14 French Recipes to Welcome Spring

There’s a certain hum of excitement as spring approaches. Because of our long, snowy winters here in Colorado, the arrival of spring is always a little delayed, but over the past few weeks I’ve noticed that the quiet of winter has been replaced by the sounds of life. It starts before dawn as I rise early to make the coffee. I can hear the birds through the closed and locked windows singing to each other in the darkness and beckoning me to slide the glass open and see what all the fuss is about. Out in the potager, the chives are always the first to emerge, blooming in brilliant purple plumes that are covered in bees of all shapes and sizes. Soon the sugar peas will bloom on the garden fence. The chickens are laying again – with each egg, the noisy fanfare of celebration. Farmer’s markets are finally opening up again here, with the first asparagus, tiny strawberries, baby lettuces, radishes and turnips. I think it’s safe to say that spring is finally here.

This spring feels like butterflies of anticipation leading up to an imminent party. Tiny flowers, like traces of confetti, signaling a grand celebration. For the occasion, I wanted to revisit some of my favourite spring recipes. These are the dishes I look forward to making when the days get long and warm and the earth awakens from her quiet hibernation. After a dark winter, these bright, fresh recipes are more welcome than ever.

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PAIRING: Llama 2018 Malbec + Barbacoa Burritos

Barbacoa is a traditional method of cooking meat over fire – the early origins of our modern day barbecuing. It originated in the Caribbean and in Mexico, where whole sheep or goats, and sometimes a cow’s head were cooked low and slow in holes dug in the ground and covered in thick layers of leaves. This closed-environment method of cooking created a gentle, moist heat that can be closely replicated by using a slow cooker. Barbacoa eventually spread north into the United States where it evolved into our much beloved Southern BBQ.

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Orecchiette with Broccoli

I like to think that when I’m old, I will be able to look back on my life and see a succession of Sundays, like pearls strung together on a necklace. A highlight reel consisting of the meals we ate and the people with whom they were shared. Sunday is, after all, my favourite day, the highlight of my week, a day dedicated entirely to family and food, when meal preparations start early in the day and dinner lasts long into the evening. We spend almost every Sunday with family, a tradition that’s as old as I can remember. As a girl, our Sundays were spent with my grandparents; my grandmother in the kitchen standing over a simmering pot, my grandfather in his vast garden, tending or harvesting the vegetables that would eventually make it onto our plates and into our stomachs. As kids, we flitted carefree between the two, picking up the basics of cooking and gardening simply by observance of both.

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Roasted Sausages with Sweet Potatoes and Mandarin Oranges

The “sheet pan dinner” bandwagon is roaring through sites like Pinterest, Facebook and even the newspaper, and I have to admit I’ve jumped on board. During the week I love the simplicity of cooking everything together in one pan and letting the oven do the majority of the work while I focus on setting the table and pouring a glass of wine. With that said, I take issue with the newest trend – “Dump Dinners”.

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Elouan 2017 Pinot Noir + Braised Beef Shanks

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve shared a wine review. My family and I have all been fighting what seems like a never-ending cold. I finally felt a little more like myself this past weekend, so we opened a bottle of Elouan 2017 Oregon Pinot Noir. This Pinot Noir is made with grapes grown in the temperate climate and fertile soil of the Oregon coast. Pinot Noir grapes thrive in cooler temperatures. With a long growing season and the gentle sunlight that’s plentiful in the higher latitudes, Oregon provides the ideal growing conditions for these delicate grapes. In crafting this wine, the winemaker sought to reinvent Oregon Pinot Noir. By sourcing and blending fruit from three distinct terroirs along the coastline from North to South, each selected for the unique characteristics of the grapes they produce, the winemaker created a wine that has incredible depth of flavour and vibrancy while maintaining the purity and bright acidity for which Oregon Pinots are famous.

