Gruyere would be a good choice to maintain a French accent.

WINE MATCH: The pleasant yet modest Spanish Protocolo 2000 Tempranillo reported in yesterday's Wine Advisor made an excellent match. Tasting notes:

Concerto for chicken and onions

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

Four chicken thighs
1 tablespoon (15 grams) butter
1 medium sweet onion, Vidalia or equivalent
2 shallots
1 large leek, white portion only
3 green onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon cider or red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup chicken stock


NOTE: It's not really necessary to use all the different kinds of onion. I used them because I had them, and I think the variety added a pleasant complexity and flavor interest to the dish. (I was listening to Beethoven's "Choral Fantasy" as I worked, prompting the whimsical notion of calling the dish a "concerto" because the chorus of onions supported the chicken much as the orchestra supports the solo piano in a concerto. Maybe I was just thinking too hard for my own good, but it seemed like an interesting idea at the time.)

1. Peel the onion, quarter it vertically, and cut the quarters into thick slices. Wash the leek well, cut it in half lengthwise, and cut each half into thin crosswise slices. Peel the shallots and garlic and slice them thin, and mince the green onions. As noted, you can use all onions or any combination, but in any case you should end up with about 2 to 3 cups of chopped vegetables.

2. Remove the skin and excess fat from the chicken thighs (assuming you're with me about watching fat consumption). Feel free to substitute other chicken parts if you prefer, but I like the flavor and texture of thighs in a dish of this type.

3. Melt the butter in a nonstick sautee pan and cook the thighs over medium-high heat until they're nicely browned on both sides. Set them aside and keep warm while you "sweat" all the onions and garlic in the same pan, adding a small amount of extra butter only if necessary.

4. When the vegetables are soft and starting to brown, add salt and pepper to taste and the vinegar. Stir in the flour, a little at a time, then the chicken stock. Put the browned chicken thighs on top, cover the pan, and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Don't take the lid off more often than necessary, but turn the chicken pieces and stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking.

5. Toward the end of cooking, take off the lid and increase heat, cooking and stirring until any remaining liquid reduces substantially. At this point, you can serve as is, but I "refined" the dish a bit by buzzing the vegetables with a stick blender, just long enough to smooth the sauce without completely pureeing all the onion bits.

White asparagus, steamed rice and a salad made this a meal.

WINE MATCH: A rich, slightly oxidative white wine from Southern France, Eric Texier 2000 Cotes de Provence Cassis, made a perfect match; the chicken and onions seemed to heighten the wine's already forward fruitiness.

TRAVEL NOTES: Now that we're back at home and resuming normal production, I hope to have a full wine, food and travel report with photos online within the next week or so. Watch for my "Travel Diary" at

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Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Because of our travels, The Wine Advisor FoodLetter was not published for the last two weeks. Here's a link to the last previous edition:

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Pasta with walnut sauce (May 1)

Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:

30 Second Wine Advisor archive:


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Thursday, May 22, 2003
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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