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Croque-Monsieur

The Croque-Monsieur sandwich is classic French bistro fare. This past Monday I made these sandwiches for my husband and myself. They’re so decadent and delicious, and it was such a treat to have a long and lazy lunch in the middle of a busy work day (the perks of working from home). I had a few slices of sweet brioche leftover from a batch of weekend French toast. The bread is layered with a nutmeg-rich béchamel sauce, slices of ham, shredded gruyère and Dijon mustard. The sandwiches are topped with more béchamel and a sprinkle of thyme, then baked until golden and oozing. The sweet and savory combination is out of this world! I absolutely love gruyère cheese and every time I use it to make a gratin or French onion soup, I save a bit just so that I can make these sandwiches later in the week. 

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A Valentine’s Day Prelude

I’ve been in a Valentine’s mood for the last few weeks. Ever since hearts and cupids started showing up in the stores right after New Years, Valentine’s Day has been playing like a love song in the back of my mind. I even impulsively bought a Valentine’s day mask and heart shaped pendant the other day and I have Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” on repeat in the kitchen. It’s funny because Valentine’s Day was never my favourite holiday. I looked at it as just another excuse for the kids to eat way too much candy. Maybe it’s the Covid quarantines, on and off lockdowns, and the fact that, through forced confinement, our family has grown even closer this past year, but this February I’m all about the hearts, roses, sweet treats, LOVE and yes, even the candy. Really, I can’t wait for a reason to celebrate. Are you feeling the same?

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Rascal 2019 Pinot Gris and a Rotisserie-Style Roast Chicken

Wine label art has become a genre of modern art all to itself and is a topic on which whole books could be written. It’s become a fun pastime of mine to peruse the shelves of my local wine store admiring the labels on each bottle and wondering about the meaning behind each image. I like to look at labels through an analytical lens in the same way someone might decipher the meaning of a poem. While many wines have elaborately illustrated labels without mention as to what the pictures represent, there’s also much beauty in simplicity. The first is like an epic poem, so full of fluff that it struggles to keep the line and measure in its extravagance while the latter is a crisp and perfectly executed Haiku. Of course, it goes without saying that no matter how compelling the artwork on the label, the wine inside must be equally, if not more, delicious, complex, interesting. All of these properties converged perfectly in this Rascal 2019 Pinot Gris. The simplicity of the label is what first caught my eye – on the top, a dog with a halo. You know there must be a good story behind the picture. I turned the bottle over and read that Rascal Wine gives back a portion of the proceeds to animal shelters and rescue organizations across the country. It’s no secret how much I love our rescue dogs. That sealed the deal.

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Galette des Rois aux Pommes

I meant to make this Galette des Rois on Wednesday for Epiphany but we were so glued to the news of the unrest in Washington DC that I completely forgot. Yesterday morning I woke up in a bit of a panic at my blunder and made one right away.

Galette des Rois is a lovely French tradition that brings the holidays to a sweet close. The cake is served on the 12th day of Christmas (Epiphany) to represent the visit of the three wise men to baby Jesus. Yesterday may have been the 13th day of Christmas (better late than never!), but I quickly whipped together this one using store-bought puff pastry and, for the fève, a (very clean) coin which I wrapped in aluminum foil. The tradition, which goes back to Roman times, dictates that a fève – a little trinket or small, porcelain nativity figurine – is hidden in the filling of the cake before baking. Whoever finds it is crowned King or Queen for the day. As the name suggests, a dry fava bean was originally used; however, last year I baked a real bean into the cake and it was never found. (!!) I’m always on the hunt for antique porcelain fèves but so far haven’t had any luck finding them in the US. Last night, Eva was the lucky fève finder. Her first order of business as Queen was to play a board game with me. 

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Holiday Poppyseed Bread

When I got out of bed on January 1st and thought about the very first thing I wanted to eat this year, I knew it had to be this poppyseed bread. It’s a family recipe; my mom has made it for her neighbors at Christmastime for as long as I can remember – and I woke up dreaming of it. I texted her early in the morning (or at least what can be called “early” only on New Year’s Day … 9:40 am) to get the recipe. When you wake up craving something, you absolutely must eat it! Otherwise, it will haunt you like the memory of a missed opportunity and past regret. And, I decided, that’s not the best way to start a new year!

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